Sitting on the patio at Bourbon Steak, it would be easy to think the most popular summer drink this year is water garnished with mint. That is until you take a sip of barman Duane Sylvestre’s crystalline concoction—a clarified mojito—which looks like H2O but packs the rum-fueled punch of the Cuban classic.
Sylvestre isn’t the only Washington bartender playing with clarification, a method that removes solid particles and color from a liquid—most often a citrus juice—yet retains the flavor. Most, like Sylvestre, use the powdered plant agar, also a popular substance in avant-garde kitchens like DC’s Minibar. The agar changes liquid to a substance similar to Jell-O, and a clear fluid is then gently extracted through cheesecloth.
Bartenders such as Sylvestre favor clarifying for its aesthetic appeal as well as its ability to lengthen the juice’s shelf life by a day. (Many cocktail bars spend an hour daily juicing fresh fruit.) Others, including Trevor Frye at Jack Rose Dining Saloon, see a significant bump in taste.
“You’re unveiling the better flavors of the citrus,” says Frye, who mixes clarified lemon juice with Talisker Scotch and maraschino liqueur at Jack Rose’s reservation-only cocktail bar, Dram & Grain. It’s one of the few constants on the frequently changing menu. “The tartness goes away and you get a much brighter citrus taste.”
The only dangerous side: Drinking too much of the smooth results can make things decidedly less clear.
This article appears in the August 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Summer drinking weather is upon us, and we’re always looking for new recipes when it’s time to whip up a refreshing beverage. We asked Bar Charley cocktail master Nick Nazdin to share one of his favorite tiki cocktails: the Molokai Mule, which originated at the Kon-Tiki restaurant in Hawaii in the 1960s.
“It’s a much more citrus-heavy drink than most other tiki cocktails, which I really enjoy,” says Nazdin. “Most tiki drinks have people well on their way to the end of their night after one or two.”
The party-friendly formula is a tasty balance of fresh orange and lime juice, brandy, and plenty of rum. The only exotic ingredient you’ll see is orgeat, an almond-flavored syrup you can buy at specialty liquor stores such as Ace Beverage or online (Nazdin likes Fee Brothers). If you’d rather leave mixing to the experts, head to Bar Charley for Trader Nick’s Tiki Sundays, where you’ll find Nazdin concocting five different tiki cocktails.
Makes 1 drink
2 ounces orange juice
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce orgeat syrup
1 ounce brandy
1 ounce silver rum
1 ounce dark rum
A heavy dash of Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake, and strain over ice.
We love a refreshing Pimm’s Cup on warm afternoons, but it’s harder to imagine sipping the citrusy cocktail fireside. That is, until we sampled Adam Bernbach’s cold-weather version at his 14th Street cocktail den, 2 Birds 1 Stone, beneath Doi Moi. Gone are the cucumber slices and ginger ale float that typically accent the classic drink, replaced by more wintery flavors like cinnamon-infused Pimm’s (a type of British liqueur), spicy ginger beer, and a small dose of gin for added warmth.
Note that you’ll have to start one day ahead to infuse the Pimm’s with cinnamon, but like the classic cup, the rest is easy (and easy drinking).
Winter Pimm’s Cup
Makes one cocktail
1 oz. Cinnamon-infused Pimm’s (see recipe below)
1 oz. Ford’s gin, or the more common Beefeater if it’s not available
4 oz. Spicy ginger beer, such as Blenheim brand
A mint sprig and lemon wheel to garnish
For the cinnamon-infused Pimm’s
3 Cinnamon sticks
1 Liter Pimm’s liqueur
Toast the cinnamon in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes, until the sticks become aromatic.
Break up the sticks, and soak them overnight in the Pimm’s. Remove the cinnamon.
Make the cocktail
Build the drink over ice in a Collins glass: add the Pimm’s and gin, and then top with the ginger beer. Give the drink a quick stir, and garnish with the mint sprig and lemon wheel.
In case you haven’t heard, pomegranate seeds are good for you. Funny enough, so is sharing delicious drinks with friends. In the spirit of both: my go-to holiday cocktail from Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day. It looks festive (and kinda fancy), goes down smooth, and is potent enough to satisfy your booze tooth without tasting overtly alcoholic (so yes, drinker beware). The recipe is very similar to a classic French 75, with the gin-soaked pomegranate seeds as an extra treat.
Another perk of this recipe: It’s budget-adaptable. If you’re splurging for cocktails a deux, Hendrick’s gin and true Champagne are hard to beat. When I’ve whipped up a batch for a holiday party, moderately priced Citadelle and Prosecco make tasty substitutes. The key is to use a lightly flavored or floral gin versus a herbaceous one. Regardless of your alcohols, slightly sweet Meyer lemon juice is the ideal seasonal citrus.
The only thing daunting about this formula may be seeding the pomegranate. Fortunately, we have an instructive video for that.
Sparkling Pomegranate Cocktail
2 ounces lightly flavored gin, such as Hendrick’s or Citadelle
½ ounce simple syrup*
½ ounce lemon juice, preferably Meyer lemon in season
About 6 ounces Prosecco or Champagne
1 tablespoon fresh pomegranate seeds
Optional: a lemon twist for garnish
Pour the first three ingredients into an ice-filled shaker and strain into a Champagne flute or coupe.
