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Seth Freidus Creates Cocktail Journeys at Alden & Harlow

The Alden & Harlow bar manager discusses the bar's cocktail time machine, drinking lactic acid, and why there’s a shrub in your glass.

At first glance, Alden & Harlow's bar menu looks basic: White paper, black ink, some designs printed in blue. But upon closer inspection you see cocktail ingredients like broccoli leaf, pistachio, and avocado — and realize these drinks are anything but ordinary.Bar manager Seth Freidus, formerly of Eastern Standard, is creating a new kind of cocktail. Aiming to be “progressive, but not overbearingly different to where people can’t wrap their mind around it,” he’s transforming uncommon ingredients into wildly creative drinks — and that’s only the beginning. As Freidus explains, “We take people on a journey. We start them with what we do here, and then we take them in the reverse.”

Cocktail Week eyebrow

When did you start working with such unusual ingredients?

Definitely when I started here — seeing all the beautiful produce that we didn’t always have in high-volume quantities at Eastern Standard. You can make drinks that don’t just sound interesting but have interesting ingredients and actually taste very quaffable. It’s fun to have an exciting-sounding cocktail, but unless you actually want to drink one and then have another one, it’s pointless to have a cool ingredient.

Are you interested in gardening at all?

I love cooking at home; we haven’t started our own garden yet, but it will definitely happen. It really started at Eastern Standard. I was in charge of the infusions and all the house-made ingredients there. Then I started challenging myself and the Eastern Standard bar team more, and I realized that’s what I wanted to do. I wasn’t even looking to leave, and then I talked to [Alden & Harlow chef/owner] Michael Scelfo and Jen Fields, the GM, before they opened. They told me what they were looking to do, and I was like, 'That sounds like exactly what I want to do.'

What do you mean you take guests on a journey — do you mean the order of the drinks you serve them?

Yes. Let’s say I talk to someone about what they’re ordering cocktail-wise, and they order our gin cocktail with smoked cucumber, ginger, lime, and tonic water. Then I would take them down to maybe a classic Tom Collins. Or maybe even before that, take them to a Collins with one of our other house-made ingredients and tell them a little bit about Collins and that category. Then you can be like, 'This is what we do, and this is what got us to where we can do this.'

The classics, to me, are more important than what we’re doing. But what we’re doing is fun and modern and progressive. And I love that, but I love both. You have to have both. Because you have to know where you were to know where you’re going.

It’s like a cocktail time machine. From 2015 to the 1920s.

Yes. We like to introduce our guests to the rotating house cocktails on our menu first and then take them back through history a bit to show them where today's craft stems from.

Can you tell me more about shrubs? I always see them on your menu.

Shrub is essentially a colonial-era method of preservation. Everyone was traveling by ship at this time, so fruit and vegetables would go bad. The way that it started was preserving it — either with alcohol, or vinegar, which is what today’s shrub is — or sugar. So we’ll take the flavors that we want and add sugar and vinegar to balance sweet and sour, and it’s essentially a sweet and sour flavoring agent.

So a shrub actually has nothing to do with plants.

You can think of a shrub as literally an ingredient, sugar, and vinegar. And when I say an ingredient, you can pick essentially anything that vinegar would preserve from fermenting. Now, are we using it in its true form? Are we taking summer fruit, macerating it in sugar, cutting it down with vinegar, and storing it so that we can use it all year round? No, we’re making them fresh and using them with seasonal ingredients at that time.

Your Shot in the Dark cocktail includes lactic acid. I thought that’s what builds up in your muscles after intense exercise. You use it in drinks?

We do. There’s a product called Lactart; it’s a liquid form of lactic acid. When you have a stirred cocktail, like the Shot in the Dark, and you want to add acidity and brightness but it’s all supple, round, delicate ingredients — what we call a spiritous cocktail — this is something we want to stir over ice gently. But to do that and add acidity, we add about three drops of lactic acid. Once you’re drinking it, it has that soft texture and roundness and spice, but it has great acidity too which is kind of like "Where does that come from?" And it’s from the lactic acid.

Is there an ingredient you want to work into a cocktail but haven't yet been able to?

The next ingredient that I’d like to play with is a bar-top smoker. They’re used for smoking cocktails and/or cocktail glasses during the cocktail making process, and they result in both an amazing flavor and show.

What are your next steps?

I’m having a great time right now. I love my team here. And there will be more bars with Michael and Jen; there is one other place in the works. It’ll be fun, so I’m definitely going to do that next, but my ultimate goal will be to have my own place down the line.

Alden & Harlow

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

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