The Blogger Beat: Scofflaw’s Den

This week, we sip cocktails—pinkies up!—with Scofflaw’s Den bloggers SeanMike Whipkey and Marshall Fawley.

By: Emily Leaman

SeanMike Whipkey and Marshall Fawley started Scofflaw’s Den in October 2007. While Whipkey had been maintaining a personal blog, Fawley was soaking up book after book on craft cocktails. The two combined their expertise and launched one of the first Washington drink-centric blogs on the scene.

On Scofflaw’s Den, the pair blogs about where to get great drinks and how to make them at home. We especially appreciate SeanMike’s list of 100 drinks to try before you die. Heck, even Budweiser makes the cut!

We caught up with these ultimate drinking buddies and picked their brains—or maybe their livers?—about everything drinkworthy. How to stock a home bar? Where to get an unusual cocktail? Underground speakeasies? Read on for their answers.

Favorite cocktail to make at home and how to do it:
SeanMike: “That’s a hard one because I’m always making different ones, but the one I make the most is the Negroni. Take equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari; shake with ice; and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If you’ve got it, I’d suggest a dash or two of Fee Brothers' Rhubarb Bitters—Marshall showed me that trick, and it rocks. Various fruit-flavored bitters also work in there, especially if you like to experiment with sweeter gins or Aperol instead of Campari.”
Marshall: “My favorite cocktail, bar none: cocktail à la Louisiane. It’s one ounce each of rye whisky, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine; a quarter ounce of absinthe; and three or four dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. Stir over ice for a slow count to 20. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.”

Three things every at-home bar should have:
SeanMike: 1. Bitters (Read: You. Need. Bitters.); 2. Fresh citrus; use the peel for garnishes and flavor, the flesh for fresh juice; 3. simple syrup; it’s easy to make, and between that and fresh juice, you won’t have to use prepackaged sour mix, which is just crap.”
Marshall: “Only three? Sheesh, why don’t we tie one arm around my back and spin me around until I get all dizzy while we’re at it? First, you need plenty of ice for shaking, stirring, and serving drinks on the rocks. A Boston shaker, composed of a mixing tin and a mixing glass that nestle into each other, is a necessity. Precisely marked measuring tools are also a must. Oxo makes a set of angled clear plastic measuring cups that measure up to two ounces—indispensable in my kitchen and bar. A strainer is great unless you want big chunks of shaken ice or bits of muddled fruit in your drink. A citrus zester and paring knife are great for garnishes and twists, and get a muddler for bruising or smashing up fruits, herbs, and spices. Oh, and at least one bottle of aromatic cocktail bitters—Angostura or Peychaud’s.”

Favorite spot for an after-work drink:
SeanMike: “I’m going to look around cautiously because this might sound heretical, but immediately after work I tend to stick with beer. Give me O’Sullivan’s, Ireland’s Four Provinces (in Falls Church, walking distance from my house), Dogwood Tavern, or Bailey’s in Ballston (typically after work it’s empty, so quiet, and has a good tap selection). If I want a cocktail, I’ll get it at home more often than not.”
Marshall: “Honestly, it’s very rare that I grab a drink after work. I live and work on the Orange Line, so any prehome stops need to be within easy walking distance of my commute. Because of this geographical laziness, my favorite after-work spots are Central Michel Richard and EatBar. It’s really a bonus that both have great food, excellent cocktails, and great people. If I get ambitious, I usually head to Bourbon in Adams Morgan.”

Best drink to warm you up on a cold day:
SeanMike: “I’ve always been a fan of Irish coffee made with Jameson and Bailey’s. Yes, I know it’s not the traditional one, but whatever, dude. I’ve started experimenting with my own version of the Gibson’s whiskey skin as well, which is Scotch plus hot water, lemon, and simple syrup. I do four parts steaming water to two parts Scotch to one part simple syrup with a big hunk of lemon peel. So far, it’s been a big hit at my house.”
Marshall: “Once the temperature starts to drop and there’s a chill in the air, I start keeping apple cider stocked in the fridge. You can warm some on the stove with a cinnamon stick, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, cardamom, and a little vanilla for a quick spiced cider. Add Laird’s Applejack (a kind of apple brandy), bourbon, rye whiskey, or dark rum, and you have a great cold-weather drink. It’s also hard to pass up good old-fashioned hot chocolate.”

