In lucha libre, the Spanish version of professional wrestling popular in Mexico, luchadores (wrestlers) must fall into one of two camps: los rudos or los tecnicos. Los tecnicos are meant to be the good guys, the heroes of the ring who always rely on technical skills to win a match and adhere to the strict luchador code of honor. Los rudos respect the code of honor, but interpret its regulations loosely, often bending rules and resorting to trickery to conquer opponents. Los Rudos are the bad guys, the brawling rebels, and as such, they’re much more fun to watch.
At Bourbon in Adams Morgan, Los Rudos is a mezcal-based cocktail created by bar manager Owen Thomson that is as intrepid and hard to peg down as the wrestlers from which it derives its name. A spirit made from agave plants in Oaxaca, mezcal is similar to tequila, but packs a stronger, smoky taste. “Comparatively speaking, [mezcal] is to tequila as scotch is to bourbon,” says Thomson, who started experimenting with the spirit after coming across a specific brand, Del Maguey, and reading about its production process.
“I’d heard stories about mezcal and the worm in the bottle before, but this was the first legitimate, boutique mezcal I’d come across,” says Thomson. “And the brand incorporates an entire village in the production of the spirit—from the distilling to the weaving of cases for the bottles, which made me even more excited to experiment with it.”
Los Rudos is Thomson’s first successful cocktail using mezcal, and he’s working on a few other ideas. His creative approach is simple: He jots down whatever comes to mind in a dozen or so books of recipes. He tests out the recipes to narrow the list down, and only the best make it to his master recipe book.
“It’s the Myth Busters approach to cocktail making,” Thomson jokes. “Plus, I’ve got a girlfriend at home who serves as guinea pig.”
Thomson, who, alongside Central’s Justin Guthrie and Komi’s Derek Brown, founded and operated the now-defunct 1920s-inspired speakeasy Hummingbird to Mars, first caught the cocktail-making fever, as he calls it, about two years ago. He’d just gotten back to work at Bourbon after a four-month road trip across the country on Greyhound buses and was ready to settle down. At least for a while, anyway.
“I decided I was going to make bartending a real job,” he says. “So I started pouring into the bourbon knowledge. Then my dad [who owns the Georgetown bookstore Bartleby’s] started giving me all the vintage cocktail manuals he’d find. I learned everything I could about that and started making my own vermouths and bitters. Once I took over managing duties at Bourbon, I asked to do the drink program and was given the okay.”
As for a Hummingbird to Mars comeback, Thomson, who, in addition to managing Bourbon, is enrolled in law school, says the project is done for now.
“We’re all busy. Derek is going to help start the cocktail program at Gibson, Central has re-opened on Sundays so Justin doesn’t have those nights available anymore, and I just need to focus more on law school, which I’ve been neglecting.
Thomson, however, does not rule out a similar project down the road.
“It’s something I’d love to do in the future as a full-time thing. Or perhaps help someone else start it. The best thing that could spawn from Hummingbird to Mars is more people trying to do cocktail bars,” he says. “ Right now, there are people in DC making phenomenal cocktails, but there aren't many bars making phenomenal cocktails. I’d like to help change that.”
Owen Thomson, Bourbon
1 oz. Del Maguey San Luis del Rio Mezcal
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 oz. Grapefruit juice
¼oz. Lemon juice
½ oz. Aji syrup
1 Egg white