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Something to Drink?

My grandma would’ve dug this place.

Sure, she enjoyed a good drink as much as the next person — especially if the next person was my grandpa. But her appreciation for The Citizen in Worcester would really come from the fact that she was a true Old School grandma.

Pillsbury didn’t own an inch of space in her kitchen. She could make her own (and far superior) crescent rolls from scratch, thank you very much. Potato salad from the deli? Please. She had her own homemade recipe — one that made all other versions of the dish seem pretty weak.

There’s a similar philosophy at Citizen.

“People want to drink the way they eat.” said bar manager and bartender Dave Delaney. “In short, that means people are looking for something fresh, local and in season,” he said.

Behind the bar, that translates into making homemade syrups and using simple, pure ingredients. Delaney said it’s part of a cocktail renaissance as people are rediscovering some of the classic drinks — some of them over 100 years old — being made true to their roots.

This involves breaking a drink down to its basic parts, making quality choices for the ingredients, and then mixing them so the flavors can interact as they were intended, he said. It’s a contrast to the world of pre-made mixes that are designed primarily to cover the taste of bad spirits, he added.

For example, in Delaney’s quest to create drinks like Millionaire of Havana and Ticket to Paradise, he saw he needed Swedish Punsch. Rather than ordering someone else’s off-the-shelf version, he kept experimenting until he had concocted his own Swedish Punsch formula. His recipe is a process that takes six hours, and it’s all to make just one of the ingredients used in his cocktails.

And for people packing their own cocktail recipes, Citizen has the tools to accommodate: eyedroppers, metal jiggers, spirits approved by the bar’s tasting panel and even a leather bound book for customers to document the specifics of their individual drinks.

Dubbed the Citizen’s Assembly, the book is a throwback to recipe books kept in the bars of yesteryear. Kevin Ludy, the beverage director for Niche Hospitality, Citizen’s parent company, started the book when Citizen opened nearly two years ago.

Of course, people can and do write anything in the book besides recipes, Ludy noted. A given page is as likely to contain a recipe as it is a proclamation of love Travis, referring to Citizen’s mixologist Travis Doyle. But Ludy wouldn’t have it any other way. The book is getting used exactly the way he wanted.

For those customers not quite sure what they want to drink, Ludy, Doyle and Delaney bring plenty of creativity to the table to mix up something appropriate.

“I like to ask, “What kind of day did you have?” or ˜What kind of mood are you in?” Delaney said. “The drink from yesterday might not work today.”

The key is balance — not too bitter, not too sweet, he said.

One of his creations, Bitter in Brazil, won Delaney a trip to New Orleans last summer to Tales of the Cocktail, an international cocktail industry celebration. Delaney’s drink is a variation of Caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink, he said, adding he wanted “put a little spice in it.”

This was the drink I had to try.

Delaney carefully mixed Cacha, Cointreau and Punt e Mes, setting each bottle on the bar for me to see. He also added ice, bitters and an orange peel that he first carefully wiped around the rim of the glass before placing it the drink.

The orange’s subtle smell and taste got a boost from the Cointreau. Then the punch of the Cacha and Punt e Mes kicked in. I’m not sure, but I thought I got a very faint flavor of whiskey, which Delaney said could have come from the bitters. Or he may have been politely humoring my inability to isolate all the distinct tastes in the drink.

Bitter in Brazil definitely achieves his goal of balancing and blending the worlds of bitter and sweet, with a succession of flavors competing for the taste buds attention.

When mixing a cocktail, “I try to make it as multi-dimensional as possible,” Delaney said.

I suddenly had a craving for my grandma’s crescent rolls. Wherever she is, I’m pretty sure she approves of Delaney’s work.

Written by Jeff Haynes

Jeff Haynes
Jeff Haynes

Jeff has been writing and photographing for a variety of publications since 1995. His work has covered a wide range of topics such as art, sports, politics, real estate, human interest, business and the environment. In addition, his photography includes portraiture, promotional work for various artists, and fine art imagery seen in shows around New England.

He is also a fan of all good things to eat and drink. It’s a habit — addiction, perhaps — that he attempts to feed daily.

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