Chat with Four Local Bartenders

On Thursday, February 26, at 11 AM, join four notable local bartenders featured in the March issue of The Washingtonian for a discussion about the spirits du jour, the history of cocktails, the craft and technique behind a well-made drink, and more.

On Thursday, February 26, at 11 AM, join four notable local bartenders featured in the March issue of The Washingtonian for a discussion about the spirits du jour, the history of cocktails, the craft and technique behind a well-made drink, and more. Addressing your questions will be . . .

Derek Brown, one of the people behind Hummingbird to Mars, now in charge of the cocktail program at speakeasy-style bar the Gibson. Brown has also worked as head sommelier at Komi. Check out a video of Brown making one of his favorite cocktails, the Martinez.

Gina Chersevani, whose DC fans (and she’s got many) will be glad to know is back in the city at Chinatown’s PS 7’s after overseeing the cocktail program for EatBar and Tallula in Arlington for almost a year. Chersevani’s latest concoction is the persimmon-based First Frost.

Todd Thrasher, or the godfather of cocktails, as he’s often referred to by other area bartenders. Known for making all of his cocktails’ ingredients at PX and Restaurant Eve, Thrasher is currently competing for the title of Bartender of the Year in a competition sponsored by Domain de Canton liquor. For a video demonstration of Thrasher making his latest cocktail, the Number 6, click here.

Chantal Tseng, the person behind the Tabard Inn’s classic cocktail menu. Tseng, who is particularly interested in pre-Prohibition cocktails such as the old fashioned and the Sazerac, is a founding member of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild. See how she makes a Sazerac here.

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What are some drinks that are very easy to make (at home), but more interesting than the usual gin and tonic?

Chantal Tseng: I enjoy making Pimm's Cups at home. Especially during the summer. Easy, refreshing…

Derek Brown: Gin Rickey!

Gina Chersevani:Gimlets–lime and sugar, you could jazz it up with ginger syrup or lavander

Todd Thrasher: At home the drink of choice is a margarita. My wife loves them. But remember use fresh lime juice.

Derek Brown: Take a lime shell, soda water (a more minerally soda water works best) and gin and you have a great drink.

Chantal Tseng: Yes, fresh juice is always very important.

Derek Brown: Warning: The Gin Rickey goes best in warm weather.

Gina Chersevani: Wait what about the French 75, easy and FUN.

Todd Thrasher: Different riffs on Mojitos are very good also take out the soda water and add sparkling wine.

Derek Brown: I should qualify the Rickey is served with a half a lime. I just meant one should leave the lime shell in too.

Chantal Tseng: There's also the world of ginger beer drinks. Dark n' Stormys and Moscow Mules.


Germantown Maryland
The cocktails I make at home never taste the same as the ones I order at the bar. I measure carefully and copy the recipe as close as possible. I can't figure out how they could taste so different. Is there a secret bartenders know that the average joe doesn't? Maybe it's just the atmosphere?

Todd Thrasher: Love.

Chantal Tseng: Ummm…isn't that one on a need to know basis? Just kidding.

Derek Brown: Technique… just like a chef, a bartender has to study technique.

Chantal Tseng: There certainly are several different techniques for mixing ingredients. The common one that can alter a recipe's temp is shaking, stirring…The type of ice you have.

Todd Thrasher: You have to caress, fondle, stir, treat it nice, talk to it and finally beg the cocktails Gods it will taste right.
Chantal Tseng: Straining, double straining.
Derek Brown: When we shake cocktail, we don't shake all cocktails the same way or at the same rate.
Gina Chersevani: Practice makes perfect!
Todd Thrasher: Don't forget the hard shake!!
Chantal Tseng: Also a great work out.
Todd Thrasher: I agree with Gina a lot of it is repetition.
Derek Brown: Try stirring in a mixng cup full of rice to get the stirring technique perfect. No jostling of the ice.
Todd Thrasher it took me a year or so before I got the tonic recipe right so it would taste the same batch after batch even when I used all the same measurements.
Derek Brown: Also, many recipes list Gin or some base spirit but don't sGin. That's prettty important.
Gina Chersevani: What's the joke, How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Answer:  Pratice,pratice, practice!
Derek Brown: I'm sorry, say what Gina.
Gina Chersevani: Or…you check your spelling. I never said I could spell–not a bartender requirement.
Chantal Tseng: At the end of the day, consistency can drive one wild. Especially considering that all palates are not the same and can change on at the drop of dime. You could make the same recipe and it may even taste different simply because you're in a different place.
I was at the Gibson recently and my favorite drink was the Brunswick sour, which I didn't expect to love. It has wine in it, right? What are some other cocktails that contain wine?

