Cocktail of the Week: Conquistador Punch, Born of Spain and Mexico

August 10, 2012

Cocktails, like food and fashion, are seasonal. While a properly made margarita, with fresh lime and quality tequila, is delightful and refreshing on a hot summer day, downing one while watching the snow fall, doesn’t have quite the same effect. Unfortunately for tequila lovers, many of the popular agave elixirs are warm-weather fare. While it’s true that a glass of complex, aged tequila can be a cultivated sipper on a frigid winter’s eve, a cocktail like the tequila sunrise, screams for a balmy beachside chair rather than a cozy seat by the fireplace.

Dan Searing, a partner in Columbia Heights cocktail bar Room 11, has broken tequila out of its summer rut with his Conquistador Punch. I had the pleasure of sampling Searing’s chilly concoction at the Museum of the American’s Cocktail’s December holiday party. The recipe is also included in his book “The Punch Bowl – 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry.”

Searing’s original creation of lime, orange, tequila and sherry, plays up the fresh citrus fruits of winter. The stars of this cocktail are clementines, the cute little oranges that start popping up in produce aisles in mid-December. Often referred to as “Christmas oranges,” these petit fruits pack a burst of concentrated orange flavor.

During the colder months, punches forged from traditional brown spirits, such as brandy, whiskey and rum are popular refreshers. These wood-aged spirits, impart a spicy warming element to drinks.

Conquistador punch takes advantage of reposado tequila, a spirit that has been aged up to a month in oak barrels, along with sherry, a Spanish wine that is fortified with brandy to give this beverage a refined spicy profile. Searing describes his creation as having “spice and sweetness, but a citrusy tartness as well.”

The key to the drink’s robust flavor is Searing’s homemade-made clementine syrup. While most cocktails add a portion of plain simple syrup as a sweetener, Searing takes it up a notch by making his syrup from Demerara sugar, which has a darker, richer flavor and then soaking it overnight in the grated zest from two clementines. This custom syrup imparts a full-bodied, powerful orange smack.

The name Conquistador Punch comes from the multicultural ingredients. Tequila is from Mexico, and sherry is from Spain. Searing says the punch was born out of a blend of the elements from two cultures. “As we all know the Spanish came and tried to conquer the native people of Mexico, and it didn’t quite work,” he said. “Mexican culture is derived from the blending of Spanish and native influence. It’s obviously a unique culture as a result.” And Searing has obviously created a special libation from these influences.

Dan Searing’s “Conquistador Punch”

1 750-ml bottle of Corzo Reposado Tequila
1 375-ml bottle of Pedro Ximénez Sherry
1 ½ cups lime juice (about 12 limes)
1 ½ cups clementine juice (about 12 clementines)
1 cup clementine zest syrup ()
1 ice block
2 clementines, peeled, cut into small, coin shapes
Combine all liquid ingredients in a large pitcher, adding the clementine syrup last and to taste. Chill thoroughly. When ready to serve, place the ice block in a punch bowl and pour the punch over it.

() Clementine Zest Syrup:
Zest from two clementines
1-cup cold simple syrup (1 part water, 1 part sugar – heat until dissolved, chill)

Use a microplane grater to remove the zest from the two clementines. Add the zest to the cold simple syrup. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hours. Strain out the zest. Refrigerate any unused syrup.

Ingredients to make Conquistador punch may be purchased at Dixie Liquor located at 3429 M Street, NW, in Georgetown. Readers may sample this drink or purchase Searing’s book at Room 11 3234 11th Street, NW, in Columbia Heights.

Raise a Cup for President Washington’s Whiskey Punch

June 29, 2012

Many presidents have gone on to have successful careers after leaving office. Jimmy Carter formed Habitat for Humanity and went on to become a global human rights campaigner and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. William Howard Taft served as Chief Justice of the United States.  And Bill Clinton, in addition to his charitable works, spearheaded his wife’s presidential bid in 2008

This tradition dates back to our very first president, George Washington, who became a successful whiskey-maker after his presidency. According to Dennis Pogue, vice president for preservation at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, our founding father operated one of the largest whiskey distilleries in 18th-century America.

Pogue, the author of “Founding Spirits,” a detailed portrayal of the origins of the American whiskey industry, including Washington’s role, was the featured speaker during a recent event hosted by the Museum of the American Cocktail. While Pogue described the intimate details of Washington’s whiskey-making business, guests were treated to a number of classic whiskey cocktails.

