Today at 11 AM, join three of the areas best mix masters for a chat about cocktails, spirits, and the local bar scene. Looking for tips on how to stock your bar at home? Wondering what high-end rum or boutique bourbon to buy? Curious about what cocktail trends will pop up this summer? Submit a question below. On tap (ba-dum-ching), we’ll have . . .
• Gina Chersevani, whose infused liquors garnered her quite a following at Rasika and who now oversees the cocktails at EatBar and Tallula in Arlington and at Vermilion, Rustico, and Evening Star Cafe in Alexandria. See our interview with Gina here.
• Tiffany Short, creator of lots of innovative drinks—witness the Bolshevik, made with beet-infused vodka—at PS7’s in DC’s Penn Quarter. See our Best of Washington feature on Tiffany here.
• Todd Thrasher, who made his name as the sommelier and “liquid savant” at Old Town Alexandria’s Restaurant Eve and who now also works his magic with freshly made sodas and juices at the swank speakeasy PX
For the full archives of food & drink chats, click here.
Glenn Dale, Md.
I want to be able to make a killer Manhattan at home. Everybody seems to have a different recipe — different proportions, different ingredients too. What's the best recipe?
Tiffany: Add a little bit of cherry juice. Not everyone does that.
Todd: I do one called My Wife's Manhattan, it's equal parts sweet vermouth to whiskey. She likes Maker's Mark. And a dash of cherry juice and cherry bitters.
Gina: I like rye. Same proportions, I do 90 percent liquor, then a little bit of cherry juice, and Fee Brothers bitters.
OK, I need a rum to sip as a liquer, a rum to mix with, a rum to cook/bake with. Do I need three different rums, and if so, what are they? What are their names?
Gina: You could do one I think. I would say Captain's is very versatile. It's got so much vanilla or clove, it's so versatile.
Todd: I agree with that. It's good for everything. For sipping, I like Pirate XO reserve from Anguilla.
Tiffany: Zacapa 23. High brow cooking, tasting and sipping.
For Ms. Chersevani: Did you find the complex flavors of Indian food more of a challenge or inspiration (or both) at Rasika? What was your favorite drink/dish pairing there?
Gina: My favorite pair was Spicy Queen Martini, which has winesap apples infused with kashmiri chilies, touch of pomegranate, egg white, a little bit of Cointreau, served with tawa baingan. That's layered eggplant with spiced potato and a honey and chili sauce. I found it challenging in the beginning, and continues to be inspiring now. It was a challenge to work with different spices, everything from cardamom to turmeric in a cocktail.
I like playing around with things like lemonade, punch and orange juice, making them more interesting, or making them more versatile at parties and such. My question is, what can I do nonalcoholically to lemonade, punch and orange juice to kick them up a notch or two? And then, what can I do, with alcohol, to kick them up a few more notches?
Gina: I would make one into a sorbet. Take orange juice and make it into a sorbet, and make the floater something else. For non-alcoholic, I would say fresh soda water.
Tiffany: Things with bubbles. If your lemonade wasn't sweet, you could add a syrup, like lavender or mint syrup. Then add a sparkling apple cider.
Todd: With a lot of stuff, I add herbs. I have one that's roasted lemons with bay leaves. And it's cooked. Cooking or poaching will add flavors so it's not just lemonade or orange juice.
Tiffany: There's a brand new product I've read about, a sparkling vodka. I'm a sucker for anything with bubbles.
Wine coolers — remember them? Bartles and Jaymes, back in the day, was pretty refreshing. I'm not saying good or classy … just refreshing. Can you give us all some recipes for making good, classy wine coolers?
Gina: Blueberry-pomegranate juice, I would mix with a little bit of Riesling, then top it off with Champagne. That's a classy wine cooler.
Todd: In the summertime, I had a drink called the Wine Cooler. Peaches, Sauternes, Prosecco, and peach bitters. There are four cocktails at PX that are wine-based cocktails.
So here's the deal: I like to keep five wines on hand at all times. But I don't like spending a ton of money. Fifteen dollars per bottle, usually. I can go higher if it's really good, like twenty dollars. And I want to have a lot of variety, you know, a wine for every occasion kind of thing. My five wines are a wine for when your boss has lit into you and your day is one of utter suckitude, for when you're trying to mellow out with your honey, a wine for parties, a wine for dinner parties, and a wine for just sipping by your lonesome with a good book. Give me five to buy.
Gina: An awesome, cheap wine, like $9, is Onix. It's from Priorat, in Spain. It's just fruity and dry all at the same time, an amazing, sit back, your day sucked wine. For impressing your boss, Radiocateo syrah. It will impress your boss, manipulate your friends.
Tiffany: A good summertime wine, to sit on your porch and drink, is Txakoli. It's white, from the Basque region of Spain.
Todd: That's got this crazy writing on it, you can never read any of the labels. For a cheap sparkling, Graham Beck, from Robertson, South Africa. It's probably like $12. That would be a good party wine.
Gina: To mellow out with your honey, I'd say cocktails.