Add the pomegranate seeds, and top off with the bubbly. Add the lemon twist, if using.
* Don’t let specialty stores lure you into buying $12 bottles of plain “bar syrup.” It’s called simple syrup for a reason: put equal parts sugar and water in a small pot (say ½ cup of each), and let it sit over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Chill it before mixing your cocktail, and keep it stored in the fridge.
Combined-in-advance mixers have long been the secret to fast service at high-volume bars, but only recently have we begun to see premade cocktails poured from a tap.
“Kegging” a batch of a restaurant’s specialty drinks ensures consistency—the only skill that the on-duty bartender needs is the ability to pour—and the draft cocktails often cost a few dollars less than their à la minute counterparts.
Here, five of our favorites.
El Codo Margarita from El Chucho
3313 11th St., NW; 202- 290-3313
Five bucks—four during the weekday happy hour (4 to 6:30 and all night Monday)—buys you an excellent on-tap house margarita at this Columbia Heights Mexican spot. Made with silver tequila, Triple Sec, and lime juice, it’s refreshing and balanced—just right with the menu’s unfussy tacos and tortas.
A Draft of Route 74 from Jackson 20
480 King St., Alexandria; 703-842-2790
Head bartender Dean Feddaoui will serve you an $11 refresher of watermelon water, lime, and orgeat (almond syrup with orange-flower water) poured from a tap crowned with a bobblehead of Andrew Jackson, for whom the restaurant is named. Feddaoui adds vodka and orange liqueur just before serving, but customers are also welcome to sip the concoction booze-free for $7.
Lemonade Punch from Kapnos
2201 14th St., NW; 202-234-5000
Taha Ismail developed three draft punches ($11) for Mike Isabella’s new Greek restaurant. Skinos, a floral Greek liqueur, forms the basis of a cocktail with watermelon, tarragon, and lemon. The gin ade—with Batavia Arrack, honey, thyme, and soda—gets a hint of smoke from a grilled lemon. Rum plus lemon-verbena tea, lemon, cane syrup, and angostura bitters make up the elegant third option, our favorite of the lot.
Sage-and-Green-Apple Gin and Tonic from Mockingbird Hill and Red Apron Butcher
Mockingbird Hill, 1843 Seventh St., NW, 202-316-9396; Red Apron Butcher, 1309 Fifth St., NE, 202-524-6807
Sage and tart apple complement the locally made Green Hat gin’s fennel notes in this effervescent debut from Brigade—a collaboration between Passenger/Columbia Room owner Derek Brown, bartender J.P. Fetherston, and a few of their friends. Find it for $9 at Brown’s new sherry bar, Mockingbird Hill, and for $9 at the Union Market location of the charcuterie shop Red Apron Butcher.
On-Tap Sangría from Hogo
1017 Seventh St., NW; 202-393-1313
At the easygoing tiki bar Hogo—run by Passenger co-owner Tom Brown—general manager Julia Ebell developed this slightly fizzy, island-inspired red-wine mixer with ginger, hibiscus, and lime juice ($8). Ebell’s drink is less intense than the typical tropical cocktail, but she sneaks in those citrus and spice notes to winning effect.
This article appears in the October 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
Bourbon Steak’s lounge feels like more of a go-to Manhattan spot than the place to quaff piña coladas, but wait until you try barkeep Duane Sylvestre’s version. The Trinidadian knows his island drinks, and knows they are often stereotyped as overly fruity, saccharine, and awash in artificial ingredients. Sylvestre’s take on the Puerto Rican cocktail is free of all of the above, and crafted with quality rum, fresh lemon juice, and house-made coconut crème.
The key is the crème—a simple syrup made with puréed coconut—which stands in for commercial coconut creams such as the ubiquitous Coco López. If you’re mixing up the cocktail for National Piña Colada Day (which is today), you may opt for the first method, which is slightly more involved and uses a whole coconut. You can also order high-quality frozen coconut purée on Amazon.com for future shortcuts. The recipe serves one, but you may as well whip up enough for a party while you’re at it—just keep the ratios intact. Sylvestre makes one large batch a day and pours each serving over crushed ice.
A word of warning from Sylvestre: “It’s a lot of booze that goes down easily, so be careful. This is not what they served you on your beach vacation.”
Update: The restaurant sends word that the new space will not open until Friday, June 14 at dinner.
When the marg-and-guac craving strikes, the bar at Oyamel is the no-brainer spot to soothe the itch. But there’ve never been enough stools to go around. Six years ago, José Andrés moved his Crystal City Mexican spot to Penn Quarter, luring Verizon Center and Shakespeare Theatre Company patrons who have packed into its all-too-small bar area ever since.