Derek Brown: Sangarees are old colonial drinks that you take a base spirit, beer or wine and add some water and sugar (possibly a lemon peel) and some nutmeg. Stir and, voila, great drink.

Chantal Tseng: Common wine additions are champagne & port for me.

Derek Brown: I read their mind… the Sangaree can be made with wine.

Chantal Tseng: Champagne in the French 75. Port in the Union League.
Derek Brown White Wine Punch…1oz. White Wine, 1 oz. Batavia Arrack (old style rum), 1/2 oz. lemon Juice, 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup.
Chantal Tseng: Ruby Port and Gin often mix well together…and it's not an obvious observation.
Todd Thrasher: One of my favorite drinks to make is Mulled Wine, sitting in front of a fire place on a cold day.
Chantal Tseng: I agree wholeheartedly. And it seems that every country has some unique on a mulled wine recipe…even Brazil 🙂 Quentao.
Todd Thrasher: I use wine as a base in a lot of cocktails. We use, for instance, a sauvignon blanc because it has so many subtle flavors and can add a lot to cocktails. The cocktail I did at the Domaine de Canton contest was a Syrup made with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ginger and Jalapeno.
Todd Thrasher: Don't forget the Classic Champagne cocktail.
Chantal Tseng: Not technically wine, I know Derek has made some delicious recipes with sake too.
Derek Brown Yeah, Sake can make a great cocktail ingredient and you can do a lot more than the Saketini.
Washington, DC
I'm a 29 year old woman who has spent the last 8 years drinking sour apple martinis and cosmos. I'd like to upgrade my cocktail of choice to something a little more mature – a drink that will make people take me seriously. Any suggestions?

Todd Thrasher: A rusty nail would work.

Derek Brown: Jack Rose. It's named after a gangster, for one. Applejack, lemon juice, grenadine.

Chantal Tseng: Old Fashioned or variations of…like the Sazerac?

Chantal Tseng I like the Florodora. Gin, Fresh Lime, Raspberry Syrup and Gingerale  as a gateway to others. It was drank in the early 1900's by some very famous Broadway dancers who all had very rich husbands. That might be a nice change. Sidecars?

Todd Thrasher: No seriously, people as a general rule do not like to taste alcohol (A.B.V) that is why you get products like apple pucker or cosmos pre-made, that are so very sticky sweet. They do not taste the alcohol. I think a good gateway drink would be a classic daiquiri, or a pegu club.

Derek Brown: Yeah, sidecars are a good call.

Chantal Tseng: Oh Oh…Negroni with champagne. Not sure how to spell that one properly. Derek?

Derek Brown: Negroni Sbagliato

Chantal Tseng: Yeah. perfect. Or a Bee's Knees? Gin, Fresh Lemon Juice & Honey Syrup.
Todd Thrasher: As a 29-year-old woman I would stay away from the more bitter cocktails and ease my way in slowly.
Chantal Tseng: (Shucks…I guess I'm no longer 29..sigh) 😉
Derek BrownI'm actually going to reverse my opinion from a few years back on Cosmos and say, a Cosmo with fresh lime juice and Cointreau is a very respectable cocktail.
Chantal Tseng: Truly a well balanced vodka cocktail when made properly.
Todd Thrasher What about a Papa Doble, Rum, maraschino liquor grapefruit juice sugar and lime juice, that is delicious. I love rum. Pisco Sour, but don't be afraid of the egg!
Logan Circle, DC
What do you guys think of the term mixologist? For it or against it?

Todd Thrasher: I am a bartender. I do not like any of those no fancy terms.

