The Happiest Hours: Valentine’s Drinks from Brother Cleve

imageOnce again, this week’s cocktail comes from the high priest of Boston’s cocktail scene: Brother Cleve. If you are not familiar with Cleve, take it from Drinking Boston author Stephanie Schorow: “Cleve—even his close friends call him that—speaks softly and exudes quiet passion. Passion for playing music. Passion for composing. Passion for noir films. Passion for professional wrestling. And passion for the art of the cocktail. When he puts on his porkpie hat and retro suit, he is the poster child for the craft cocktail movement.”  These days, you can find him  mixing music and killer cocktails at Red Star Union in Kendall Square or pouring at First Printer in Cambridge. Brother Cleve and special guest TJ Connelly (the Official DJ of the Boston Red Sox, and all around Bon Vivant) will DJ together at a special Valentines Day party at First Printer (13-15 Dunster St, Harvard Sq, Cambridge). The restaurant will be offering a special prix fixe dinner menu along with V-Day cocktail creations by Cleve, including the two listed here. Reservations can be made via Open Table or by calling 617-497-0900.

Valentine’s Day. The day reserved for romance, for candlelight dinners, for Cupid, for hearts and flowers. Love is intoxicating. And on this special day, it is often enhanced with intoxicating potions.

Cocktails weren’t on the menu in the 14th Century, when the English poet Chaucer was the first to write about St. Valentine’s Day, “when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” Flowers, yes. Confectionaries, sure. A cup of wine, perhaps. Chocolate Martinis…no, I don’t think so. Five centuries later, however, spirits-derived libations rose in popularity, around the same time that Victorians began exchanging paper Valentine cards (the first mass produced cards in the US were designed in Worcester). But then again, drinking in the 19th century was predominantly a male ritual, at least in public. Prohibition and the rise of illegal drinking establishments changed all that, as women’s newly acquired rights included breaking the law and drinking alongside everyone else!

St-Valentine-Kneeling-In-SupplicationProhibition brings another thing to mind. From a cocktail historian’s perspective, the first union of ardent spirits and the Christian holiday honoring St.Valentinus occurred on February 14th, 1929. No love was being honored on this day…quite the contrary. This was the date of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the horrific act in the war to control Chicago’s illicit liquor trade.

The story goes that Bugs Moran’s North Side crew had been intercepting Canadian whisky bound for Al Capone’s South Side gang, and Capone was looking for revenge. Capone’s boys infiltrated Moran’s warehouse disguised as liquor delivery men. Once inside, the trapped North Side criminals were lined up against the wall and shot.

the-gusenberg-brothers-st-valentine-day-s-massacre-front-page-of-the-chicago-daily-newsFour years later, in 1933, the Noble Experiment was repealed and liquor became legal once again — just in time for Jimmy Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart to burst on the screen in sensational films depicting the gangster era. Our love/hate affair with mobsters has continued unabated since that time. Exploitation film master Roger Corman produced a film about “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” back in 1967. By the mid-1970’s, Marlon Brando wowed audiences as Don Corleone, and cocktail lounges were selling a drink called “The Godfather” (along with “The Godmother” and “The Godchild”) by the gallon!

In honor of the dark side of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to offer up a twist on that venerable 70’s cocktail (the original is a simple drink comprised of Scotch and Amaretto). Our friends at Grand Ten Distilling in South Boston have concocted a new Amandine Liqueur, which is a barrel-aged almond liqueur (many folks believe that Amaretto is made from almonds, but it’s really alcohol infused with apricot pits and oils). In making this drink, you can use your favorite blended Scotch; I love the Great King Street brand from Compass Box. So here’s a cocktail named after America’s most famous bootlegger.

Al Capone


-2 oz Scotch whisky
1 oz Amandine Barrel-Aged Almond Liqueur
1 hefty dash Fee Brothers Peach Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks/Old Fashioned glass. Add one large sized ice cube or sphere.

Some of you may say “why do I want to think about The Mob on this day reserved for romance?” I’ve got you covered. Here’s a liquid paean to love.

The Romance languages – Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, et al – make Americans swoon. They may make speakers of other languages swoon, too. It gave me an idea for a cocktail.

I call this drink TE AMO, “I love you” in proper Spanish, but if you have a preference you can translate that to JE T’AIME (French), TI AMO (Italian), EU TE AMO (Portuguese), TE ADOR (Romanian), T’ESTIMO (Catalan), TI TENGO CARA/CARU (Corsican). Alright, you get the idea.

We start with Pisco as the base spirit, the Peruvian grape brandy developed by Spanish and Italian vintners. I recommend using Macchu Pisco, which is a Pisco Puro, meaning its distilled from one grape varietal, the Quebranta grape.We add some Italian Galliano herbal liqueur, now available again in its original recipe, after being changed some 30 years ago. Add some Creme de Cacao, which was originated by the French (white or dark will do. The Bols brand will work well) and some raspberry syrup, or the tangy Raspberry Shrub, which you can find locally at The Boston Shaker in Somerville, and some chocolate bitters (you chose between the sweet Fee Brothers, the drier Scrappy’s, or the spicy Bittermens Molé style), and you’ll be ready to mix and toast your sweetheart on this special day.


-2 oz Pisco
-1/2 oz Galliano liqueur
1/4 oz Creme de Cacao
1/4 oz Raspberry syrup or Raspberry shrub
1 dash chocolate bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry

– Brother Cleve

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