Washington began distilling spirits as a way to generate income in his retirement. After leaving office, Washington moved back to Mount Vernon where he hired James Anderson, a Scotsman, as plantation manager. Anderson suggested making whiskey from the grain grown in the plantation for profit. Washington was skeptical at first, but after writing to John Fitzgerald, a trusted friend who operated a rum distillery, he decided to give it a go. Whiskey making began in early 1797 and by October of that year, Washington was confident enough to expand the operation.

Washington’s whiskey, a raw un-aged spirit, sold for 60 cents per gallon. By 1799, Washington’s distillery was the single most profitable part of his plantation. It was sold mostly to his neighbors, while some of it was bartered for items such as candles, oysters and shoe leather.

At this time in history, alcohol consumption was quite common. Washington himself drank, and he and Martha served punch to guests on various occasions. Washington had what Pogue calls a very modern view of alcohol. Washington knew drinking was a part of life but also knew there were drawbacks. He was forced to fire number of important employees because they could not control their drinking. He had officers during the war that got in trouble for abusing alcohol.

The distillery continued to operate after Washington’s death but burned to ground in 1814 and never reopened.

What did Washington’s whiskey taste like? According to Pogue the spirit was made primarily from rye, which was the typical type of whiskey produced the time. Washington’s recipe called for 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn and 5 percent malted barley. It was not aged, like whiskeys are today, although Washington did drink Madeira wine and was aware of the effect aging had on improving the taste alcohol.  But whiskey that time was consumed with a primary purpose of getting drunk, and aging the spirit would require a greater investment and delay of revenue.

During the event the audience was presented with a glass of “American Whiskey Punch,” a recipe developed by cocktail historian David Wondrich, who is also a contributing scholar and member of the board of advisors of the Museum of the American Cocktail. The recipe, which highlights the spicy flavor of rye whiskey, follows a longstanding formula for punch which has been cemented in the rhyme, “One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak.”

While sipping on this classic concoction, I conjured up images of George and Martha Washington entertaining guests with their hand-made spirits at Mount Vernon. According to Derek Brown, of The Passenger and Columbia Room, punch was a popular libation during the 18th century.

Washington’s distillery and gristmill have been reconstructed and are open seasonally. The fully functioning sites are located just three miles from the Mount Vernon mansion. And in limited production, bottles of whiskey produced at the distillery are available for purchase from time to time.

Visitors may learn more about Washington’s whiskey production and purchase Dennis Pogue’s book at For more information on informational cocktail seminars, visit

David Wondrich’s American Whiskey Punch
Muddle one cup sugar with the peel of two lemons.
Add 4 oz. lemon juice and 8 oz. water until sugar is dissolved.
Add 16 oz. Wild Turkey Rye and 3 cups water.
Serve over large block of ice in punch bowl.
Garnish with lemon wheels.

The Cactus Colada

May 3, 2012

As the home stretch of summer kicks in, it’s time to throw that outdoor cocktail party you’ve been thinking about since May. Back to school ads are on TV, Oktoberfest beers are creeping into liquor stores and heavy jackets are on display at retail shops. Invite some friends over and mix up a batch of warm-weather drinks before the steamy evenings melt into fall.

For a wealth of summer entertaining tips, I turn to my friend Jerry Lenoir, a classic cocktail buff and the Willie Wonka-like figure behind the enchanting Mr-Booze website.

Jerry has quite an elaborate bar set-up inside his home, so I was curious about his outdoor entertaining style. “I have a little tiki bar in our carport.” Jerry explained. “I’ve brought a couple of fans out there, plenty of lanterns and colored lights. I’ve set out tiki totems and hung bad Polynesian art – it’s fun.”

The Mr-Booze Website is filled with tips for hosting your party – everything from setting up your bar, selecting the perfect party tunes and prep work that can allow you more time to mingle with your guests.

“Decorating an outdoor space for the warm months can simply mean adding a string of lights, a few tiki torches and some sounds, all setting the mood for a removal from the mundane.” Jerry says. “You just want to be able to make someplace that is familiar a little special and exotic. You and your guests should feel, while drinking that cocktail, that you are somewhere whimsical, nostalgic and out of the ordinary.”

To make things easier Jerry advises to batch a couple of your drinks before the party. If you want to go one step further, Jerry suggests plugging in a blender outside. “Have a tub of ice, some fresh fruit, sugar and rum.” He says. “You can blend up batches at a time.”

On his website, Jerry describes frozen cocktails as akin to a swimming pool in terms of cooling off and relaxing. “When paired with a loose cotton shirt, shorts, no shoes and an Adirondack chair, angels should start singing ’cause you’re that close to Heaven.” He muses. “Like peaches, Christmas trees and pumpkins, the frozen drink is completely seasonal. You should feel like a fool sipping one after Labor Day. They call for hurricane glasses, whole fruit garnish, and plenty of awkward silences as you and your guests suck them down.”

