Words by Ruben Gzirian, Photos by Nicholas Karlin
There comes a point during a night of drinking lavish liquors and cocktails when the sensory experience of drinking becomes secondary; where you stop caring who made what with whatever ingredients. It’s at that point where the company around you, the people sharing in the same experience, becomes the real reason you didn’t leave an hour earlier after tasting the second or third “hand-crafted” potato vodka. This was my experience in a nutshell at the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) DC Cocktail Week Sneak Peek.
I arrived at Jack Rose in a bit of a haze. After a workday that resembled a humorless rendition of Office Space, the ebullient desire for whiskey was hard to ignore. Luckily, as Nick and I made our way to Jack Rose’s 2nd floor terrace we were greeted by a scene that warmed the liver: bartenders from Dram & Grain, Jack Rose, Sally’s Middle Name, Indique, Baba, and Convivial occupied the bar from beginning to end, while local distilleries such as Republic Restoratives, Belle Isle, Green Hat, and KO flanked across the room.
Our descent started with Jack Rose’s cocktail, the “Truth about Tom.” I don’t know who Tom is but if his character inspired this drink then Tom for President. The house made hopped fig syrup combined with the musky Amaro Montenegro, and elevated by the overly botanical Green Hat gin, made for a drink that paired so well together that they should honestly just remain this to “Hall & Oates.”
We then moved onto Dram & Grain’s “Porridge in a Pot still,” which combined Virginia Distillery’s Port Finished Single Mat with barley orgeat syrup, a Rare Wine Co. Madeira, and house made bitters. This was a drinker’s drink. The dry Madeira exuded hints of salted caramel that played off the lingering nuttiness of the orgeat syrup and the spice of the bitters. Unfortunately, while the whiskey was suitable, its main selling point—the port finish—was lost in the sauce.
Sensing an opportunity to really hit our stride, we immediately tried Indique’s “Garam Masala Tonic.” The simplicity of this drink—I think it was literally two ingredients—was deceptive because from the first sip to the last gulp the cacophony of lively hints of peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg drove the point home that this drink was something more than just gin and tonic. I wish I could tell you I took my time with this one, and enjoyed every nuance, but I’d be lying.
It was at this point that we started to slow down, and as we wandered the room plotting our next move, we ran into some familiar faces, all of whom insisted we try some of the local distilleries. After going from one local vodka—MurLarkey’s 16-times distilled premium potato vodka—to another—Cirrus’s triple-distilled potato vodka—I was on the brink of having a Paul Giamatti Sideways moment. But all of that changed when another friendly guest pointed us in the direction of the Republic Restoratives table, and their soon-to-be released Chapman’s Apply Brandy. Light, fruity, and full of the comforting brandy 92 proof burn, the Chapman’s was an imaginative version of a spirit I thought I knew. Better yet, the cocktail from Sally’s Middle Name that featured Chapman’s alongside Restoratives’ rum cask-finished bourbon was a perfect showcase of the versatility of the apple brandy as a festive ingredient ideal for the fall.
After making an arbitrary agreement that “we’d have one more cocktail,” we made a bee-line for Convivial’s “A Rose by Any Other.” Featuring Capitoline’s Rose vermouth paired with Cherry Heering (essentially a cherry brandy), the drink was a perfect nightcap to a night we didn’t know was long over. By then the drinks had opened up the room, and lengthy conversations with reps from Belle Isle Craft Spirits, KO Distillery, and Green Hat Gin weaved with friendly exchanges with other like-minded drinkers. Walking out of Jack Rose, I felt at peace; a feeling many of you will surely share when DC Cocktail Week begins November 13.