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Boston Bartenders Discuss the Most Underrated Cocktail Ingredients

To kick off Cocktail Week 2015 yesterday, local bartenders discussed the most overrated cocktail ingredients. Today, they turn their attention to underrated ingredients, showering lots of love on fortified wines.


Alex Homans

"Any fortified/aromatized wine." —Alex Homans, owner and beverage manager of The Frogmore

Image credit: Courtesy of Caitlin Cunningham/The Frogmore

Naomi Levy

"I don’t think it’s underrated, but sherry. I mean, I think people really have embraced it, so I want to think of something more underrated. Yeah, no, I’m going to stick with sherry." Naomi Levy, bar manager at Eastern Standard

Image credit: Lisa Richov for Eastern Standard

Nicholas Mansur

"I would say vermouth. Paying attention to what vermouth you’re using in cocktails cannot be overrated. It changes the whole profile of drinks in any drink that has vermouth — negronis, Manhattans, any kind of variants on those. It’s really important to pay attention to what kind of vermouth you’re using." Nicholas Mansur, bar manager at Shepard

Image credit: Emily Phares for Eater

Angela Lamb

"The most underrated cocktail ingredient for me is vegetables. I love using fresh anything. Carrots, avocados — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it always comes out interesting!" —Angela Lamb, bar manager at Coda Bar & Kitchen

Image credit: Provided

Fred Yarm

"Fortified wines other than sherry and vermouths — both of which are great but they have gotten a lot of attention in the last few years. Madeira, Pineau de Charentes, Marsala, Floc de Gascogne, and other fortified wines are rather deserving of the spotlight whether serving to balance ardent spirits or acting as the base of a low-proof offering." —Fred Yarm, bar manager at Loyal Nine

Image credit: Provided

Nino Nunziante

"Luxardo Cherries. This is my secret ingredient to my Old Fashioned. They go great with most bourbon cocktails." Nino Nunziante, bartender at Tico

Image credit: Provided

Kayla Quigley

"Anything herbal/vegetal. Adding a green element to a cocktail can provide an interesting flavor and add another layer to your spirit, bitters, citrus, or sugars." —Kayla Quigley, bartender at Sweet Cheeks

Image credit: Provided

Tyler Wang

"Underrated is easy for me. Underrated is sugar. I don’t think enough people think about sugar in a really helpful way. Sugar can do a number of things. Sugar’s not scary, sugar’s there just to provide balance, to provide a little bit of depth. I use sugar to some degree in all of my cocktails, oftentimes a quarter ounce here or there just to provide a little body." Tyler Wang, bar manager at Audubon

Image credit: Emily Phares for Eater

Emmet Kelty

"I actually love the addition of salt in a lot of cocktails. Just a pinch can really open up the palate, especially with tropical fruits." —Emmet Kelty, bar manager at 51 Lincoln

Image credit: Provided

Thea Engst

"There are a lot of fortified wines that get overlooked or forgotten. Personally, I'd like to see more Bonal out there." Thea Engst, bar manager at River Bar

Image credit: Provided

Will Isaza

"Sherry." Will Isaza, spirit whisperer at Fairsted Kitchen

Image credit: Provided

Todd Lipman

"Salt." —Todd Lipman, head sommelier at Bistro du Midi

Image credit: Provided

Michelle Raye

"The most underrated cocktail ingredient would be an egg white. I just love the air and frothiness that's present when you add an egg white to a cocktail." —Michelle Raye, general manager of Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, NH

Image credit: Provided

Shawn Westhoven

"Vermouth." —Shawn Westhoven, beverage director of Papa Razzi Trattoria and Papa Razzi Metro

Image credit: Provided

Joe Fisketti

"Good vermouth." —Joe Fisketti, beverage manager at Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar

Image credit: Provided

Aquitaine cocktail

"Grapefruit juice." —Ludgie Beauvais, bartender at Aquitaine Boston

Image credit: Provided

Dave Miller

"A quality vermouth. Italian or French, a quality vermouth can really ramp a cocktail up to the next level." Dave Miller, lead bartender at Clink and The Liberty Bar in The Liberty Hotel

Image credit: Provided

Gabriela Garcia

"I have to say rosemary. Drinks that have rosemary rise to a different level, and a lot of people don’t use it in cocktails. I have a famous signature drink that I created a while back, where I infuse Brazilian cachaca with rosemary. This mixed with egg whites makes for a very unique flavor profile. It was very well-accepted by my customers. There’s a difference between infusing the spirit and muddling the rosemary or rubbing it against the glass: When you infuse the spirit you get different layers of flavor profiles; the rosemary lingers differently on your palate. There is an art to infusing; you have to serve at the exact right time for the right flavor and strength." —Gabriela Garcia, bar manager at Taj Boston