Chantal Tseng: The term is fine. As long as it means something to someone (or many people). Personally, I am a bartender first.

Gina Chersevani: Bartender or mixologist…it's apples and oranges, whatever one prefers.

Chantal Tseng: Mixologist isn't a new term either. It's been around since before Prohibition.

Derek Brown: The term is from 1856.

Todd Thrasher: Still a bartender.

Gina Chersevani: I agree with you Todd…drink slinger would be nice.

Chantal Tseng: Wench.

Gina Chersevani Yes…that applies too!

Derek Brown: The term was found in a magazine called the Knickerbocker and was a little bit of a joke when first mentioned.

Derek Brown: I like bartender but what if you mix drinks and are beverage manager? I mean to be a bartender you have to be behind the stick, don't you?

Gina Chersevani: OMG.

Chantal Tseng: True.

Gina Chersevani: Dead Horse…next question.

Derek Brown: Here's a reference to the term mixologist…

Chantal Tseng: For the professional consultant who creates menus for places, mixologist. For those mixing behind the stick, bartender and anything in between. 

Todd Thrasher: Can we move on?
Arlington, VA
What's in the future for the DC drinks scene? Do you think there will be more speakeasy-type places? Derek, is Hummingbird still going? Will you ever bring it back to us?

Chantal Tseng: Lots more cocktail bars.

Derek Brown: The future looks good. There are many new cocktail bars slated to open, including some out of towners. Hummingbird is history.

Todd Thrasher: I think the future looks bright for the cocktail scene, you have some young ambitious bartenders out there!

Chantal Tseng: Definitely. Being a bartender is a skilled and respectable trade again.

Gina Chersevani: Hopefully the future for DC will have many different types of good bars, not only speakeasies, but sport bars, lounges, clubs, that will all be capable of serving a wonderful cocktail or a fantastic beer…that is the goal.

Derek Brown: It's not only cocktail bars that will be producing great drinks. I think more and more restaurants are looking to up their game.

Chantal Tseng: More diversity. Wine bars with great cocktails, cocktail bars with local beers…cocktails to pair with food…It's a very creative and inspiring time for drinking in DC.

Derek Brown: How embarrassing is it when the chef takes such care to select the ingredients they use in food and then the bar is slapped together. Fine dining should really step up their bar programs! (Todd and Gina excluded, of course)

Gina Chersevani: Chef-like bartender's will really begin to make a push in the coming years.

Chantal Tseng: Drinkers are more educated, and more willing to experiment as well.

Todd Thrasher: People are looking at bartending as a career not just a job in between jobs, so I think that will up the quality of drinks, service, and cleanliness.

Derek Brown: Yes, educated consumers has been a great push for the scene and great cocktail writers like Eric Felten and Wayne Curtis who are popularizing quality drinking.

Gina Chersevani: Hey, whatever happened to the bar mantra, "work fast, work clean"?

Todd Thrasher: Lean your bars, future bartenders. No, I mean clean your bars.

Derek Brown I think Todd meant, if you have time enough to lean you have time enough to clean.

Chantal Tseng: The community on both sides just cares more so yes, the future is very bright.

Gina Chersevani: Agree with Todd 100%

Derek Brown: Cocktail Godliness, to borrow a phrase from Thrasher again.  


Clarnendon, Virginia
I'm hosting a spring cocktail party to celebrate a divorce and would love to have a "signature" drink for the event. What would you suggest that would be fresh, fun, fitting, and yet relatively easy to prepare for a group of 30?

Gina Chersevani: Punch.

Todd Thrasher: The bittersweet, come to Restaurant Eve and I will show you how to make it.

Gina Chersevani: I want a Bittersweet!

Derek Brown: Mix up the Love Reviver as a punch!

Chantal Tseng: Definitely punch. But with stronger ingredients.

Derek Brown Equal parts, London Dry Gin, Domaine de Canton, Cointreau, Lemon Juice and a few drops of Absinthe. You can adjust the lemon juice to taste if it's too tart. Add large ice cubes you can freeze over night in bread pans. Stir.

Todd Thrasher: A Slow Comfortable Screw Up Against the Wall, maybe?