To accommodate the masses, Andrés has added a new 900-square-foot lounge. Earlier this year, the restaurateur purchased the shuttered ticket office next door and gutted it—Oyamel now flows into this adjacent space. The new lounge offers brightly colored banquettes, black leather settee-style sofa booths, and a private dining “enclave” with Louis XV ghost chairs by Philippe Starck. All told, it accommodates 42 more margarita drinkers, and should help slash wait times for tables. Certainly it will cut down on the awkwardness of waiting for a spot in the dining room—the newly elongated white acrylic bar now wraps into this lounge-esque space with double the walnut-wood bar stools.
This new environment—a creative collaboration between Andrés and Georgetown-based architects Peter Hapstak and Olvia Demetriou—evolves Oyamel’s signature butterfly motif with holographic video projections shining through sheer partitions between each booth and a mural of butterflies fluttering around a woman’s hair that encompasses the dining enclave.
Go see the new space starting Thursday at lunch.
Sunday brunch isn’t just for Mother’s Day: Fathers need some pampering, too. If you’re planning on whipping up a home-cooked meal for Dad come Father’s Day (June 16), this cocktail is perfect. In fact, since tasting the refreshing drink at GBD’s newly launched brunch, we’re planning on making it one of our go-to drinks of summer.
GBD manager Alex Taylor created this brunch punch, which gets its kick from two sources: a solid amount of gin, and an easy-to-make pink peppercorn syrup. For a spicier sip, you can go a little heavier on the amount of peppercorn you use in the syrup, or make the punch up to three days in advance for more potent flavor. Just remember to keep it in the fridge.
Alex Taylor’s Summer Brunch Punch
Makes about 16 portions
Pink peppercorn syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons cracked pink peppercorns
Put water and peppercorns in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly add sugar and stir until all sugar is dissolved.
Allow 30 minutes for the syrup to cool, then refrigerate. (The longer this sits, the stronger the peppercorn flavor.)
½ liter gin, such as Tanqueray
250 milliliters (about a cup) Bols Triple Sec
½ gallon fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, available at Whole Foods
2 cups fresh-squeezed lemon juice (if using store-bought, make sure it’s real juice, not concentrate)
2 cups pink peppercorn syrup
Mix all of the punch ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Garnish with lemon
wheels. Best served in Mason jars over ice.
In the early days of 2013, we wrote about a new cocktail series at Proof. Adam Bernbach, who runs the bar programs there and at sister restaurant Estadio, is well known for tinkering with classic drinks, and he has been using the series to showcase some of his signature riffs. So far, Bernbach has tackled the Manhattan, the whiskey sour, and the daiquiri.
This project went well, apparently, because Bernbach has decided to extend the series. Five more sessions are on the roster in February and March.
First up, on February 17, look out for takes on the Sazerac, that classic and potent cocktail from New Orleans that most commonly combines rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters, and muddled sugar or simple syrup in an absinthe- or herbsaint-rinsed glass. (Proof has been known to serve a Sazerac that combines Peychaud’s and angostura—as is traditional at the Napoleon House, a Sazerac destination in the French Quarter—and a cognac float. )
Fans of the Rob Roy (blended Scotch, red vermouth, bitters) should head to Proof on February 24. On March 3, you’ll find plays on that wonderful drink the Old-Fashioned. Staffers have about a month and a half to hone their arm muscles for gin fizz night on March 24. Finally, on the 31st, it’ll be time to take on the margarita.
The Sunday series runs from 6:30 to 9:30 in the lounge area only.
With its many excellent bars and restaurants, 14th Street may be where the kiddies come out to play on weekends, but if you’re into great cocktails without the insanity, I highly suggest a weekday evening bar crawl in the area around the Convention Center—quickly becoming one of the most exciting places in town to drink.
Tuesday marked the official debut of Hogo, Tom Brown’s new rum bar neighboring the Passenger, which he owns with brother Derek (Paul Ruppert is the brothers’ business partner). The drink menu screams tiki, but with its easygoing lighting and intimate booths, the interior feels like the Passenger and also the cool Atlas Room on H Street. I mean, there’s a portrait of Billy Murray as Steve Zissou out front—that alone should prepare you for an environment that’s more hipster than hokey. But sip enough Tom’s Punch—my favorite of the four drinks I tried (don’t judge)—and you’ll forget to lament the lack of loud, flowery shirts and thatch. The namesake cocktail involves two types of rum and falernum, a sweet syrup found in a lot of tiki drinks. The back of the space is to be a permanent pop-up venue where chefs can test future concepts. Currently, Passenger chef Javier Duran is playing around with a Hawaiian menu of Spam musubi, loco moco, and “mixed plate” with pork or salmon.
Before heading to Hogo, consider making a reservation at one of two drinking journeys nearby: Columbia Room or RogueSpirits. The former is, of course, the tranquil speakeasy inside the Passenger. A reservation buys you three fantastic cocktails—the first two are planned, and the third you design in collaboration with the bartender—and a food pairing. It’s $69 per person, but you’re not just purchasing consumables, you’re also buying a lovely experience. The atmosphere is transporting—guests gaze at jars full of esoteric ingredients as they chat with one another and the affable staff—and the net effect leaves you feeling more refreshed than tipsy, the exact best state in which to take on the tiki gods next door.