Photos by Clarissa Villondo, words by Kaylee Dugan
We’ve written about The Gibson’s menu changes extensively. Twice a year they invite us to come out to their beautiful bar and proceed to try and get us as drunk as possible on some of D.C.’s finest cocktails. They usually succeed. We don’t need to explain how wonderful their beverage program is, because at this point, Gibson is a D.C. mainstay. It’s impossible to talk about D.C.’s craft cocktail scene without mentioning them.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise when I tell you I like their fall menu even more than I liked their spring menu. That’s mostly because they’ve achieved what I thought was impossible: they got me to like scotch. But before we dive into all that, let’s take it back to the beginning. I was lucky enough to try nine of their eleven cocktails, starting with the Growing Pains. As one of the handful of cocktails on the menu inspired by Beyonce’s Lemonade, it packs a good punch, leaning both floral and bitter in equal measure. It’s definitely a beer cocktail, so if you’re not a fan of mixing whiskey and beer, I would stay away. One the other hand, if you’re cool with a little lager in your drink, the composition in this cocktail is very lovely.
The next cocktail, A Long Shot, highlights the bars tiki leanings by adding wonderful pistachio orgeat to Beefeater, yellow chartreuse, and Akvavit. I can’t decide if it’s a summer cocktail masquerading as a winter cocktail or vice versa, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. …Da Pain Away is a good counter to A Long Shot, leaning sweeter and smokier. It combines Laphroaig 10 Year, vanilla liquor, Carpano Antica, chocolate bitters, and decanter bitters. You get a good amount of the smokiness from the scotch upfront but the drink quickly transforms into something sweeter before it has the chance to get peaty and gross. It’s goddamn magical. If all scotch cocktails tasted like this, I would be the happiest girl in the world.
The Man I Forgot I Loved is perfect if you don’t want to decide between gin and whiskey, since it combines The London No. 1 Gin and Four Roses in a surprisingly approachable way. If you’re a fan of expensive vermouth (like me!), The Vacancy’s Cocchi Americano is very forward, but the use of sherry and Wild Turkey keep it firmly grounded in the colder seasons.
The last three may be my favorite. The Cat’s Meow combines red wine and champagne with Cruzan Black Strap Rum, vanilla and lime. I know that sounds weird and horrible, but it’s delicious. You get a good amount of acidity upfront that’s dulled at the back end by the vanilla an molasses flavors of the rum. I want to make a huge punch bowl of it and bring it to every holiday party.
Ain’t No Tellin’ is a riff on an Old Fashioned, featuring Avua Cachaca Oak, chocolate bitters, orange bitters, and cinnamon. It’s as if your favorite Old Fashioned recipe donned a Santa Clause outfit. I love it. I could easily drink these forever.
Finally, The Company of Strangers tackles the loud flavors of mezcal, adding Dolin Blanc, white cacao, Benedictine, orange bitters, Hell Fire bitters, and Old Fashioned bitters. It’s smokey upfront, in only the way mezcal can be, transforms into something sweet and finishes with a little bit of spicy. It’s a drink with a lot of personality that hits so many different notes it’s impressive.
Drinking at The Gibson is like selecting an expensive perfume. All of their drinks have distinct beginnings, middles, and ends, everything has been painfully and purposefully constructed, and while not all of it works, when you find something that does you’re almost mad no one has ever thought of it before.