Chantal Tseng: Not a fan of So Co…but mixed into a punch with fresh lime & lemon, sweet tea…some ginger. 

Gina Chersevani: New Beginning's Punch—strawberry's, lemon, lime, tequila, sugar, water, and ALL OF HIS MONEY!

Chantal Tseng: Then have every guest each come up with their own name for it. No one specified…could be HER money right?

Gina Chersevani Fine, ALL THE MONEY! 
Are any of you having any cherry blossom-themed drinks at your respective bars? I think it's a neat idea.

Chantal Tseng: I always like to feature Cherry Heering recipes.

Derek Brown Come to the Gibson and order a Japanese Cocktail, named after the first Japanese delegation to come to the states in the 1850s.

Chantal Tseng: Good one.

Todd Thrasher: That is a tough one cherries don't come in season until the summer.

Chantal Tseng: Cherry Rum (or gin) Fizzes are nice because they give you a sense of spring.

Gina Chersevani: Yes, it is a Salted Cherry Bourbon, contains house made brandied cherries, honey, fleur de sel, Bulliet, eggwhite…its like an egg creme.

Chantal Tseng: Using the Heering Liqueur. Brandied Cherries. Certainly the way to go.

Gina Chersevani: True cherries are not in season, there are some good cherries that you can get online, i just can't think of the name, anyone?

Derek Brown: From

Shake with ice and strain

3/5 cherry brandy (1 3/4 oz, 5.5 cl, 7/16 gills)
2/5 brandy (1 1/4 oz, 3.5 cl, 5/16 gills)
1 dash lemon juice
1 dash grenadine
1 dash Dry curacao
Shake thoroughly and serve very cold
Serve in a cocktail glass (4.5 oz)
The Cherry Blossom
Derek Brown: Sounds sweet, though.
Chantal Tseng: We buy edible flowers (think through International Gourmet). Make nice garnishes.
Derek Brown: Sub Lillet rouge for dry curacao.
Gina Chersevani: Love the edible flowers!
Chantal Tseng: Fun with sparkling wine. Lift the aromas.
Rosslyn, VA
I generally stick to beer or wine but am trying to build a small liquor cabinet. What are the basics I should stock it with?

Todd Thrasher: A selection of quality Vodka, Gin, Rum, Bourbon, Scotch, a few different bitters, a hand juicer, a sharp knife.

Derek Brown: Vodka, Gin, Tequila (100% Agave), White Rum, Bourbon or Rye, Blended Scotch, Triple Sec (Cointreau preferred), Dry Vermouth, Sweet Vermouth and bitters… don't forget bitters.

Todd Thrasher: Glassware is really important, antique stores are cool for that.

Chantal Tseng: Good to have bottled tonic and sodas.

Derek Brown: I teach a class at Culinaerie on becoming your own best bartender and we go over all of this!

Chantal Tseng: Make sure wine based bottles like vermouths are kept refrigerated. I like those tovola ice cube trays. Beautiful cubes.

Todd Thrasher: Shakers. Strainers.

Derek Brown: While we go all out at our respective bars, I think you can stock a bar on the cheap. For instance, Stoli is a great vodka… why bother with expensive 400x distilled vodkas. Jose Cuervo (not exactly a artisan producer) makes a good 100% agave tequila for under $20, called Tradicional.

Chantal Tseng:  It's easy to keep going. I would definitely want an array of different tequilas and rums.

Silver Spring, MD
My personal favorite Gin is Seagram's, but I hear there's a new renaissance in Gin production. Are there any Gin's you recommend, and as such, a particular (or peculiar) cocktail you would recommend that would wow guests and dates alike?

Derek Brown: Old Tom Gin!!!

Chantal Tseng: Love the Damrak. Amsterdam Gin.

Derek Brown: It's a little, sweeter and more intense but it makes a amazing Tom Collins.

Gina Chersevani: Plymouth…for a Gibson.

Todd Thrasher: Personally I like Citadelle gin.

Chantal Tseng: Plus, it has a great bottle with the old school top.

Derek Brown: Citadelle has a reserve gin now too.

Chantal Tseng: The reserve is delicious. Very small production.