Hi Gina – I know the Neighborhood Restaurant Group is going to put a new restaurant where Dakota Cowigirls used to be. Any idea what you're going to have on the drink/beer menu?
Gina: Beer is not my thing, that would be handled by Greg Engert. I already have two cocktails in mind, they're beer based, and no they are not a car bomb! One is a dessert thing that's going to be done with creme fraiche and cherry lambic.
How have you been you inspired by classic cocktail recipes?
Gina: You have to know the past drinks to move into the future.
Todd: I disagree with that. Only in the past two years have I been inspired by retro cocktails. Before that, I just made what I made. I just made stuff up. Now, getting into that and reading about it, I have three or four riffs on classic cocktails.
Tiffany: It's a balance between understanding that nothing that you ever do will be truly original. Everything has been done before to some extent. Everything is based on a classic cocktail. Certain ingredients of yours may be different, but everything based on something that someone else has done before. You just try to be as creative as possible and use insane ingredients and just try to make it taste good.
Hi Tiffany! I head you've got some Elderflower Liquor on your hands. What's next on the PS7 list, and when will your new concoctions appear? You know I'm a regular
Tiffany: I'm doing something simple with elderflower. A really light sake with elderflower. The beauty of it is, you mix it with something, you don't even have to add sugar. I'm probably going to have a couple of drinks on there with cherries, for the obvious reasons. A couple cocktails with absinthe, for the obvious reasons. I can make it taste good!
Gins. Rank the best. 1-5. And why. Thanks! Jim G.
All: Collaborative top 5. #1: A tie, between Old Raj and Citadel. #2: Hendricks. #3: Plymouth. #4: Boodles. #5: Blue Coat. That's American gin. It's from Philadelphia.
I love Poire William. Is there any brand you like in particular?
Tiffany: Belle de Brillet. It's different from others because it's from cognac and it has a little bit of oak in it.
what is your favorite liquor to work with?
Gina: Bourbon, love it. It's made with so many different things, you can manipulate it so well.
Todd: Rum, as far as drinks to make cocktails with. For manipulations, vodka, because you can make the drink taste like anything. It has no flavor.
Tiffany: I think each one is a challenge. Well, vodka's not much of a challenge, but everything has its own place. I do one cocktail with each major liquor.
What's the best way to drink a good Bourbon? Ice? No ice? A little ice?
Tiffany: I prefer one or two cubes.
Todd: I don't drink Bourbon. Don't like it.
Gina: I love it. I drink it neat.
Falls Church, VA
This past weekend, I was at Eatbar to try some of the new cocktails, and I was wondering how you put the blue cheese in St.Pete's Denial?
Gina: St. Pete's Denial has blue cheese cooked down with cream and tempered eggs, and cooked into a liquid. I make a milkshake out of it with Godiva white, frangelico, and a little bit of simple syrup. Shaken and stirred with an edible chocolate straw. I couldn't do it without Nate and Temple, my chefs.
Isn't 'mixologist' a hugely pretentious term for what used to be called a bartender? It's like calling a garbage man a waste management engineer. What's wrong with bartender? A great bartender is a wonderful thing.
Todd: You're right. I'm a drink maker. I hate that term.
Gina: I'm a bartender. The difference between a bartender and a mixologist is, a mixologist has a $40 thousand debt to a university, and a bartender was smart enough not to go to college.
This question is for the fabulous Gina – we have been missing your delicious and unique cocktails since you left Rasika. Where can we find you now on a Saturday night? We need our fix!!!!!
Gina: For the next few months, I'll be at EatBar on Saturday nights. So whoever you are, come to EatBar and I will mix you whatever your heart desires.
I adore sangria! BUT I don't like the recipes I see for it. They're too fancy, a lot of them, with too many ingredients. I want to make a great sangria, but without a lot of ingredients. What wine do I buy? Do I use Cointreau or not? Brandy? Help …
Gina: I have an easy one for Tuscan style sangria. It's three lemons, three limes, three oranges, a bottle of Vin Santo, and one bottle of Chianti. No brandy, light, refreshing, traditional Tuscan-style. I personally don't like brandy in sangria.
To each of you: What's *your* drink of choice–if you had to pick only one?
Gina: Shot of Jameson.
Todd: Pisco Sour.
Tiffany: Anything with bubbles in it.
Why do you think that the wine bars scene is getting so popular nowadays? Do you see this trend to continue in 2008 and next year? If not what do you see as the new trend?
Todd: I think the wine bar thing has been going on for a while now. Cocktail bars will be the next thing. Wine and food go together, and the dining scene in DC is exploding, so wine bars go along with that. I would like to see a trend in cocktail bars.
Charles Town, WV
I'm doing a dinner party this weekend, and I want to come up with something that will knock my guests' socks off. Something simple, but special. Any ideas?
Todd: One ounce of blood orange juice, one ounce of pomegranate juice, one and a half ounces of Surreal red berry cream vodka, one tablespoon powdered sugar, and the white of one egg. Shake the heck out of it, serve it up in a martini glass. It's called the Berry Bloody Fizz.
I think all three of you are rogues, scoundrels, and miscreants. So there!