Bar that always surprises you with an unusual cocktail:
SeanMike: PX almost always has a new one on the menu that makes me say, ‘What the hell were you smoking?’ but inevitably it turns out to be fairly tasty. Last time I was there, it was the bacon-egg drink.
Marshall: “Central. Every time I’ve been to Central, Justin Guthrie has a new cocktail or a new, exciting spirit. I’ll never forget the chicken-breast mezcal . . . yeah, I said it: chicken-breast mezcal. Really intense stuff with just a hint of chickeny goodness.”

Favorite food to munch while sipping a cocktail:
SeanMike: “I tend not to munch a lot while drinking cocktails. If I wanted to sound snooty, I’d say, ‘Well, you know, I don’t want my taste buds to blah, blah, blah,’ but in reality I usually never get around to eating. I’m more likely to have a cigar.”
Marshall: “Anything. I love food, much to the dismay of my waistline. Frites and gougères are always a pleasure. Everything from pizza, burgers, and hot dogs to pig’s feet, beef or pork cheeks, pork belly, roasted chicken, and pasta taste great with a properly made cocktail.”

Trendiest ingredients being used in drinks right now:
SeanMike: “In cocktails, rye has been taking off like wildfire, though it seems like Pisco is taking off as well lately. For mixers, I’m going to say something kind of generic: infused or reduced syrup. It seems like every drink nowadays has some kind of random ingredient that a bartender came up with, a lot of which are really good but can be a pain in the butt for the household bartender hoping to replicate his or her favorite drink in the kitchen.”
Marshall: “Homemade ingredients. We’re seeing more of the farmers market being incorporated into cocktails. Bartenders and enthusiasts are making their own fruit syrups, tinctures, liqueurs, bitters, and mixers. Everything from homemade tonic water to vermouth is out on the Interwebs. The freshest ingredients are key to the best cocktails.”

Best bartender:
SeanMike: “Oh, that’s not fair! Are you just trying to get us in trouble? How am I supposed to pick? Here’s the deal: The best bartender is the one who listens to you, knows how to make the drinks, and better yet is able to make them how you like them—assuming, of course, you can tell ’em that. If you treat your bartender well, you’ll be treated well in return.”
Marshall: “I’m going to plead the Fifth on this one. I’ll say that DC has some of the best bartenders in the country.”

EatBar or Restaurant Eve?
SeanMike: “I’ve got to admit: I’ve never been to Restaurant Eve. But I have had Todd Thrasher’s cocktails at PX, and they’re plenty tasty. However, I’m taking Gina Chersevani’s cocktail class right now, so I’m going to say EatBar. I’m drooling just thinking of a St. Pete’s Denial . . .”
Marshall: “EatBar is the winner of this round. Gina makes some great cocktails, and Andrew Markert is putting out some excellent food. Great drinks and food—what else can I ask for?”

Johnnie Walker: Black or Red Label?
SeanMike: “I’ll have the . . . which one is it? Oh, yes . . . is there a difference other than price? If it was between the two, I’d probably just order one of each and see if I could make up my mind between them. That’s usually the best choice when it comes to whiskey: Just drink twice as much.”
Marshall: “Thomas H. Handy Rye, Red Hook Rye, or George T. Stagg Bourbon. I’m not a Scotch-whiskey man myself. If I’m drinking whiskey, I like good old American bourbon or rye. Bourbon is the only truly American spirit, and it holds a very, very special place in my heart (and has reserved seating in my liver.)”

Grey Goose or Belvedere?
SeanMike: “Uh, they’re vodka. If it’s in a cocktail, I’m going to say neither, and if they’re not in a cocktail, I’m going to say neither. There are better and cheaper ones out there for both categories.”
Marshall: “Actually, there’s this new kind of flavored vodka that’s sweeping the nation that I’m completely in love with. It’s infused with a bunch of different herbs and is fantastic in cocktails. It’s called gin.”