Todd Thrasher: Citadelle is a bit sweeter and has an amazing nose that is not over powered by juniper.

Gina Chersevani: I like the Rogue Pink Gin, its aged in Pinot Noir Barrel's–its really tasty.

Todd Thrasher: I still Like Captain Morgan's wait that is not a rum.

Derek Brown: And, Genever.

Gina Chersevani: Rogue Pink Gin makes a great Pegu Club.

Derek Brown: Bols makes a great genever.

Chantal Tseng: Bols makes Damrak and the new re-release of their Genever.

Gina Chersevani: Genever is great but it's a gin???

Derek Brown: Yes, it's where the word gin comes from! 

Chantal Tseng: Yes. 

Derek Brown: It is very different in style, though.

Gina Chersevani You guys are geeks.

Derek Brown: True.

Chantal Tseng: Yes.

Gina Chersevani: I guess I have to take Dale's class after all. 

Alexandria, VA
Saw the Sazerac all over cocktail menus during the winter. What cocktails can we look forward to in the spring/summer?

Gina Chersevani: Rickeys.

Chantal Tseng: Pimm's Cups.

Derek Brown: Return of the Rickey.

Chantal Tseng: Definitely the Rickey. More Punch?

Gina Chersevani: Juleps.

Derek Brown: I think the Champs-Elysees might be making it on a few cocktail menus. 

Gina Chersevani: Punch definitely! 

Derek Brown: I just had a vision yesterday as I made one. 
Chantal Tseng: Right. It would be nice to see more juleps. Alas, crushed ice is key though.
Derek Brown: Tom Collins made with fresh juice.
Gina Chersevani: I heart Tom Collins! Crushed ice is key to a julep,but a little prep solves that problem.
Chantal Tseng: More cachaca drinks. More pisco drinks. Maybe a mini-tiki summer?
Derek Brown: Yeah, Tiki drinks! Definitely more Pisco drinks.
Gina Chersevani: Have you had Cuca Fresca Aged Cachaca???  It's pretty good!
Chantal Tseng: Need to find some fun mugs and bowls.
Derek Brown: This is going to be Pisco summer.
Chantal Tseng: Pisco Punch? With pineapples and fresh lemon.
Gina Chersevani: At PS 7's there is a cheeky tiki on the tasting menu that is available at the bar for a pairing, but shhh, it's a secret.
Chantal Tseng: He he. No worries, it shall not be i that will blow your cover.
Derek Brown: Yellow Chartreuse is the old, new "it" mixer ingredient.
Arlington VA
I love cocktails but am kinda broke right now. Any cheap options/bars for me out there? I can't really afford to pay $12 for a drink.

Derek Brown Well, we also have $8 cocktails at the Gibson.

Gina Chersevani: It called the cure…ready miller high life, lemon juice, domaine de canton–5 bucks at PS 7's and Eatbar…ask for it by name!!

Chantal Tseng: We range starting at $8 for our punch. 

Gina Chersevani: PS 7's also has a $4.00 happy hour Monday through Friday and it includes cocktails. 

Arlington, VA
What's your go to drink – the drink you make or grab when you're just ready to relax? Or I guess, alternatively, what's your desert island drink, if you could have but one drink forever?

Chantal Tseng: Fresh OJ.

Derek Brown: Bourbon, soda.

Chantal Tseng: Oh right. alcohol. gin & tonic.

Gina Chersevani: This one is easy…ICE PICK!  Fresh ice tea and vodka—yeah I said it vodka.

Chantal Tseng: Blanco tequila and fresh grapefruit.

Gina Chersevani: Oh, and maybe a shot of Jameson, can't I have both?

Derek Brown: I don't know if I could live without a Dry Martini.

Gina Chersevani: I do like to add rum to the ice tea sometimes too!

Chantal Tseng: Sounds like the fixins for a rum punch there…sorry. i'll stop saying punch. I could be happy with negronis on a desert island.

Gina Chersevani: Chantal, good point.


That's all the time these four great bartenders have for us today. Want more info on bars and the city's best cocktails? Check out the latest issue of The Washingtonian now on newsstands. Also, take a look at our online guide to best bars here.