New Year’s Eve Cocktail Events Round-Up

Drinking on New Year’s Eve is, of course, a time-honored tradition.  Thus, it should not surprise you to learn that opportunities abound for drinking on New Year’s Eve in the District.  (And all across the country, presumably.)

But you want to do it right.  As Chris. Xander advertised in the Washington Evening Star shortly after the New Year in 1901, “‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,’ and you can’t make a good Cocktail out of poor whisky.”  To help point you in the right direction, Mr. Xander offered his “Old Reserve” whisky for $1.25 a bottle, for sale at 909 7th Street.  (Side note: awesomely detailed history about Mr. Xander here.)

I can’t send you to Xander’s, which is now either a TD Bank, FedEx Office or a parking garage.  But in the same spirit, I can point you to a few places where you are likely to find a cocktail worthy of the occasion this New Year’s Eve:

Cocktail flight at barmini.  Start your night at barmini with a glass of Dom Perignon and a special New Year’s Eve cocktail flight.  Note that you will probably not be celebrating the New Year here at midnight.  The latest seating (10:15 p.m.) is already full, although you can try for the waitlist.  But it’s not a bad place to start the night as the cocktails here never disappoint.  Reservations are $175 per person and available hereSeatings still available at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; 501 9th Street N.W.

Blind Pig: a New Year’s Eve Speakeasy at Barrel.  Barrel in Capitol Hill boasts a raft of original cocktails, including a featured barrel-aged cocktail from its “Lab.”  For New Year’s Eve, Barrel is offering an all-you-can-eat menu and various punches, cocktails, and wines to drink, including sparkling wine for the customary midnight toast.  Tickets are $120 here9 p.m. to 2 a.m.; 613 Pennsylvania Avenue S.E.

New Year’s Eve in the Spirits Library at Columbia Room.  Recently named the Best American Cocktail Bar, the Columbia Room is hosting a cocktail-and-Champagne party in its spirits library, along with small bites.  Note they are also hosting a class on Champagne cocktails the night before, offering an opportunity to brush up on your own N.Y.E. skillset in the event you will be hosting rather than going out on December 31, as well as to lay to rest that vexing dilemma whether cocktails or champagne are more fitting for the occasion (although at the moment the class is full; they do have a waitlist).  Tickets are $150 for New Year’s Eve and $100 for the class; information on both can be found here9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve and 3 to 4:45 p.m. on December 30; 124 Blagden Alley N.W.

Tasting for Two at Dram & Grain.  Dram & Grain at Jack Rose is offering a “special celebration for two” with a five-course cocktail tasting, with food pairings for each course.  First seating is from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and the second is from 9:30 p.m. to last call.  The price is $125 per couple, and reservations are made by texting (202) 607-1572.  2007 18th Street N.W.

Finally, don’t forget about the ongoing Miracle on 7th Street pop-up bar in the Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, and Southern Efficiency spaces, covered in the December cocktail events round-up post, which will have its last night on New Year’s Eve.  And if that reminds you that you haven’t finished your winter-holiday shopping, consider our cocktail-themed suggestions here.

Drinking D.C.: Traditional Chinese Medicine Cocktails at Tiger Fork

I finally got over to Tiger Fork last week, when I met up with some friends there for dinner.  I had read about Tiger Fork’s novel Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”) cocktails in the Post’s Going Out Guide, and I was excited to try them out myself.

Reservations are recommended here, but for what it’s worth there was ample room for walk-ins at 6 p.m. on a Thursday, the time of our reservation.  (It was more crowded when we left a few hours later.  I realize no one dines at 6 – I’m old – but it is a reasonable cocktail hour, so if that’s your focus you probably can walk in.)  Tiger Fork’s interior has great vibe – cozy with warm lighting, like many of its Blagden Alley neighbors.

There is no question that the TCM cocktails are the feature here.  The menu hits you with them first off:

Tiger Fork drink menu

I immediately noticed two things.  First, Tiger Fork’s drinks are listed not merely by name but also by intended medicinal effect.  The 8 O’clock Light Show, for example, addresses fatigue.  Nathan Road aids – perhaps counter-intuitively, for a cocktail – detox.  (At last, vindication that alcohol is the cure-all I always knew it was.  Also, this statement is not remotely FDA-approved; uh, always consult your physician.)

Second, in a warning almost certainly calculated to get you to order at least three of these cocktails, the menu advises that because of the holistic “nature of the recipes we recommend no more than 2 of these cocktails per visit.”

