Words by Jeb Gavin
Photos by Clarissa Villondo
I’ve been thinking more and more of late about the impermanence of art- specifically the separation between the art – what we might consider the skill involved, and the artifact – the work itself. In some cases, it’s a painting set to stand the test of time (your Velvet Elvises, your Dogs Playing Poker and what have you.) In some instances, it’s harder to define, because what could reasonably be considered the “work” is amorphous. Specific to food and drink, how is it possible to recreate an artifact when it is meant to be consumed? If you drank the Mona Lisa of martinis how could you possibly know aside from knowing it was a damn fine martini, and worse yet, how do you convey this information, aside from hamfistedly suggesting, for example, you drank the Mona Lisa of martinis?
None of the beer cocktails presented by the bartenders and mixologists at Tuesday’s Booze Brews event at DBGB should be tortured by such an absurd metaphor. The five drinks that night were all cocktails featuring local beers for DC Beer Week.
We decided at random (and because it was the least crowded table when we arrived) to start with a “Black ‘n’ Shandy” from Chris Norris of the Inn at Little Washington. A mix of intensely bitter Frenet Braca, benedictine, and ginger beer. The liquor was a Buddha’s Hand infused vodka from Hanger One, with Devils Backbone Black Lager. While I’m normally a sucker for most combinations of any two of the ingredients, the bitterness of the frenet and a medicinal taste of the benedictine dominated this cocktail and made it hard to pick up the mild citrus of the vodka or the toasted malt in the schwarzbier.
Donato Alvarez of the Navy Yard’s new The Salt Line brought with him a cocktail made from Bar Hill’s Tom Cat Gin and Ommegang’s Pale Sour. I like the beer, I like the gin, but I wasn’t as sold on the addition of Giffard’s peach liqueur or the artichoke-based aperitivo carciofo. Perhaps I’m overly suspicious of artichokes, having endured one too many terrible artichoke dips. More likely I’m just not nearly as big a fan of bitter liquors meant to precede or finish a meal.
I have still not made it to Le Diplomate, but I know now that Kevin Egan mixes up the best beer-based French 75 I’ve ever had, using Right Proper’s Kick.Kick.Snare Berliner Weisse and Blue Coat gin. Served with a sliver of candied ginger as garnish, this thing drinks like a beery, boozy lemonade and is perfect for cutting the late summer D.C. heat. I was unable to stay to the end of the event but as it turns out the Proper 75 ended up winning the popular vote for best beer cocktail of the night by close decision.
Sam Ward of Iron Gate mixed Calabrian amaro, another herbal Italian digestive with a shrub made from local peaches and pawpaws, and Founders’ All Day IPA. The beer is a session IPA, meaning lower in alcohol so you can drink it all day. The Simcoe and Amarillo hops make it almost sweet and citrusy and only mildly bitter, so it balanced quite well with the more bitter amaro and sour-sweet shrub. This was my other favorite on the night.
I finished the night with the man with DBGB’s own Phil Song. His “Miracle on H Street” featured Port City’s Integral IPA, chamomile-infused Bar Hill gin, yuzu and prickly pear bitters, a vinegar shrub made of pineapple-peach IPA, and lillet for good measure. It came with an optional miracle berry tablet, intended to mute the bitter and sour notes in the drink, though I think the alcohol mitigated the effects. A tasty drink overall, but not my favorite on the night.
Having five beer cocktails in a row it was hard not to miss the similarities: herbal liqueurs and liquors, strong citrus notes, tons of sweetened vinegar. But in the private rooms overlooking the City Center water feature, snacking on Thai pork sausage rolls and skewers of chicharrón from the kitchen downstairs, it was a fine way to spend an early night during Beer Week. It’s always good to learn beer based cocktails needn’t be as dull as a boilermaker, even if they aren’t necessarily consumable works of art.