This Fancy DC Bar Is Making Cocktails With Emu Necks and Bee Larvae

Silver Lyan goes extremely esoteric with its new migration-themed menu.

Silver Lyan teamed up with rum distiller Cotton & Reed to produce a cane spirit distilled with emu necks and local raspberries. Photograph by Caitlin Isola.

Silver Lyan. 900 F St. NW.

Ryan Chetiyawardana—known as Mr Lyan—is world famous for his cutting-edge cocktails. At his DC bar, Silver Lyan in Penn Quarter’s Riggs hotel, the London-based barman has served microwaved Manhattans and sophisticated Jell-O shots. But his latest cocktail menu is perhaps the weirdest and most esoteric in DC.

The drinks are themed around the idea of movement and migration—very broadly interpreted. Think the Voyager 2’s trek across the solar system, or the upstream journey of Pacific Northwest salmon. Chetiyawardana’s direction to his team: “Don’t worry about flavors. Don’t worry about how is this going to end up looking as drink. Just take the word migration and find the things that you think are interesting around that.”

That’s how Silver Lyan ended up with “Emu Queen”—a cocktail themed around the infamous war in Western Australia between 20,000 emus migrating from their breeding grounds and World War I veterans taking up farming. (Long story short: The military stepped in to try to gun down the emus but were largely unsuccessful.) The drink is a dry, savory highball featuring a cane spirit distilled with emu necks and local raspberries.

Silver Lyan worked with Union Market rum distiller Cotton & Reed to produce something in a similar style to pechuga mezcal, an agave spirit made with raw chicken, fruits, and spices hung over the still.  They sourced emu from a farm in Tennessee and opted for the neck because of the flavor from the bone and cartilage. The teams worked with regulatory agencies to make sure the process was safe: “It turns out we’re the first people to do an emu distillate, which is always quite fun, because hopefully it lays the groundwork for other people to look at these kinds of processes, not necessarily just emu,” Chetiyawardana says.

The result is a “tropical zestiness” with a bit of floral perfume from the raspberries and a lingering rich, creamy finish. “I definitely don’t think you would take it as as meaty,” Chetiyawardana says. The emu booze is combined with mezcal plus—continuing with the migration theme—other invasive ingredients such as tart riberries, arrowroot tea, and mulberry soda.

Silver Lyan’s “Air Bee N Bee” cocktail includes a tincture made from hay-smoked bee larvae. Photograph by Caitlin Isola.

Another cocktail dubbed “Air Bee n Bee” is themed around pollination of California’s almond trees, which requires beekeepers from all over the country to drive their hives to the state each spring. Naturally, the drink features almond blossoms, which Chetiyawardana says are “ludicrously expensive” (think six or seven times the price of other fine teas). But the star ingredient is a tincture made from hay-smoked bee larvae that come from a DC beekeeper who’s previously supplied the bar with honey. (While it might seem cruel to tell the story of bee shortages by consuming baby bees, Chetiyawardana learned that removing some beehive frames is actually a good practice for keeping colonies healthy.)  He says the ingredient gives the cocktail a “depth and rich meatiness.”

The drink is rounded out by mango vinegar and tequila, which are made from plants that are pollination grounds for migratory creatures. Mosel riesling adds some petrol-like notes—a nod to all the gas spent trucking bees to California. Lastly, the cocktail is garnished with a honey-coated mealworm, which frankly, are just more abundant than bee larvae but with a similar flavor.

Pretty much every cocktail on the menu is similarly encyclopedic, and the unusual ingredients include deer antlers, kelp, shrimp, and more. While it all might seem a little gimmicky, Chetiyawardana says they only use ingredients that are going to contribute to the cocktails: “It’s got to be meaningful. It’s got to be there for a reason.”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.