Underground speakeasies: Yay or nay?
SeanMike: “Yay. I like a good, relaxing place to drink. If it’s truly underground, that’s even better—how can you complain about a place you don’t know about? But given the way things work these days, I don’t know if that’s possible without moving it on a regular basis.”
Marshall: “I like the underground speakeasies. They add a little mystery and a sense of destination to going out. Hummingbird to Mars was a fantastic concept, and I was saddened to see it depart. I think the speakeasy-style bar really brings back a sophistication to cocktails and really focuses on the quality of what’s being served.”

Mixologist: good name or gimmick?
SeanMike: “ ‘Mixologist’ is one of those awkward words like ‘lover.’ It might be accurate, and in writing it’s not so bad, but in person I always feel like an idiot saying it. ‘This is so-and-so—she’s my lover.’ To me, it sounds as pretentious and awkward as ‘She’s my mixologist.’ Just imagine that Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell as the professor saying ‘lover’ and replace it with ‘mixologist.’ ”
Marshall: “I personally have no problem with the term ‘mixologist,’ but I know some bartenders who hate it. Personally, I’d love to bring back ‘barkeep.’ It has that old-fashioned feel. I can just see Bogart walking into a bar and saying, ‘Barkeep, a Sazerac if you will.’ Then again, when I start seeing Bogart order a Sazerac, I know I absolutely should stop drinking for the night.”

Finish this sentence: “A drink called Quintessential DC would be made of . . .”
SeanMike: “For reals? Bile and bitters. But if you want a drinkable drink, you’d almost have to say either a variation of the rickey (given its association with DC) or perhaps a mixture of bourbon, gin, bitters, and maybe a bit of something else. That sounds like a good idea for a blog topic.”
Marshall: “A shot of bourbon followed by a lot of hot air. Repeat until someone decides to build a bridge in your home state or until a $700-billion bailout sounds like a good idea.”

Favorite beverage to serve to teetotalers:
SeanMike: “Something I snuck liquor into . . . just kidding. Last New Year’s Eve, the lone teetotaler enjoyed Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola. Otherwise, I try not to let them into my house. They drink up all my mixers!”
Marshall: “Generally I’ll have juices, sodas, and filtered water on hand for anyone who’s not imbibing. I also keep a soda siphon chilled in the fridge to make ‘mocktails.’ I keep several bottles of homemade syrups—various fruits, vanilla, ginger, honey-lavender, etc.—that you can mix with soda and a dash or two of bitters for a drink that looks like it could be a cocktail.”

Best hangover cure:
SeanMike: “I go one of two directions: Greasy as heck (eggs, bacon, and bread of some sort) or Asian (a big bowl of pho or some good old college-style ramen). Either way, lots of hot sauce. And if you’re the type who wants some hair of the dog, the classic Bloody Mary isn’t bad, but I like the Suffering Bastard—bourbon, gin, lime juice, bitters, and ginger beer (and a Vivarin).”
Marshall: “Drink plenty of water with your cocktails. Being hung over is really just an effect of dehydration and lack of basic minerals. Before going to bed, I usually have some sports drink and a multivitamin. The next morning, a big greasy breakfast and some light exercise will do the body good.”

Favorite local food or drink blog besides your own:
SeanMike: “I try to keep up as much as possible with DCist and Metrocurean. We’ve got a section of our site that’s dedicated to DC-area blogs, so I’ll usually just work my way right down the list.”
Marshall: “Metrocurean, Counter Intelligence, and DonRockwell.com are the local sites I read most often. There are also a few new cocktail blogs that I like including A Jigger of Blog and the Cocktail Revolution.”

Next week, we turn up our fashion radar with Dekan DC blogger Meg Zatko. Notice anything interesting about her blog’s name? It’s “naked” backwards because, in her words, “The only thing better than wearing something great is wearing nothing at all.” Touché.

Earlier:
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Have a favorite local blogger you’d like to hear from? Send an e-mail to eleaman@washingtonian.com.

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