Warm weather in the nation’s capital means outdoor drinking, whether it’s on a patio or a roof deck. An outside space has become a necessity for D.C. bars and restaurants, which often see an increase in revenue during the temperate months.
Even one of the area’s finest dining spots, Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt hotel in the West End, has jumped into the al fresco scene with its fountain terrace on the corner of M and 24th Street NW.
One of my favorite warm-weather cocktails is the classic gin and tonic. Blue Duck has taken this tipple to a new level with its mix-and-match G&T bar, offering three custom-infused gins and three handmade flavored tonics. The recommended pairings are listed on the menu, but adventurous imbibers can play around with the combinations as they please.
The gins are strawberry, green almond and cardamom cilantro. The tonic choices are rhubarb espellete, lime and pink peppercorn and balsamic vinaigrette. Bartender Cole Burger gave me a sample of all.
The first suggested match is strawberry with rhubarb, a coupling familiar from pies and pastries. The drink is crisp and refreshing, as a good gin and tonic should be. The rhubarb adds a nice touch of tartness and the strawberry a perfect hint of sweetness. Even someone who doesn’t like gin and tonics would enjoy this drink.
Next, I sampled the cardamom cilantro gin with the balsamic tonic, which created an earthy and exotic flavor. I was unsure about the idea of a balsamic tonic, thinking it would be overpowering, but it worked wonderfully in this cocktail, which had nice sweet-and-sour balance. The cilantro, which was subtle, lent a fresh, garden-like taste and the cardamom gave it a spicy twist.
The third suggested pairing, green almond with lime and pink peppercorn tonic, made for a rich, nutty spirit that went well with the peppery mixer.
Perhaps the star at Blue Duck, however, is the Lady Bird. Like many of the drinks on the menu, it is named after a park. Lady Bird Johnson Park is located on an island in the Potomac River near the Pentagon.
The drink is garnished with an edible nasturtium flower from Blue Duck’s garden. Some of the fresh herbs that are used in the restaurant can be seen growing in the fountain courtyard.
The Lady Bird cocktail is a delightful and unique concoction. Bartender Burger refers to it as “a seasonal version of the gin daisy cocktail.” One of the main ingredients is a distinctive verjus syrup, verjus being unfermented wine juice. To make the syrup, Burger cooks it down with agave syrup, grilled pineapple, jalapeño and rosemary. The other components are gin, lemon juice and homemade grenadine.
“Grenadine has a bad reputation because of the cloyingly sweet Rose’s stuff people are used to,” he says. “The fresh stuff is incredible. It’s made from fresh pomegranate juice, white sugar and orange-blossom water mixed together.”
The cocktail tingles a wide range of sensations. The first sip is a little sweet, but the pomegranate balances it out quickly. The next layer is again slightly sweet from the pronounced hint of pineapple, but with a nip of heat from the jalapeño. Later, an herbal essence floats in your taste range. This multidimensional cocktail is fresh and sassy, a perfect summertime patio refresher.