Raising a Glass to Spring
It's spring, when my thoughts turn to ... spring cocktails. This is the time when many bars jettison their winter drink lists, adding more beverages with fresh, light ingredients instead of the darker, heavier concoctions that saw us through the winter.
The Gibson, PS 7's, Poste and the Tabard Inn have all rolled out new menus in the last week, while Bourbon Steak and PX have rotated new drinks into their existing lineups. With change in the air, I went out to taste some of the new drinks, and find out more about their creators' inspirations.
For her new menu, mixologist Chantal Tseng said she was "going lighter, thinking about white wine cocktails, using [French aperitif] Lillet, lots of vermouth. It's less about the ports and reds." "Floral" and "herbal" are the inspirations, and that's perfectly displayed in one of her featured cocktails: a lovely drink called the Chrysanthemum, which was served on the ocean liner S.S. Europa in the 1930s. It mixes the herbal Dolin Dry vermouth and Benedictine liqueur with fresh orange peel and zest and just a bit of absinthe. The overall effect was very pleasing. The sweeter Washington Cobbler, which gets its flavor from Neisson rum, Lustau sherry, mint, a homemade chamomile-honey syrup and fresh orange zest, also had me and my friends asking for seconds.
There are just three cocktails on the menu, so you really should stop in on Wednesday and Thursday, when Tseng is behind the bar, offering four exclusive cocktails that change every week, depending on the day and her mood. "In spring, there's more flowers, so I'll be using elderflower liqueur, and I'm thinking about Aperol and Campari spritzers," she reports. "And there will be lots of blood oranges."
"I don't know if we had a theme," says manager/mixologist/bartender Tiffany Short, who is responsible for a number of drinks on the brand-new menu. "We tried to pick things that were fun and floral, but silly at the same time." (Hence the frozen blender drinks that I mentioned in my post about the Gibson's patio.)
Take the Blue Train Special Cocktail, a champagne-based drink with XO brandy and a pineapple simple syrup. "I equate pineapples with cheesy beachhouse vacations and spring break drinks, but here it's just a little fun and fruity." Another one to welcome spring with: Harvard on the Pike, a nod to a nickname for Montgomery College. The three ingredients: Pimms' No. 1 Cup, Ginger Beer and vanilla-infused tequila, all say "warm weather!" on their own, but together it's a sweet, fizzy concoction perfect for drinking on the lounge's new back patio.
Speaking of the back patio, Short is inaugurating Tiffany's Tiki Night on Sundays, where she'll be pulling three classics from an old Trader Vic's bartending guide every week. "I'm going to try to find stuff that's really wild, to make you feel like you're on vacation," she says. Drinks will go for $8 to $12 each, in line with the Gibson's other cocktails.
At Bourbon Steak, Kevin Diedrich is making some of the best cocktails in D.C. He's recently unveiled several based around Bols Genever, the rich, almost malty traditional Dutch gin. The Bols of Fun is so good I can almost forgive the name -- it's Bols with tarragon and kumquat, and as strange as it sounds, it's wonderfully balanced, thanks to the sweetness of the kumquat and a touch of anise from the tarragon. Another genever winner: The aromatic Namesake, which adds orange liqueur and hints of orange blossom and apricot.
Diedrich is also busy with what he calls his "market cocktails," which are based on seasonal ingredients he gets from Bourbon Steak's kitchen. Right now, it's all about rhubarb, and the latest creation is a rhubarb shrub. The Rhubarb is cooked, steeped in red wine vinegar and spices, and then boiled down. Diedrich takes this mixtures and uses it with Four Roses bourbon, an egg, bitters and nutmeg to make a tangy, creamy flip.
Coming soon: Cocktails with strawberries, plum and cantaloupe.
"It is still a weird time at the farmers market," e-mails PX's Todd Thrasher, who finds inspiration for his creations among the fresh fruits and vegetables. "There is not a lot of produce yet. No rhubarb, no strawberries, just still a lot of root stuff. I have a feeling the menu is going to go very rum-heavy in the coming weeks."
In the meantime, drinks like the Hollyhocktail, made with Cruzan rum, hibiscus, ginger cognac and coconut water, and the rum-less Sparkling Mojito, which adds mint-infused simple syrup and lime juice to a crisp Blanquet tede Limoux sparkling wine, seem like just the thing for the season.
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