Image credit: Provided

Michael Boughton - BNV

"Shrubs. A good fruit/vegetable shrub can provide flavor, sweetness, and acidity in one touch." —Michael Boughton, corporate beverage director of Boston Nightlife Ventures

Image credit: Provided

Tony Romano

"Any Italian amaro or bitter liqueur. It can turn an overly sweet or bland cocktail into a well-balanced vibrant one." —Tony Romano, bartender at BOKX109

Image credit: Provided

Kaylee Platt

"Aperol." Kaylee Platt, manager of City Bar Westin

Image credit: Provided

Dagan Migirditch

"Vermouth and amaro. I love how they can deepen a cocktail without mucking it up." —Dagan Migirditch, general manager of Franklin Oyster House in Portsmouth, NH

Image credit: Provided

Kevin Khem

"Dry vermouth." —Kevin Khem, restaurant manager at ArtBar at the Royal Sonesta

Image credit: Provided

Wolfertz horizontal

"Any sort of sweetener, whether it's a simple syrup or a liquor that has sweetness. A cocktail needs to be balanced." —Owen Wolfertz, general manager at Moxy in Portsmouth, NH

Image credit: Provided

Rob Hoover - La Brasa

"Wondermint." —Rob Hoover, bar manager at La Brasa

Image credit: Provided

Sean Barney

"Bitters. When used properly, bitters can accentuate the flavors of the drink and help them all pop on their own while linking them together. They should be used more like salt and pepper in cooking. They 'season' the drink." —Sean Barney, bar manager and cocktail chef at il Casale Lexington, as well as cocktail chef for il Casale Belmont and restaurant Dante

Image credit: Provided

Chris O'Neill

"Cachaça." Chris O’Neill, bartender at Deuxave

Image credit: Provided

Vincent Conte

"Amaros." Vincent Conte, lead bartender at Posto

Image credit: Provided

Rob Ficks

"Ice." —Rob Ficks, lead bartender at Craigie on Main

Image credit: Provided

Peter Szigeti

"Hard apple cider and Campari." —Peter Szigeti, beverage director at Committee

Image credit: Provided

Kerem Benyamini

"Various spices. We have a great new drink using ancho reyes, typically found in margaritas, but we put it with a spiced rum for the fall." —Kerem Benyamini, general manager at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille and Rowes Wharf Bar at the Boston Harbor Hotel

Image credit: Provided

Mike Thomas 2

"Not necessarily underrated but often neglected, fresh stuff! Fresh squeezed juices, house-made syrups and purees, fresh fruit, etc. can make a world of difference in a cocktail over stuff that’s bad or out of a can or a concentrate." —Mike Thomas, bar manager at Gather in District Hall

Image credit: Provided

Lindolfo Silva

"Good spices. Chefs use spices in all their recipes, but often bartenders don't think of using spices in cocktails." —Lindolfo Silva, lead bartender at The Painted Burro

Image credit: Provided

Davide Crusoe

"I would say either sherry or vermouth. These two can round out a cocktail, add complexity and depth, and I really enjoy using them." Davide Crusoe, beverage director at Chopps American Bar and Grill in Burlington

Image credit: Provided

Eric Cross

"Amaretto. Get away from the silly snicker, and it's a delicious addition." Eric Cross, beverage director at Five Horses South End

Image credit: Provided

Mike Wyatt

"Water. It's in every cocktail and gets incorporated every time you stir and shake with ice. You have to pay close attention to dilution levels or else you're going to get inconsistent cocktails." Mike Wyatt, bar manager at Ward 8

Image credit: Provided

Joe Cammarata

"Scotch. The price point can make it hard to mix with but with such a wide range of flavor profiles from distillery to distillery, you can really make some interesting twists on classic American whiskey drinks." —Joe Cammarata, co-bar manager at Hojoko

Image credit: Kristin Teig for Hojoko

Daren Swisher

"Salt. Amazing what the addition of a small amount of salt does for a cocktail, both shaken and stirred drinks." —Daren Swisher, co-bar manager at Hojoko

