Through May 13, we celebrate World Cocktail Week, an annual happening that began in 2006 at the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, according to that establishment's managing director, Laura McMillian.
Here in Washington, it's an excellent excuse to take advantage of the drinking opportunities available to us--from cocktail classes to weekly tiki parties--as well as create better drinks at home. Here are some ideas.
1.) Class it up.
Taking a cocktail class is a great way to develop home-bartending skills and to learn to identify all the telltale signs of whether or not you're in a bar that's likely to serve you a good drink. The two bar managers at Bourbon Steak serve up a seasonal cocktail class that's entertaining, booze-laden, and enhanced by some seriously delicious snacks. Additionally, they're hosting a South of the Border Class on May 14 with cocktail consultant J.P. Caceres.
Cocktail enthusiast T. Marshall Fawley III of Scofflaw's Den, meanwhile, teaches a practical and focused class on basic bartending skills at Last Exit in Columbia Heights. Bartenders at the
2.) Embrace bartender's choice.
Admittedly, this one requires an approachable and kindly person behind the bar--and is not really appropriate when there's a three-deep crowd demanding drinks--but if the feeling's right, try stepping away from your usual and asking the person whose job it is to create cocktails if they have any suggestions. It's the best way to discover new things and to help determine the quality of the bar--a mixologist may be able to smoke ice and create perfect on-the-spot crustas, but only a proper bartender knows how to treat customers well. Try it at Fiola or Wisdom.
3.) Rethink your position on gin.
Think about sushi. Now, think about a container of prepackaged takeaway sushi you'd see at a lesser supermarket. Now imagine that your entire impression of sushi was based on the contents within that plastic container of sadness. This is basically what's happening with most people and gin. They think they hate it, because they've only tried the bad stuff. If you believe you don't like it, and are open to the possibility of reversing that position, you're in luck: most good bartenders like nothing more than turning vodka drinkers into gin converts, and their methods are delicious. I recently wrote about the Gin Joint below New Heights in Woodley Park--this is a good spot for gin re-education. At Clarendon's Liberty Tavern, there's a Hendrick's-based gin and tonic that's also been known to win hearts.
4.) Buy a decent citrus press.
There are a lot of unnecessarily marked-up bartending accessories out there--I recently saw a $15 bar spoon at a local retailer, for instance, that was a dead ringer for the $2.95 spoon on barsupplies.com. One tool you don't want to skimp on, however, is a citrus press. A bad one will only end up discouraging you from squeezing fresh juice for your home cocktails--one of the world's great pleasures. This press from Chef n Corp is well-made and easy to clean--well worth the $20.
5.) Drink local.
It can be tough for new distilleries to match up to your favorite brands. They're competing with years of recipe perfection, longstanding reputations that lead to access to the world's greatest ingredients, and all those other things that come with age and wisdom. That said, with distilleries popping up all over, it's a fun time to sample new spirits. Popular whiskey, gin, and brandy maker Catoctin Creek in Purcellville, Virginia, offers tours and tastings and is widely available at Washington bars.
6. ) Try one with sherry.
Haven't yet sampled a sherry cocktail? They're really good--and kind of a local specialty here in Washington. Try one at Proof, Estadio, or the Tabard Inn.
7. Time travel.
America Eats Tavern is open until July 4. Don't miss its list of history-invoking drinks--they're tasty and educational. If you really start to nerd out, you can recreate this milk punch--a favorite of Ben Franklin.
8. Make a mockery of it.
The trouble with cocktails, we all know well, is that too many get you in trouble. A number of local bars now offer really good mocktails.
9. Go on island time.
Tuesdays tend to be slow days at the bar--which is likely why both the Passenger and Tryst have created Tiki Tuesdays. It's your chance to see what happens when serious bartenders turn their focus to rum-forward, island-style drinks.
10. Stock your bar with new spirits.
Here in the Northeast United States, I'm told, it's tricky for newly available brands of booze to gain a foothold. For instance, a gin called Martin Miller's--all the rage out West and in Europe--has has a lot less impact among Washington drinkers, despite its excellence. There are always new brands headed to this market, why not try some of them? To learn what's newly available, sign up for tasting events at your local liquor store or at bars like Jack Rose Dining Saloon. Of course, if you have a favorite bartender, ask her what she's been playing around with, too.