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Last week I was in DC visiting my sister and her family.  In addition to some fabulous family time, I was happy to have the chance to spend time with my friend Paula who has recently moved to the Capitol.

Our first stop was PS7 where we quickly became fans of the daily happy hour punch made with gin, allspice dram, grapefruit juice and Peychauds bitters.  It was light and refreshing while also providing a rich mouthful of flavor.  It was the perfect way to relax after a long afternoon of wandering the hall of the National Gallery looking at fabulous works of art.

Under the direction of Gina Chersevani, PS7’s cocktail program takes inspiration from the farm.  The menu features drinks with ingredients like coriander, cilantro, rhubarb and pickled asparagus.  I was immediately drawn to the B&B (&b)—Maker’s Mark bourbon, beet syrup and bitters.  Before I say anything about the taste, check out the gorgeous deep red color.

I loved this drink. It didn’t taste as “beety” as I imagined it would. Instead the beet syrup functioned to bring an earthiness that mellowed the boozy taste of the bourbon, while producing a slightly viscous quality.  Vanilla used in the creation of the syrup adds a sweetness that rounds out the flavor.  Earthy, sweet, and rich—this was a uniquely delicious drink.

We then moved on to Proof.  The first drink on the cocktail menu caught my eye—the Root Cocktail with Partilda Blanco Tequila, Ramos Pinto White Port and Chartreuse.  I was intrigued by the combination of three ingredients that each have quite a bit going on on their own, but they all played nicely together sharing the class as cleverly and collegially.  It went down quite easily as I chatted the night away with Paula and nibbled on amazing sweet potato gnocchi.

Cheers to DC and its cocktails! See you again soon.

Last Monday night a menu of ten original cocktails each showcasing Spanish influence around the globe tempted Julie and I as we settled onto our bar-stools at Estragon.  Sahil Mehta described his Spanish Sip cocktail menu as “a bar-stool voyage around world.”  Along with some very yummy $1 tapas, Julie and I sampled quite a few things on the cocktail menu.  Here are my impressions and taste notes about my favorites, as well as Sahil’s explanation of his inspiration.

I started my journey with the Simon Bolivar (Pisco, yerba mate, pineapple juice, mango syrup, lime, Angostura bitters)I couldn’t resist the allure of yerba mate, a species of holly native to subtropical South America that is popularly made into a tea-like drink, or the temptation of mango syrup.  With this drink I appreciated the subtleness of the pineapple and mango which did not overpower as can sometimes happen with these flavors.  Instead the hint of tropical fruit surrounded the woodiness and vegetal qualities of the pisco and yerba mate.  I liked that the sweet and woody flavors seemed to be competing for my taste buds’ attention—each sip was an interesting one.  Sahil’s approach to this drink might account for this.  He explained: I wanted a cocktail that drew inspiration from northern South America – Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, and from the south -Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Since I was combining large parts of the continent in one cocktail, I decided to name it Simon Bolivar – a tongue-in-cheek reference to Bolivar’s ambitious plan to unite Spanish colonies into a single nation. The former group of nations produces a rich bounty of fruits, while the latter is known for its fondness of yerba mate.”

For my second drink I had the Utrecht-Baden which Sahil had suggested because of my fondness for the Negroni.  Did you know that the Netherlands and parts of Italy were Spanish colonies at one point?  (I actually did because of my museum work and art history background.)   This historical fact inspired the combination of Dutch genever with Italian liqueurs and amaros for an herbal, bitter and boozy result.  Sahil was right—this was right up my alley.  Just the layering of flavors of Bols genever, Aperol, and sweet vermouth (in Negroni style) would have been delicious, but then add a little of the ultra bitter, potent Fernet Branca and mirto, that myrtle berry liqueur that suggests mint, eucalyptus, and even pepper on your palette, and my mouth was buzzing with happiness.  The drink is named for two early 18th C treaties related to Spain’s colonization efforts; quite complicated and intriguing stuff, like the flavor of the cocktail.

When Tiki Met Tequila was Julie’s first choice and I agree with her that this was also quite delicious.  We are both huge fans of all-spice dram.  But instead of tasting like your typical rum-based tiki drink, the hibiscus tequila mixed with velvet falernum, all-spice dram and lime, took things in a different direction.  Sahil’s explanation:“Mexico was the inspiration…I wanted a drink that incorporated some elements of Mexico’s Caribbean coast… I did it by mixing ingredients that are normally used in rum-based Tiki drinks, but using a floral, hibiscus-infused tequila.” Hence the drink’s name.

