Kitchen Favorites: Tom and Derek Brown

Tom Brown favors Manhattans, while younger brother Derek is a martini guy. Photograph by Anne Marler.

Brothers Tom and Derek Brown are fixtures on DC’s drink scene. Tom spent a few years running the bar at Corduroy and is now recommending wines and mixing original cocktails at the new, perennially packed Logan Circle wine bar Cork. Meanwhile, Derek has spent the past several years handling wine and cocktails at some of the area’s finest restaurants—Palena, Citronelle, and now Komi.

How’d they both end up in, as Derek puts it, the “world of booze”? When they were growing up in Olney, was the Brown family into mixing drinks and pairing wines at home? “Our family wasn’t very mixology-oriented—or big wine drinkers, at that,” laughs Derek, 33. As a teenager looking to make some extra cash, he landed his first restaurant job as a host/busboy at a Rockville steakhouse where big brother Tom, now 38, was a server.

Both caught the restaurant bug and began studying classic cocktails. “We’re both people persons,” says Tom. “Having similar backgrounds led us to similar passions as adults. It wasn’t anything planned, for sure.” They do diverge on some things, however: Derek goes for a gin martini, while Tom prefers a Manhattan or a Rob Roy. Read on for more of their favorite things.

All-time favorite wine:
Derek: It changes depending on my mood. I really like Austrian wines lately. One in particular that’s perfect for the weather coming up is a sparkling Punkt Genau Grüner Veltliner. It’s a nice, fun, delicious sparkler for the spring.
Tom: My all-time favorite red would be a Grand Cru Burgundy. It’s Domaine Newman, which is a pretty small producer. It really opened me up to what the possibilities were for Burgundy. I got it at a wine shop and brought it home. The wine shop had recently changed hands, and the owners were a little more focused on the beer and liquor side of their business, so they put everything that was in the warehouse out front at 20 percent off the original invoice. So I got to buy it in 1993 dollars.

Favorite wine region:
Derek: I like things off the beaten track. The major regions are exciting, but right now I’m really into the Thermenregion of Austria, south of Vienna. I’m exploring that right now. . . it’s not very Mediterranean, like the food at Komi, but a lot of those wines go wonderfully.
Tom: I like the Burgundies, although I’m also really intrigued by some of the smaller appellation wines.

Favorite inexpensive bottle
Tom: Picco del Sole Aglianico from Campania, Italy, runs about $7 a bottle. It’s awesome.
Derek: That same bottle of Grüner Veltliner—it’s under $20. I’m also a big sherry fan, and sherry goes with everything. One that’s super cheap is a half bottle of Papirusa, a Manzanilla sherry. It’s a dry fino sherry. It goes great with everything, and it’s under $15.

Most underrated wine:
Derek: Fino sherry, as fresh as possible. It’s beautiful.
Tom: I think the wines of Corbières are often underrated. I’m kind of a Francophile, and Corbières is on the Mediterranean coast. It’s a New World-style wine.

Favorite dish to cook at home:
Tom: I’m a big casserole person. I love throwing together lasagnas—anything I can mix with pasta, tomatoes, and cheese.
Derek: I don’t cook much, but every now and then I have fun doing it. I’m more experimental—I love throwing stuff out there and seeing what happens. To eat at home, I love Chinese food—basic American Chinese. I love General Tso’s chicken.
What are your fridge staples?
Tom: There’s always good cheese in my refrigerator. Usually some orange juice, and maybe a little bit of milk for the coffee.
Derek: It’s like MTV Cribs when you open my fridge—lots of bottles of Champagne. Also, various experiments—I make my own vermouth, so there are a few bottles in there. There are Belgian beers that I’ve been saving. Honestly, it’s mostly booze.

Favorite nonalcoholic beverage:
Derek: I’ve gotten into tea lately. I like Lapsang Souchong and Oolong teas. I went to Taiwan last year and had amazing tea there.
Tom: Lots of water. Coffee. The chef here makes some lemonade that’s really awesome—it’s like European lemon soda.

Coke or Pepsi? Diet or regular?
Derek: Coke. Regular Coke.
Tom: Regular Coke.

Favorite cocktail:
Derek: A martini—gin. Stirred—that’s important—with a flavorful gin, lots of vermouth, and two dashes of orange bitters. Very cold. There are a couple of gins I love—I think Plymouth is great for everyday use. Old Raj is a great one, but not necessarily for martinis.
Tom: Probably a Manhattan or a Rob Roy, depending on if it’s summer or winter.

Favorite spirit to drink:
Tom: Scotch. I really enjoy some of the more floral, kind of feminine styles that come from Rosebank distilleries, which closed in the ’90s. Every bottle I see, I buy it.
Derek: Between gin, bourbon, and rye. For old times’ sake, bourbon.

Favorite spirit to work with:
Derek: I’d definitely say gin. Probably second to that is sherry. It makes an interesting base for a lot of different cocktails. Classic cocktails use sherry and are quite good. The Adonis has dry sherry, orange bitters, sweet vermouth.
Tom: I love gin. I like the Aviation cocktail a lot. It’s pretty simple—lemon juice, a little bit of crème de violette, maraschino liqueur. I like to play with it.

Favorite food-and-wine pairing:
Derek: Recently there was something that Johnny [Monis—Komi’s chef] did that just blew my mind, and it was hard to find a pairing for it. It’s abalone in oyster broth with foie gras and mushrooms, and I paired it with a junmai ginjo sake. That’s pure sake, with no additional spirits. It’s delicious together.
Tom: I like to be a little experimental and usually veer off the beaten track. I’ve been known to pair Hermitage Blanc with buffalo. It worked really well. The Hermitage Blanc is a little low in acidity, and there’s a lower fat content in buffalo—the wine helps to bring out the richness that is there.

Favorite dish from childhood:
: That would be my grandmother Nonni’s spaghetti. The sauce was really thin, it wasn’t like that thick ragu-style sauce. Really fresh, great acidity to it.
: Our Nonni used to make a killer meat lasagna. I’m a little bit of a mutt, but my Nonni is 100 percent Italian.

Favorite local restaurant:
Derek: I love Vidalia. Every time I eat there, I’m really impressed with the food. I love going to Bourbon for more everyday meals—I live in Adams Morgan, so I go to that one—the food there is better than it has to be. The chili mac and the new chicken nuggets are pretty good. I’m a man of simple taste, in food at least.
Tom: The one that I go to the most is Bistrot du Coin. I get the rabbit stew and the veal stew, almost religiously.

Dessert or cheese?
Tom: I’ve been known to do both. I’m more of a cheese-plate kind of person, but if there’s something chocolate on the menu that catches my eye, I have to have it.
Derek: I think Hemingway said dessert is for people who don’t drink enough. I’ll just leave it at that.