But I’m a rule-follower so this Jedi mind-trick does not work on me, and I order just two.  The first was the Bird Market (immune system):

The 'Bird Market' TCM cocktail at Tiger Fork

This one ended up being my favorite of the two.  It had a pleasant citrus and earthy flavor combination (the TCM ingredients definitely have an impact here).  The second was the Peruvian Chef in a Chinese Kitchen (anxiety):

The 'Peruvian Chef in a Chinese Kitchen' TCM cocktail at Tiger Fork

This one was harder to peg flavor-wise.  As with the first drink there were herbal and earthy flavors that I didn’t recognize and presumably were attributable to the TCM ingredients.  For what it’s worth, I did feel the stress of the work day lifting about halfway through this drink.  But I acknowledge confounding factors (second cocktail, more time since the end of the work day) potentially were at play.

I will certainly be back to try the two I missed.  And if you haven’t been already, you should go too.  No one else is making cocktails like these in D.C., and the novel ingredients should entice you if nothing else does.  And in fact something else does (or should), in that you will also be rewarded with very good food if you decide to stay for dinner!

Original Recipe: Fireside Fizz

Cold weather season kicked off in the District this weekend with an inch or so of snow.  It didn’t really turn the city into a winter wonderland, but it did mark a shift to colder temperatures.  That means we have fire in the fireplace for the first time this year.  I love a good fire on a winter weekend night, and to celebrate I decided to concoct a new cocktail.  The result:  the Fireside Fizz.

Now, when I think fire my mind often goes to whiskey, and if that’s your speed you should check out my Decorator’s Drink from my last post if you haven’t already.  This time, I wanted to make use of a Douglas fir pine syrup I received as a gift recently, and I didn’t want to use a liquor that would overpower the the infused pine taste.

So I turned to St.-Germain, that elderflower liqueur that supplies a sweet floral taste, and Suze, an aperitif with an earthy flavor, both of which I thought would complement a pine syrup nicely.  To balance out the sweetness, I also used freshly squeezed lemon juice.  I shook these over ice and strained into a coupe and, for a fizzy finish, I topped it with sparkling wine.  For garnish, I used a part of the lemon rind, a freshly cut sprig of rosemary, and frozen cranberries.  And boom, I had a new fireside companion:

Ultimately, despite my efforts not to bury the pine flavor, it was quite subtle in the finished product.  But I went back at sampled the syrup by itself and, even alone, the pine taste is not strong.  Nevertheless, the drink was delicious, and the rosemary brings up the pine flavor at least a little bit.

Here is the recipe:

Fireside Fizz

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. St.-Germain
  • 1/2 oz. Suze
  • 1/2 oz. Douglas fir pine syrup from June Taylor
  • 1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • lemon rind
  • rosemary sprig
  • frozen cranberries

Directions

  1. Combine the St.-Germain, Suze, pine syrup, and lemon juice with ice in a shaking tin and shake vigorously.
  2. Strain into a coupe.
  3. Top with sparkling wine.
  4. Garnish with the lemon rind, rosemary, and cranberries.

Enjoy!

Original Recipe: Decorator’s Drink

I would never suggest that holiday decorating might drive one to drink.  But it is difficult to dispute that decorating can be more fun with a good drink in hand.  Or if that complicates the task of, say, putting up a tree, you might at least be tempted to reward yourself for a job well done after erecting the biggest blue spruce you have ever managed to squeeze into your living room.  For your efforts, I offer you the Decorator’s Drink:

For this cocktail I used Michter’s small batch unblended American whiskey, green Chartreuse, Cherry Heering, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and orange bitters, with a cherry for garnish.  For bonus points I broke out the silver chalice as a nod to the Silver Bells of Christmas.  But any coupe or martini glass will do the trick here.

The whiskey provides that nice, warm base you want on a cold December evening.  And the Chartreuse, Cherry Heering and lemon juice provide a pleasant piney and tangy flavor that tastes like winter break.  So mix yourself one of these, sit back and take a break from decorating or appreciate a job already done.  (And if your thoughts are turning to the gifts for the folks still on your list, check out my recent post with holiday gift suggestions here.)

Decorator's Drink

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. whiskey (I used Michter’s small batch unblended American whiskey)
  • 1/2 oz. green Chartreuse
  • 1/4 oz. Cherry Heering
  • 1/4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • dash of orange bitters (I used Fee Brothers)
  • cherry

Directions

  1. Combine the whiskey, green Chartreuse, Cherry Heering, lemon juice, and orange bitters with ice in a mixing glass and stir.
  2. Strain into a coupe or martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a cherry.