This was my first visit to Estragon; it will not be my last.  I absolutely loved the art deco décor (the wallpaper in the bathroom is amazing), but even more appealing is the opportunity to spend more time with Sahil.  Not only is he a great bartender, but its clear from his gracious hospitality and big smile that he’s quite passionate about what he does.  To Spain and all its influences, and to Sahil Mehta for introducing me to Estragon and many fabulous Spanish sips. Cheers!

A couple weeks ago The Boston Shaker hosted a tasting event with Barritt’s Ginger Beer and my obsession with the stuff has now been revived.  I love the contrast of spicy and sweet and because it combines well with such a variety of other flavors it’s a must for any summer bar.

Before the recipes, a bit about ginger beer.  First produced in England in the mid-18th century,  the early recipe included ginger, sugar, water, and lemon juice.  This mixture was then combined with a yeast and bacteria combo, known as a ginger beer plant, which caused fermentation.  Some of the early ginger beers could have had an alcohol content of up to 11%.  Modern ginger beer, like the Barritt’s we sipped at the Boston Shaker, are not fermented, but rather carbonated (no boozy ginger beer here).  Barritt’s was first produced in the 1870s by William John Barritt, a man looking to make a living to support his large family.  Barritt took advantage of a small bottling machine in a dry goods store in Hamilton, Bermuda, and a delicious ginger beer was born.

My friend Anne Marie and I sampled all four drinks that were being mixed by Paul Imbesi.  Two of the cocktails rose to the top.

The Bohemian Cooler

(created by Boston bartender Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli of Island Creek Oyster Bar)

1 ½ oz St. Germain

1 oz rye whiskey

¾ oz lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake over ice. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with 2 oz ginger beer. Garnish with lemon wheel.

This is a great summer drink—the richness of the rye, the flowery-sweet St. Germain, and the tart lemon juice are brightened and heightened by the spicy ginger beer.  I just love this drink.

Amatitan Mule

(created by Ezra Pattek of Bar Lab, Miami)

2 oz silver tequila

2 thin slices of jalapenos

½ lime, quarted

1 bar spoon agave nectar

Muddle jalapenos, limes and agave. Add tequila and shake.  Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with 2 oz ginger beer.  Garnish with lime and jalapeno wheels.

Now this cocktail is not for the faint of heart (or taste buds)—this is quite spicy with both the jalapenos and ginger beer.  This isn’t the kind of drink I would usually chose if I saw it on a menu, so I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

My advice for this weekend (and my own personal plan)—grab a six pack of ginger beer and get shaking and mixing.  If you aren’t up for the recipes above, try something simple like a Dark and Stormy, a simple combo of a dark rum, ginger beer and lime juice.  Cheers!

Over the last couple weeks, the universe was doing its best to connect me and the margarita.  First, my knowledge of the lyrics to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville scored by team a few points at Tipple Trivia (did you know there are six items mentioned in the song that are either edible or drinkable?).  Then, a Margaritas restaurant opened down the street from my house.  And as the weather warmed and I started thinking about refreshing summer cocktails, I wondered does anything say summer quite like a margarita?

Sure, I have enjoyed many of the sour mix variety, but a real one made with tequila, orange liqueur and fresh lime juice is oh, so much better!  The agave of tequila adds a warm rich booziness, complimented by the sweet orange and tart lime.  In making my first real margarita, I did a little taste test with my orange liqueur.  I compared Hiram Walker Triple Sec and Cointreau*—first a blind tasting of the spirit on its own and then in a margarita.  My taste buds preferred the triple sec, which was slightly sweeter and offered the orangey-ness that I was looking for both on its own and in the drink itself.  I admit I was a bit surprised that the less expensive triple sec would have been preferable to the Cointreau, but it’s true.

The origin of the margarita has its roots in a drink served in Tijuana in the 1930s—a Tequila Daisy, a combination of tequila, lemon and a sweetener.  Margarita means daisy in Spanish.  As most drinks do, this one also has its own glamorous creation myth.  As the story goes it was the creation of a Texas socialite Margarita Sames for her 1948 Christmas party.  It quickly made its way out of Sames’s Hollywood social circle into wider drinking circles to become one of the most popular drinks in America.

Margarita (This is Dale DeGroff’s recipe with my substitution of triple sec)

1 ½ oz tequila (only 100% agave, please)

1 oz triple sec

¾ oz fresh lime juice

¼ oz agave syrup (optional; he suggests it as a way to add some sweetness which some may need if they are used to the sour mix variety served in most places)

Shake. Serve straight up or on the rocks in a salted-rim glass.

Happy Summer! Happy Margaritas!  Cheers!

* I need to fess up here and acknowledge that I was provided with Hiram Walker Triple Sec and Cointreau free of charge.

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