Like Lager for Champagne

by Emily Bell
Aliza Elizarov
March 2015

Restaurant

When you take a small-batch Berkshire Mountain Greylock London Dry Gin and introduce it to an ice cold can of Narragansett, workhorse lager of thirsty New Englanders for a century strong, do they battle? Do they fall in love? Do their parents object to the union and drag them back to their respective craft cocktail and dive bars?

None of the above. You get the 'Gansett 75. “I rarely look at the price points of a cocktail before it’s crafted,” says Kevin Mabry, a Connecticut native who came up in his parents’ sports bar. “To me, the integrity comes from being able to balance a cocktail and pair the subtle nuances seamlessly.” Maybe it’s no surprise a bartender whose earliest cocktail memories involve a generally laid back scene, can straddle the implicit—but increasingly irrelevant—high-brow, low-brow cocktail divide.

It’s definitely no surprise Mabry is doing it at Merrill & Co., the southern-twanged, self-styled “diner” that’s got Bostonians expecting a side of comfort with their sophistication. “The diner atmosphere, to us, is a transcendent one,” says Mabry. “All walks of life should be able to come in and feel comfortable.”

A drink like the 'Gansett 75 was almost inevitable. A “lovechild of the French 75 and a Shandy,” the drink is kind of like a liquid mascot for the meticulously curated “chill factor” that pervades places like Merrill. “I was thinking a Shandy would be the way to go, but it was lacking backbone,” says Mabry, who draws inspiration from “the 1920s and ‘30s through the 1950s and the soda shops of that era.” Again, Mabry’s talking from the perch of a “diner” bar menu that includes an incredible array of Sherries and a rotating roster of house-made sodas. He may be down to earth, but when he talks “backbone,” Mabry’s looking at an X-ray of a cocktail spine.

Borrowing the ratios from a French 75 but subbing in the Narragansett for the bubbly, Mabry had “a Eureka moment,” one he could list for just $9 a pop. “I knew I wanted an affordable tall drink on the menu,” he says, but affordability isn’t the reason it sells. The drink is effervescent complexity—lemony, slightly malty, with a pleasant bitterness playing up the botanicals and citrus of the Greylock gin. If the French 75 is like a carriage carrying the princess to the ball, the 'Gansett 75 is a Ford Mustang. 

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