Enjoy!

 

Repeal Day 2017

Happy Repeal Day!  On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment became effective when Utah became the 36th state to ratify it.  As a result, Prohibition, made possible by the 18th amendment, became a dead letter.  Celebration ensued:

It seems only natural that many bars and cocktail enthusiasts now celebrate Repeal Day with happy hours, special cocktails, or even full-on black-tie affairs.  (See my recent post on December cocktail events in D.C. for coverage of the Repeal Day bash at Jack Rose and the 10th annual gala put on by the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild, for example.)

But wait!  The bars did not reopen on December 5, 1933, at least not everywhere.  Of particular interest to my D.C.-area history buffs, they did not reopen immediately in the District or Virginia.  As reported by the Washington Evening Star, Maryland “was busily engaged in arranging to go wet” pursuant to legislation that “went through its final steps in the Legislature in Annapolis” on December 4 and was presented to the governor for his signature the morning of Repeal Day.

But things were different in the District.  It remained subject to the Volstead Act, the legislation that gave force to Prohibition under the 18th Amendment:

The ending of the eighteenth amendment today finds Washington legally dry under the Volstead law, awaiting the assembling of Congress next month to consider liquor control legislation for the National Capital.

. . . .

The Volstead law continues in force in Washington under a recent ruling of Attorney General Cummings, who held that the national prohibition act will continue to be operative in the District and in the Territories until some action is taken by Congress.

It was Prohibition without Representation!  Nevertheless, District residents were not entirely without recourse.  The Evening Star went on to report that there was “reason to believe . . . that prosecuting officials will take the liberal attitude toward the matter and that residents bringing liquor into the District for their own personal use will not be in danger of any criminal prosecution.”

Thus, it seems reasonable to speculate that a least a few Repeal Day parties were held in the District that night, even if, as the Evening Star reported the next day, “the festivities [nationwide] seemed to lack the fervor some had forecast.”  (Perhaps the reporters weren’t invited to the right parties.)  And in any event, it seems more than fair to mark the occasion today.  Have fun out there!

Vintage Barware Report: December 2, 2017

Of course, you can’t have a home bar without barware.  I’ve been inspired by the vintage cocktail glasses, shakers and mixing glasses that I’ve seen on Instagram over the last year. (I’m an admirer in particular of the collections of @liquorary (D.C.-based!), @sashadallasgirl, and @thirstycamelcocktails.) And I’ve decided to start expanding my own collection.  To help you do the same, I’ll be sharing my wisdom as I build and opportunities as I find them through occasional “Vintage Barware Reports” here on the blog.

As I’m just starting out, I looked for tips from some trusted sources on how to look for good vintage products.  This list of eight tips from Christine Tusher on Houzz is great. It includes names of reputable vintage brands to help guide your search. And of interest to my D.C.-area readers, it recommends The Hour in Alexandria, Virginia as a great source for vintage barware.  Tales of the Cocktail has a helpful guide, including references to a couple of vendors.  It’s oriented more toward bar owners but contains helpful information for the home collector as well.

I also just dived in on eBay to see what’s out there and came up with a few gems. (Note: if you are looking for other cocktail-themed gifts, check out my recent post offering five ideas for the Winter 2017 holiday season.) 

Check out this art deco etched-glass mixing glass, a beautiful green glass with a built-in strainer (no brand information provided):

Here is a set of six mid-century Hollywood Regency style highball glasses made by Cera:

And finally, I like this set of six highball cocktail glasses with a caddy (no vintage or brand provided):

Happy hunting!

Classic Recipe: The Aviation

The Aviation is a classic cocktail, named after its unique hue – a light shade of something between blue and violet, reminiscent of the morning sky.  It is more than a century old at this point, reportedly printed for the first time in a 1916 book by Hugo Ensslin, the head bartender of the Hotel Wallick in New York.

Despite its early birthdate, the Aviation had faded into obscurity for a time due to the difficulty in obtaining a key ingredient:  crème de violette.  This violet-flavored liqueur gives the drink its signature color but, for many decades, was not widely available in the United States.  But renewed interest in the Aviation was sparked by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead’s 1998 book, The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, which covered the Aviation among many other traditional cocktails.  And today, a number of crème de violette options are available, including one by Rothman & Winter, which is the ingredient used in this recipe.

