Where You Should Be Drinking: Baldwin and Sons Trading Co.
The short answer to the question, ‘Where should you be drinking?’: Woburn, MA
Most likely, you’ve never heard of Woburn. If you have, you’re probably even more surprised. We certainly were.
We moved from Boston to DC about a year ago, but we like to keep up to date on the Boston cocktail scene. Our friend Dan was in town not too long ago, and as we were enjoying the most fabulous cocktail experience we’ve ever had at DC’s barmini, he said, ‘Next time you’re in Boston, we have to try this place I’ve been hearing about.’
Our imagination immediately conjured up some hot new spot in Somerville, or on the Seaport.
‘It’s a Chinese place, in Woburn.’
We thought he was joking. Chinese restaurants aren’t usually known for their cocktails. And we’re not sure Woburn is really known for anything. It’s a perfectly pleasant but entirely unexceptional suburb. He wasn’t joking.
Baldwin & Sons Trading Company is a place that seems to like defying expectations. We’re used to finding family-run Chinese restaurants in strip malls or storefronts; so we were a little taken aback when we discovered this one was in a colonial mansion. Stepping into a family-run Chinese place (even knowing we were there for the cocktails), we didn’t expect a lobby so crammed with awards, articles, reviews, and magazine covers all about the drinks, marking the shooting star status of bartender Ran Duan, the son of the owners. And having just seen him gracing so many magazine articles and awards, we didn’t expect Duan himself to be so unassumingly serving as our waiter.
The Baldwin and Sons Trading Company is actually one of three different venues in the same building. To the left from the mansion lobby is Sichuan Garden, the restaurant proper. To the right is a tiki bar called the Baldwin bar. Through the tiki bar, past a closed door, and up a back flight of stairs is the Trading Company. The three venues have much different aesthetics, but overlapping though not identical menus. The Trading Company felt like an old-fashioned private club: quiet, with dark wood, large leather furniture, old books, and dim lighting. Brass pineapple light sconces subtly tied this more refined look to the tiki bar downstairs.
The food, by the way, was good. The menu items were familiar to American Chinese restaurants, but their renditions seemed healthier, were tastier, and involved less frying than you might more usually find.
What We Ordered
Betty Draper: Bombay Sapphire gin, house lime cordial, coconut air
Girl from Ipanema: cachaca, creme de menthe, passion fruit syrup, lemon, vanilla, egg white
The Oracle: Hendricks gin, St. Germain, falernum, citric acid, absinthe, ylang ylang fog
What We Thought
These drinks were, first of all, gorgeous to look at. The ‘coconut air’ on the Betty Draper was an impossibly light and fluffy foam that looked beautiful garnished with a single white flower. The egg white top on the Girl from Ipanema was truly more like a meringue than a foam, and it was decorated with delicate purple and pink hearts that somehow maintained their shape until the very last sip. The Oracle, with its essential oil fog, definitely stole the spotlight, though; it not only looked great, but smelled great too.
And then the taste. The Betty Draper was deliciously sweet, light, and a little tart; it’s not a complicated drink, but as beautiful to taste as to look at. The Girl from Ipanema entirely changed our opinion of creme de menthe, and the light touch of passion fruit syrup was just right to bring some fruit flavor without making it a fruit drink. Once again, in the taste category, while all three drinks were great, the Oracle was our favorite. It was strong, sweet, mellow, and sophisticated. We were sad to get to the end of each of these drinks, but the Oracle especially made us feel the need to have it again.
The Oracle Cocktail Recipe
Luckily, Baldwin and Sons Trading Company kindly prints their recipes; so we can not only make it ourselves, but also share it with you. We’ve also included a bonus video of Duan mixing the Monarchy, the drink that won him Bombay Sapphire’s 2014 Most Imaginative Bartender award. Enjoy.
- 2 oz gin
- 1/2 oz St. Germain
- 1/2 oz falernum
- 10 drops citric acid solution (we used lemon juice instead)
- 3 drops absinthe
- ylang ylang fog (water, oil, and dry ice–separate from drink for scent and sight only)
- Combine gin, St. Germain, falernum, and absinthe in a mixing glass
- If using citric acid, dilute 3:1 water to acid and add as well. Having been burned (as it were) by our lactic acid experiments, we simplified by using lemon juice instead; it seemed to do alright.
- Stir with ice, and strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass.
- We did without the fog. It’s not quite the same, but still a truly excellent drink. If you’re ambitious, and have a flair for the dramatic and some dry ice, put a few drops of essential oil into an ounce of water in a small pitcher, add some dry ice; arrange the spout so that the vapor spills out and over the drink.