All: D, thank you so much. We agree with you. We wouldn't be working in bars if we weren't. Cheers to you.
Dessert wines are pretty cool, but I hardly ever spend my money on them because they don't give you that much bang for the buck. Are there any good ones that are good values?
Todd: You can get Tokai that's cheap. It's a Hungarian sweet wine. You could probably pick up a bottle called Oremus for like $15.
Tiffany: You can get pretty good value for any Italian dessert wine, especially red.
Greetings Gina, Tiffany, and Todd: A question about shots: Whenever we go out and do shots, it is always the same (not always on the same night!): lemon drops, soco lime, tequila shots, jolly rancher, and melon balls. Any new shots you can recommend that is not too sweet but packs a punch too?
Todd: I don't make shooters. I think you should just do a woo-woo, it's peach schnapps, cranberry, and vodka. It's awful. I've probably done a total of four shots in my life, and all of them contained Irish Mist.
Tiffany: I've never been a shot maker. I just pour little tasting glasses of my drinks.
I always have liked the idea of naming sandwiches for politicians. Well, it's campaign season, and this is Washingtonian, D.C. What drinks can you concoct for the remaining presidential candidates? What goes into a Barack Obama? What's a John McCain made of? A Mike Huckabee? A Hillary? And no wiggling out from under the question, like they try to do in the debates! Charlie P.
Gina: Barack Obama doesn't drink. I'd give him a sparkling water. I do know what Hillary drinks. She hearts Kir Royales, mango Royales, anything with Champagne. Bill is a Grey Goose on the rocks drinker. I've waited on them many times.
Hi, can you recommend any good books (there are so many like The Bartender's Bible) that have excellent cocktail recipes that we can reference too, when hosting a party at home? Thanks!
Gina: Imbibe! by David Wondrich. It gives the background, it gives you real time recipes, how to really do it.
Tiffany: Go to the cocktail database, it's this website that has every single recipe you can ever think of, all sorts of alcohol and liquers and bitters and old drinks that haven't been made in forever. Cocktaildb.com
Gina, I've had your fig-infused bourbon at Rasika, and Tiffany, I love the beet-infused vodka. (Sorry Todd, haven't made it out to Old Town yet). First it was fruit infusions, then herbs, then vegetables (!). What do you think the next big trend will be in drinks? All made from scratch ingredients? More savory cocktails?
Tiffany: I think cocktails that are influenced by real food. Like instead of a fruity sugary fluff drink, something that has real food in it, like the beet one and the one chef has helped me with so much, the Sweet Potato Pie. It reflects the sweetness of the food that's actually in it.
Todd: I did butternut squash, I did sweet potato…
Gina: For me, it's cheese.
I'm getting married in October and we get to serve a "signature cocktail" at our pre-reception cocktail hour. Any suggestions for what might work well for such an occasion? Is anything seasonal then or should we just go with something that will be tasty with broad appeal?
Gina: Something with apples for the fall.
Todd: Apples or pears. Sparkling cocktails with that stuff is always good.
Tiffany: A fresh pear Bellini would be really good. Fresh pear juice, Champagne, and Belle de Brillet.
what are your favorite and least favorite customer behaviors?
Todd: No comment.
Gina: Don't wave money at me. If I'm busy, it doesn't make it better. I have to serve the people who have been there first.
Tiffany: I like nice people.
Todd, how hard is it to do drinks in Virginia, where the liquor laws and availability are so much more restrictive than they are in DC?
Todd: It's nutty. You just make sure you abide by the law, you have to work with limited products. It is harder, but you just work with what the law allows you. I work with more vodka than I would like, because there are so many things I can't use. A lot of liquor companies have to jump through hoops to get their products in ABC stores, so they just don't do it. I special ordered four rums four months ago. It takes four, five, six months. You can't infuse things. You can't manipulate the straight liquor. You just have to work with what you can.
What do you think of the P.I.N.K. Vodka? Fad or here to stay? What is the best vodka to use when mixing drinks? Grey Goose, Ketel One?
Gina: That is the worst vodka I have ever tasted in my entire life. It's bitter and gross.
Todd: i just wouldn't bother–I've never tasted it. Fad.
san francisco, ca
what do you guys think about the resurgence of absinthe?
Tiffany: It's a brand new toy to play with, so I think it's awesome.
Todd: I foresee a lot of bad absinthe cocktails, though. It's going to be everywhere.
So can you name some of the area's best unsung bartenders?
Todd: Tiffany and Gina. And Clinton Terry, the bartender at PX, and Kim and Tammy at Eve.
Gina: Ricco at Poste. Eric and Priscilla at Palace of Wonders, they're awesome. Adam at Bar Pilar is doing an awesome cocktail throwback thing on Tuesday nights. He's the bartender's bartender.
Tiffany: Arnold and Angie at the Black Cat. And Lily.
Is it illegal for a restaurant to buy a big bottle of vodka and pour into smaller bottles for ease of pour?
Todd: Yes, it's illegal in DC and Virginia.
You any relation to the french fry family?
Todd: No, if I were I wouldn't be working in a restaurant! I'd be rich! I'd be working on the boardwalk in jeans.