The drink has a strong floral, herbal taste.  It shares three of its four ingredients – gin, Maraschino, and citrus (though here lemon instead of lime) with the Last Word, and as such there are some overlapping flavors here.  But the use of crème de violette instead of Chartreuse pushes the drink in a more floral direction.  Note that, for my preference, less is more with the crème de violette, so if you are tinkering with the portions here, you probably want to exercise restraint in increasing that ingredient.

Here is the recipe:

Aviation

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. gin (I used Botanist)
  • 3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 oz. crème de violette liqueur (I used Rothman & Winter)
  • cherry

Directions

  1. Combine the gin, lemon juice, Maraschino and crème de violette with ice in a mixing glass and stir.
  2. Strain into a coupe or martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a cherry.

Enjoy!

December Cocktail Events Round-Up

December is nearly upon us.  If you live or will be in D.C., here are the cocktail events that should be on your calendar (and if I’m missing something you know about that should be on here, let me know).  Note these events do not include New Year’s Eve, which I intend to cover in a separate post:

Miracle on 7th Street.   The annual winter-holiday-themed pop-up bar in the Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, and Southern Efficiency spaces on 7th Street in Shaw is up and running again.  Come for the amazing decorations, stay for the cocktails that you won’t find on any other menu in town.  Also dress warmly and prepare to stand in line outside a very long time.  1839 7th Street N.W.; ongoing from November 24th through December 31st.

1930s-Inspired Repeal Day Fête at Jack Rose.  Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933.  Come celebrate the anniversary at Jack Rose’s sixth annual party honoring the day, this year featuring “Pappy Hour,” from 5:30 to 7 p.m., when the entire line of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon will be offered at discounted pricing; “bottomless bubbles” for $20; and Prohibition-era cocktails served up by Dram & Grain in the bar’s basement.  Burlesque performers will provide additional entertainment, and Jack Rose encourages guests to dress in Prohibition-era attire.  2007 18th Street N.W.; December 5 from 5 to 10 p.m.

Cocktail Class:  Brandy Cocktails at barmini.  barmini hosts cocktail-making classes on a monthly basis.  I’ve been to couple of these this year and have had a blast every time (for an example, see my Instagram post about the Chartreuse class here).  You will be greeted with a cocktail on your arrival.  Then you will mix three cocktails of your own with the careful and attentive instruction of the barmini team, with small snacks in between.  This month’s class is on brandy cocktails – perfect for December.  501 9th Street N.W.; December 6 at 5:30 p.m.

D.C. Champagne Week / Vintage Champagne Tasting at Columbia Room.  Started last year, D.C. Champagne Week is back for its second season from December 4-9.  Celebrate the week at a special event at the Columbia Room, which will uncork 1982 and 1990 vintages from “top champagne houses,” guided by Champagne Week co-founder Alison Marriott and paired with food by Columbia Room’s Johnny Spero.  Tickets are $450 per person.  124 Blagden Alley N.W.December 8 at 6 p.m.

D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild’s Tenth Annual Repeal-Day Ball.  Celebrating Repeal during the week at a bar is one thing, but blowing it up on the weekend at a black-tie event at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium is quite another.  This is the Tenth year of this event, but the first year at this venue, which the Guild (@dccraftbarguild) has rightfully been boasting about on Instagram.  E.g.:

Tickets range from $90-140.  1301 Constitution Avenue N.W.; December 9 from 7:30 p.m. to midnight.

Have fun out there!

Original Recipe: The Autumn Breeze

If you read my last post offering cocktail gift ideas for the 2017 holiday season, you know I’m a fan of shrubs and Chartreuse.  This recipe – the Autum Breeze – shows you how to make good use of these things together.

The context for this recipe is my frame of mind when I was dreaming it up:  thinking about the last days of fall and avoiding unpleasant thoughts of winter by imagining myself on a Caribbean vacation.  This daydream inspired island ingredients like pineapple and rum on the one hand and warm autumnal flavors like smoky scotch and spices on the other.  My ingredient list became clear:  rum, scotch, a pineapple-allspice shrub by Shrub District, and yellow Chartreuse.

