Drinking Brooklyn: The Barrel-Aged Bushwick Cocktail at Forrest Point

Photo by Jane Bruce
Photo by Jane Bruce

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the inventor of the Brooklyn cocktail was a guy who lived in Hoboken and worked in Manhattan, and it never took off after he published the recipe in 1908. The Brooklyn, similar to a Manhattan but with dry vermouth instead of sweet (plus amaro and maraschino), was only recently accepted as a classic when the borough-of-the-moment became a popular place to open cocktail bars. But what about all those other drinks named after our fair borough? Don’t they deserve their own write-up? Well, maybe not all of them do, but there are some solid, and solidly named, drinks out there that deserve a shout-out. In this new series, we explore drinks named after Brooklyn and its many neighborhoods, expanding the cocktail canon of boozy Brooklynites everywhere. After imbibing on the Brooklyn Bloody Knuckles at The Richardson, we’re heading to Bushwick’s Forrest Point to sip on a, well, Bushwick cocktail.

Flushing Avenue, the divide between Bushwick and East Williamsburg, isn’t famous for much, aside from the $1.6 million loft Zosia Mamet bought and flipped last year, the shuttered Wreck Room, and the psychedelic-purple glow of King Noodle. Late last summer, Forrest Point took over the weird wedge-shaped space on the Bushwick side of Flushing Avenue at Forrest Street, and as far as we know, they’re the first to attempt a classic-style cocktail named after Bushwick.

Despite a few spatial quirks (namely that you have to grope around for the doorknob due to a camouflaging mural and you run into furniture on your way to the bathroom), Forrest Point arguably has the highest quality cocktail program in the area. Gareth Howells, the bar manager, took over after Dustin Olson moved on to continue building beverage programs for new bars in New York and beyond. Olson is the original creator of Forrest Point’s Bushwick cocktail, a stirred drink made with Bols Genever (a Dutch style of gin), Cynar, Dolin Blanc, St. Germain, and orange bitters. Howells has been aging a batch of the cocktail in an oak barrel for around eight weeks, and he’s featuring the barrel-aged version as a special until it runs out. Despite being head-to-toe booze, it’s easy drinking. Slightly sweet and surprisingly whiskey-like, the drink has a woodsy warmth and a bitterness for balance, and you feel it more in your head than in your throat.

Genever is sometimes aged in oak, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for Howells to throw a test batch of the mixed cocktail into an oak barrel. “Considering it’s straight liquor, it’s really mellow,” says Howells. “I can’t imagine it’s going to be around too long, to be honest.”

Genever is the precursor to all other gins, but it can also be considered its own spirit category. Like many spirits, it was originally just a terrible-tasting medicine. To make it go down easier, Dutch pharmacists redistilled the medicine with juniper and other botanicals, a process that is still used in gin making today. Popular legend claims that genever migrated to England during the Thirty Years’ War, when English soldiers attributed the beverage to the Dutch bravery on the battlefield. The term “Dutch courage” or “liquid courage” was supposedly coined by these same English soldiers, who then took the process home and made it their own.

When Olson started creating the Bushwick, he “wanted to carry on the tradition started by the Manhattan and the Brooklyn” and the run on cocktails named after Brooklyn neighborhoods like the Red Hook and the Greenpoint. “They all had this boozy stirred quality, so I was taking that narrative and continuing it on with the Bushwick,” Olson says.

The use of genever in the Bushwick cocktail is no coincidence; Bushwick was colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century, and it was originally named “Boswijck,” an archaic Dutch word meaning “little town in the woods” or “heavy woods.” Olson knew this going in. “When we first opened the bar, one of the first things we did was look up the etymology,” he says. “That’s what led me to using a Dutch genever, which almost has some white whiskey qualities but sweeter and with that juniper flavor you get from gin. So the drink is this blend between a traditional Dutch spirit and the history of Bushwick.”

Genever is made with a mash of malted grains in a process similar to making Scotch, while London dry and American gins are made from neutral grain spirits. Even though it’s not as piney as London dry or American gins, genever is not necessarily for everyone. “When we first put this on the menu, it wasn’t polarizing exactly, but it definitely had its detractors,” says Olson. “For me that’s sort of the mark of a successful and interesting cocktail. You have to have a couple cocktails that push the envelope a little bit.”

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