Image credit: Averil Lowry for Hojoko

Jarek Mountain

"Sherry." —Jarek Mountain, bartender at Back Bay Harry's

Image credit: Provided

Dave Spielberg

"Most underrated, and it will always be, is bitters. Specifically Angostura, but good bitters are like the salt of the cocktail world. Also, green chartreuse." Dave Spielberg, bartender at The Salty Pig

Image credit: Provided

Tim Kotkowski

"Port." Timothy Kotkowski, Pastoral

Image credit: Provided

Jared Sadoian

"Sherry! Maybe it's not underrated anymore. Our rotating, seasonal sherry cobbler program at The Hawthorne tries to bring it out into the limelight." —Jared Sadoian, bar manager at The Hawthorne

Image credit: Provided

Chuck Guterl

"An actual lemon twist." Chuck Guterl, beverage manager at Scampo

Image credit: Provided

Justin Lipata

"I think the most underrated one has to be orgeat. It's such an amazing syrup that can transform almost any drink." Justin Lipata, bar manager at Bukowski Tavern (Cambridge)

Image credit: Provided

Nick Giannotti

"Odd syrups can add some really nice layers to cocktails. Recently our chef had candy cap mushrooms, which essentially taste like an earthy maple syrup when reduced. It made for an awesome ingredient to work with." Nick Giannotti, bar manager at The Tip Tap Room

Image credit: Provided

Patrick Foley

"Vodka. It's versatile and puts focus on the flavors of the other ingredients." Patrick Foley, bar manager at The Independent

Image credit: Provided

Patrick Sullivan

"Angostura Aromatic Bitters." Patrick Sullivan, executive director of bar operations for the Legal Sea Foods brands

Image credit: Provided

Paulo Pereira

"Sweetening syrups. You can use anything from refined sugar, to demerara sugar, honey, maple, grenadine, and so on. What's your ratio in making each one? Do you make it in-house or buy mass-produced items? They have such an impact in how a cocktail tastes, yet it's often overlooked to an extent." Paulo Pereira, beverage director at Brass Union

Image credit: Provided

Schuyler Hunton

"Port. Fortified wines make an amazing cocktail-modifying spirit, and port especially can stand up as a base spirit in cocktails." Schuyler Hunton, beverage director at Foundry on Elm & Saloon

Image credit: Natasha Moustache

Casey Furtaw

"Amaro, in general." Casey Furtaw, head bartender at Osteria Nino in Burlington

Image credit: Provided

Vikram Hegde

"Pisco. The body, the heady perfume, the’s such a nuanced ingredient, which makes it difficult to use, but when used properly it absolutely sings." Vikram Hegde, general manager at Island Creek Oyster Bar

Image credit: Provided


"I think the most underrated cocktail ingredient is brandy. It is such a great spirit with a great history, flavor, and structure. It is also the base for many modifiers being mixed with anyways, which brings a cocktail together nicely." Seth Freidus, bar manager at Alden & Harlow

Image credit: Emily Phares for Eater

Todd Maul Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

"Conversation with your guest." Todd Maul, bar director and partner at Cafe Artscience

Image credit: Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

Ryan McGrale

"Aquavit." Ryan McGrale, beverage director at Tavern Road

Image credit: Provided

Kyle Powell

"Water. I usually forget to drink it when I go out, and I feel like it’s the most underrated ingredient in a drink too. The reason a sazerac or Manhattan tastes so good is because it’s been properly diluted. The original definition of the cocktail was water, sugar, spirit, and bitters. It’s important!" Kyle Powell, bar manger of State Street Provisions (opening in November 2015)

Image credit: Provided

Tainah Soares

"Falernum." Tainah Soares, bartender at Trina’s Starlite Lounge

Image credit: Provided

Corey Bunnewith

"Salt." Corey Bunnewith, co-founder and proprietor of Boston Harbor Distillery

Image credit: Provided

Adam Avelar

"Bitters. Just a few dashes can completely change the flavor of a cocktail. It's an essential ingredient in some of the best classics." Adam Avelar, bar manager at The Sinclair

Image credit: Provided

"I would have to say the showmanship of your bartender. You know you're being looked after by a quality service individual when they flame an orange peel..." Yuri Bredbeck, beverage director at Tres Gatos

"Celery." Erin Mahoney, bar director at Row 34 (Portsmouth)

"Vermouth." Adam Lantheaume, owner of The Boston Shaker

Brass Union

70 Union Square, , MA 02143 (617) 623-9211 Visit Website

The Liberty Hotel

215 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114 (617) 224-4000 Visit Website