This is a spirit-heavy cocktail so I decided that stirring rather than shaking was the way to go.  I stirred the ingredients with ice and strained into a couple glass and garnished with a lemon peel.  And here was the result:

This is a sweet drink, with a pleasant complexity provided by the different flavors.  The smokiness of the scotch and the herbal goodness of the Chartreuse come through clearly, offsetting what might have been an overpowering sweetness if the rum and pineapple flavors had been left alone.  It definitely works as a fall sipping drink, but you could easily pour this over crushed ice and swizzle for a fine poolside (or seaside) drink and throw a number of these back quickly.

Here is the recipe:

Autumn Breeze

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. aged rum (I used Appleton Estate 12-year)
  • 1/2 oz. Laphroaig 10-year
  • 1/2 oz. yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 oz. pineapple-allspice shrub by Shrub District
  • lemon peel

Directions

  1. Combine the rum, Laphroaig, Chartreuse and shrub with ice in a mixing glass and stir.
  2. Strain into a coupe.
  3. Express lemon peel over the glass and add the peel as garnish.

Enjoy!

Cocktail Gift Ideas – Winter 2017

Black Friday is behind us and Cyber Monday is upon us.  If that hasn’t already driven you to drink, then you might be sober enough to be wondering what to buy the home bartenders in your life for the holidays.  Here are a few cocktail gift ideas for your list:

A culinary torch.  This fall I finally acquired a torch for my cocktail toolset – the Keen Smart Culinary Creme Brulee Torch.  And I have no regrets.  The joy of playing with fire speaks for itself, and it has practical applications, too.  Use the torch to add a burnt finish to your citrus garnish (see my recipe for the Smoked Pearl).  Or use the torch with some wood planks (I used this variety pack) to smoke your glasses (see my take on the Old Fashioned for an example).  Don’t forget to add fuel; Keen recommends at least 5x pure butane.  On Amazon for $28.76.

A set of cocktail vinegars from Shrub District.  The folks at Shrub District are champions of the “old art” of the shrub, in which vinegar and sugar are used to preserve fruit.  Shrubs make for a brilliant addition to a cocktail (see many compelling recipes on one of my favorite cocktail feeds on Instagram, @sashadallasgirl).  Pineapple Allspice shrub from Shrub DistrictAs a bonus for buy-local enthusiasts in the D.C. area, they are locally based and put a premium on local ingredients.  And they have a Cyber Monday deal going; use the code “cranberrysauce” at checkout and save 10% on your order.  On the web at www.shrubdistrict.com.

Two-inch ice square ice cube tray.  For some drinks, standard freezer-made ice or ice-tray ice cubes won’t do the trick.  The problem is that small cubes melt quickly.  This is fine for some drinks, but others need a bigger ice cube that allows you to finish a drink before it gets too watered down.  I like this tray from Cocktail Kingdom, which allows you to make six square two-inch cubes and doesn’t take up too much space in the freezer.  Pro tip: let the cubes sit for a couple of minutes after you take the tray out of the freezer.  They’re easier to pop out if they warm up a bit first.  Check Amazon for pricing.

Chartreuse.  If you have been following my Instagram (@capitalcocktails), you know that I am obsessed with Chartreuse.  It’s a monastic liqueur from France that is predominantly available in two varieties – green and yellow.  Both are unique herbal liqueurs; the green is slightly stronger than the yellow, and the yellow is slightly sweeter.  Either would make a great gift for a home bartender.  They will also come in handy if you’re following along with any of the recipes I post here or on Instagram, which will continue to make good use of this excellent spirit.  Available at many liquor stores; average price $55.

‘Imbibe’ by David Wondrich.  If you’re looking for a great gift for the cocktail enthusiast/history buff, consider this great book by David Wondrich.  Wondrich, a regular contributor to Esquire, chronicles the history of the cocktail and its evolution over the years, with a particular focus on Jerry Thomas, known as “The Professor” and godfather of the modern cocktail arts.  The book is well-researched and easy to read.  It also includes recipes for some classic cocktails to make the tour through history even more tangible.  On Amazon for $21.20.

Authentic D.C.-area “medicinal” whiskey prescriptions from the Prohibition era.  Finally, a cocktail gift for the history buff who prefers artifacts to books:  authentic whiskey prescriptions written by D.C.-area doctors during Prohibition.  It actually wasn’t impossible to drink legally during Prohibition; you just needed a doctor to write you a prescription.  This loophole  kept the Buffalo Trace distillery in business and many good Americans drunk while the Temperance experiment ran its course.  And now, it will help you get your home-bartending friends the best gift of the season.  On Etsy through the ProhibitionAct store; prices range from roughly $10 to $45.