Hit us with your best shot

Sometimes we don't need a full-size cocktail
By HEATHER BOUZAN  |  February 1, 2007

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Shots at 33 lounge and bar
Shots are like candy bars: you’re worked up and craving one by the end of a stressful day, but once you’ve downed 12 in a row, you begin to feel a bit queasy. While it’s obvious that we love sipping a good cocktai, we turn our attention now to the martini’s smaller, quickly slurped little brother. A really good shot, after all, takes as much ingenuity and skill to create — and as discerning a palate to enjoy — as the most complex of cocktails.

“Does anyone over the age of 21 still do shots these days?” you might wonder. Why, yes — and they’re giving them more thought than ever. “[Shots have] crossed the line into the restaurant/martini-lounge environment more in the past, I would say, maybe five years. They’ve become more creative. They’ve become fresher; they’ve become more like the cocktails,” says Clif Travers, mixologist/bar manager at OM (92 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, 617.576.2800). “Since the cocktail’s grown in its complexity and its originality, I think it was just natural for the shot to do the same thing. Any place that has a martini list has to have some mature shots to offer as well.” To that end, Travers has created a few shots — including the Clifhanger ($9), with Maker’s Mark, simple syrup, and muddled lime — with the same care and creativity that he gives to his full-size cocktails.

Of course, the shot’s place in the drinking world often falls in the realm of celebration. “Some people are looking for a little lift-up, a little extra kick, but even for people who are [just] trying to catch a buzz, shots are something that are ordered to celebrate,” says Jackson Cannon, bar manager at Eastern Standard (528 Comm Ave, Boston, 617.532.9100). “By their very nature, [the people who drink shots are] people who are coming together, be it around some time off to go to a ballgame, or around the holiday time, just getting together with friends and family, with work colleagues.” For his celebratory crowds, Cannon delves into his cocktail archives. “I go between different things,” he says. “One that I have on our menu that I like a lot is a coopted classic cocktail, the Stardust — that’s rum with Parfait Amore, which is a beautiful French orange liqueur with kind of a vanilla overtone and a deep violet color.”

A professional’s shot-creation process is similar to putting together a new, full-size drink, since a shot is often merely a shrunken version of another libation. For Travers, though, “It’s got to be stronger, for one thing, because you’re putting it down in one gulp and people aren’t really sipping on it. Something different is expected from a shot than from a cocktail.” But no matter how quickly it goes down, Cannon says, flavor is still the key. “Even if it’s just in a morsel, it’s got to still be flavorful. It’s like a good-tasting piece of candy or something. It’s like one little drop of something good.” Cannon looks for a balance of tart and sweet, as he does with any other cocktail. He also carefully selects his alcohol. “You want the base spirit to have a place in the drink, which is why I don’t really offer much in the way of vodka. Vodka’s kind of that blank slate; it’s really just the other ingredients that you taste. We do a classic Lemon Drop as a shot, but most of the rest of them either are gin or whiskey or rum, or something with a little more character to them.”

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