Back Bay Harry's

142 Berkeley St, Boston, MA 02116 (617) 424-6711 Visit Website

Five Horses Tavern

400 Highland Avenue, , MA 02144 (617) 764-1655 Visit Website

51 Lincoln

51 Lincoln St, Newton Highlands, MA 02461

Craigie On Main

853 Main Street, , MA 02139 (617) 497-5511 Visit Website

Sweet Cheeks

1381 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215 617 266 1300 Visit Website

Tres Gatos

470 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts 02130 617 477 4851 Visit Website

Fairsted Kitchen

Beacon St, Brookline, MA (617) 396-8752

Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar

381 Summer Street, , MA 02144 (617) 629-9500 Visit Website


1 Shepard Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

The Independent

75 Union Square, , MA 02143 (617) 440-6022 Visit Website

Osteria Nino

19 3rd Ave, Burlington, MA 01803 (781) 272-1600

The Painted Burro

219 Elm Street, , MA 02144 (617) 776-0005 Visit Website

Trina's Starlite Lounge

3 Beacon Street, , MA 02143 (617) 576-0006 Visit Website

The Tip Tap Room

138 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114 857 263 7614 Visit Website

River Bar

661 Assembly Row, , MA 02145 (617) 616-5561 Visit Website


40 Edwin H Land Boulevard, , MA 02142 (617) 806-4200 Visit Website

The Frogmore

365 Centre St, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 (857) 203-9462

Bistro du Midi

272 Boylston Street, , MA 02116 (617) 426-7878 Visit Website

The Salty Pig

130 Dartmouth Street, , MA 02116 (617) 536-6200 Visit Website

The Hawthorne

500A Commonwealth Avenue, , MA 02215 (617) 532-9150 Visit Website

Eastern Standard

528 Commonwealth Avenue, , MA 02215 (617) 532-9100 Visit Website

Ward 8

90 North Washington Street, , MA 02114 (617) 823-4478 Visit Website

La Brasa

124 Broadway, , MA 02145 (617) 764-1412 Visit Website


345 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210 617 345 0005 Visit Website


1271 Boylston Street, , MA 02215 (617) 670-0507 Visit Website

State Street Provisions

255 State St., Boston, MA 02109

Tavern Road

343 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210 617 790 0808

Cafe ArtScience

650 East Kendall Street, , MA 02142 (857) 999-2193 Visit Website


1926 14th Street Northwest, , DC 20009 (202) 319-1400 Visit Website


446 South Coast Highway, , CA 92651 (949) 494-5469

Scampo at The Liberty Hotel

215 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114 857 241 1150 Visit Website

City Bar

65 Exeter Street, Boston, MA 02116-3505 617-933-4801 Visit Website


569 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02118 (617) 424-8577 Visit Website

Boston Harbor Hotel

70 Rowes Wharf, , MA 02110 (617) 439-7000 Visit Website

BOKX 109 American Prime

399 Grove St, Newton, MA 02462 617-454-3399 Visit Website


838 Beacon Street, , MA 02215 (617) 421-1910 Visit Website

Alden & Harlow

40 Brattle Street, , MA 02138 (617) 864-2100 Visit Website


50 Northern Avenue, Boston, MA 02110 Visit Website

Loyal Nine

660 Cambridge Street, , MA 02141 (617) 945-2576 Visit Website

Papa Razzi

159 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02116 (617) 536-9200 Visit Website

Row 34

383 Congress Street, , MA 02210 (617) 553-5900 Visit Website


371 Commonwealth Avenue, , MA 02115 (617) 517-5915 Visit Website


329 Columbus Ave, Boston, MA 02116 617-536-2632 Visit Website

Il Casale Cucina Campana + Bar

1727 Massachusetts Ave, Lexington, MA 02420 (781) 538-5846 Visit Website


75 Northern Avenue, , MA 02210 (617) 982-7220 Visit Website

Taj Boston

15 Arlington Street, , MA 02116 (617) 536-5700 Visit Website

Posto (Somerville)

187 Elm St., Somerville, MA 02140 Visit Website

The Sinclair

52 Church Street, , MA 02138 (617) 547-5200 Visit Website

Bukowski Tavern (Inman Square)

1281 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139 (617) 497-7077 Visit Website

Boston Harbor Distillery

12r Ericsson ST, Dorchester, MA 02122 (617) 533-7001

Island Creek Oyster Bar

500 Commonwealth Avenue, , MA 02215 (617) 532-5300 Visit Website