Somerville’s Brass Union has all the elements of a classic neighborhood restaurant—game nights, live music, classic fare that includes everything from cheeseburgers to market-fresh ceviche, brunch, monthly pairing dinners, local craft brews, and of course, innovative delicious cocktails. And behind those cocktails is the warm, friendly smile of Brass Union’s Beverage Director, Paulo Pereira.
I took a visit to this hidden gem in Union Square to chat with Pereira about his journey in the bartending world, upcoming events at Brass Union, and incredibly creative cocktails (think pecorino cheese infused vodka, and the longest lemon twist I’ve ever seen).
What is your favorite cocktail to make?
Sometimes it depends on the day, but if I had to pick one of my cocktails in particular, I’d probably say the ‘Satchmo's Slur’. It has a couple different techniques to it, but I find it’s a really balanced cocktail that took some developing and time to get it to where it is. It’s something that I’m always proud to share with people. I know once they try it they’ll like it, so I’m always happy to make it.
- 1.5 oz rye
- 1 oz Lillet Blanc
- .75 oz Cynar
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- Stir all ingredients except Herbsaint.
- Strain into an Herbsaint-rinsed coupe glass.
- Garnish with lemon swath.
What is your go-to drink of choice?
A glass of wine. Red usually. At the end of a shift, it’s just an easy go-to for me...crack open a bottle of wine and turn on the television.
What is your top must-have bar tool that everyone should have at home?
A good Boston Shaker. It’ll be the base of growing your bar tool kit at home...along with that you’ll also need a couple of different strainers, you’ll wanna buy a mixing glass and spoon, and then go from there.
What is your favorite bartending or customer story?
One of my favorite ones is from when I was working at Lansdowne. We used to get some celebrities in because it’s close to Fenway, and they had this little VIP room. One night I was over by the VIP room putting away some glasses, and I looked up and saw a bunch of Bruins players. Particularly, I picked out Tuukka Rask (this was some years back and at the time he was just a back up. I’m a big Bruins fan and I knew he was on his way up).
I just looked over and said “Hey, Tuuka!” and he was really really perturbed that I actually knew who he was.
So I took care of all those guys for the rest of the night; Shawn Thornton was there too. And they were just some of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. It just always stood out to me how somebody in his position would be so surprised that I would recognize him.
All time favorite food/drink pairing?
Margarita on the rocks (usually no salt) and nachos
Tell us about your personal journey and what led you to bartending?
I always had an interest in bartending because of the fact that my father had built a full-on bar in the basement of our home. He had a couple books, 5-6 different kinds of rums and whiskeys, and brandys and ports.
He would let me make him a cocktail here and there growing up. Even at an early age, I would try to create things, using some really syrupy and silly ingredients (I got that out of the way at a young age).
I actually ended up meeting my wife and she was in the bar industry. She saw my passion and she’d been doing it for years, so she got me my first “in” behind the bar at a place in Waltham.
How do you keep a fresh spin on what you offer in terms of your cocktail menu and your product portfolio?
I try to make sure that everything I carry in-house is something that I stand behind and would enjoy myself. I don’t want to be carrying something just for a brand name.
As far as keeping everything fresh, it’s just a lot of research. Getting out, going to visit other bartenders—there’s so many amazing bartenders and bars here in Boston in particular, but every once in awhile getting out to a city like New York, or even going up to Portland in Maine which has an amazing food and beverage scene—seeing what other people are doing, getting online, and just seeing what the overall trends are and what I can do to mimic that or to take a different spin on it here at Brass Union.
What is your biggest piece of advice for aspiring bar managers?
Work...work hard. Honestly. I feel like sometimes people feel entitled, especially once they get a title, and some people get that title too quickly of Bar Manager or Beverage Director...I still don’t feel like I’m worthy of it because I’m constantly learning and doing research and reading articles and picking up new books and trying to learn from Chef. Every restaurant that I go to I try to see what they’re doing and pick up on dishes and foods and drinks.
It’s just work. Spend the time. Do the research. Pick up a book. Instead of taking an hour to watch a television show, take that hour to pick up a magazine or get online. There are some amazing blogs out there that some of the best bartenders in the world write on a regular basis.
What specific books or other resources you would recommend to aspiring bar managers?
I’d definitely recommend a subscription to Imbibe Magazine.
What is your favorite (and least favorite) thing about BevSpot?
My favorite thing is the support that you offer. From day one when I signed up, if I found anything confusing or if I just didn’t know what I was doing, all I had to do was send a text message and if not within minutes, then within a couple of hours, whatever it was that I asked about was either answered or someone was giving me a call to walk me through it. The support is definitely second to none.