While many associate blender drinks with daiquiris and margaritas, Jerry’s website features an interesting variety of frozen cocktail recipes. Being a tequila lover, I was intrigued by the cactus colada- an alluring mixture of coconut cream, pineapple and tequila. While similar to a pina colada, the agave punch gives this refreshment an eye-opening smack. Jerry’s describes its flavor as a fistfight between tequila and coconut. For me it’s a cheery alternative to the standard frozen margarita.

If you are concerned about hosting a backyard or rooftop party in the high heat, Jerry offers a simple guideline for determining whether to imbibe inside or out. “If the ice in my glass melts faster than it keeps my drink cold, I steer the gathering indoors. Good advice, Jerry!

The Cactus Colada
2 oz. tequila (better is better)
2 oz. cream of coconut
4 oz. pineapple juice
2 cups ice
Blend till creamy. Recipe courtesy of Adam Rocke’s book, Tiki Drinks.

Ingredients to make the cactus colada may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M St. in Georgetown. More recipes and entertaining ideas can be found online at

Cocktail of the Week: Dark n’ Stormy

Say the word Bermuda and many things come to mind. For many it’s a paradise getaway, an island dotted with breathtaking cliff side ocean vistas and ringed with dreamy pink sand beaches. For the fashion-conscious it’s the nationally named shorts regularly worn with a jacket and tie. For mystery-lovers it’s the northern point of the mystical triangle where ships have inexplicably disappeared.

Far north of the Caribbean, Bermuda is a unique spot, a little British, a little nautical, and posh enough for the rich and famous. But for a cocktail writer, the first thing to come to mind is the Dark ‘N Stormy – a delightfully spicy and slightly sweet rum treat that’s known as “Bermuda’s National Drink.”

The Dark n’ Stormy is a simple highball, a mixture of Goslings Black Seal rum and ginger beer with a garnish of lime. Ginger beer, which for those unfamiliar is a non-alcoholic soda, is a grownup relative of ginger ale with a zesty flavor of fresh ginger root.

If you’re on the island and you order a Dark N Stormy, you’re almost guaranteed that your tipple will be forged with Goslings Black Seal Rum, a product of Bermuda. The full-bodied spirit, which pours the color of dark coffee, has a distinctive spiced flavor with hints of oak and caramel.

While many cocktails can boast world-wide popularity, the Dark n’ Stormy is one of the few that is trademarked and its ingredients strictly dictated. As the popularity of the cocktail spread outside Bermuda, bartenders began using other dark rums in the mixture. In response to these variations, Gosling’s registered Dark ‘N Stormy in 1991 and it can only be made with Gosling Black seal Rum.

The brand has a long and storied history. According to Goslings, in the spring of 1806 London Wine and Spirits merchant William Gosling and his son James chartered the ship Mercury bound for America. After months of poor sailing conditions, the boat could not make it to the mainland and instead landed in the nearest port of Bermuda. James opened a shop on the Kings Parade in St. George.

Around 1850 after much experimental blending, Gosling offered a dark rum for sale. At first it was simply called “Old Rum,” and it was sold straight from the barrel. During World War I, the rum was offered in Champagne bottles reclaimed from the British Officers Mess with corks sealed in Black Wax. People began asking for the rum with the black seal and the name was born.

While Goslings rum has been blended in Bermuda for generations, the rum itself actually comes from tropical Caribbean islands where sugar cane grows. When the rum distillate arrives in Bermuda it is aged and blended according to an old family recipe. A portion of the rum stays in Bermuda where it will eventually be sold to the local market. The remainder is shipped to the Bardstown, Ky., where it is bottled for the U.S. market.

Over the years the Dark n’ Stormy has become a popular drink in port-of-calls up and down the eastern seaboard requested by various sailors who have visited Bermuda. And with the resurgence of tiki drinks, this unique tipple is showing up on more and more cocktail menus. Simple to mix and wonderfully refreshing, this cocktail brings home a little taste of Bermuda in a frosty glass.

The Dark n Stormy

2 oz. Gosling’s Black Seal rum
Gosling’s Stormy Ginger Beer

In a tall glass filled with ice, add rum and top with ginger beer. Garnish with lime wedge (optional).

Ingredients to make a Dark ’N Stormy may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown

Cocktail of the week: Fruits of the harvest

As the tail end of summer approaches, it’s time to enjoy the remaining fruits and produce of the season. While many will preserve these garden delicacies for future cooking projects, The Museum of the American Cocktail recently hosted a seminar entitled “Fruits of the Harvest” which focused on how to save the fresh flavors of summer and incorporate them into your cocktail recipes all year long.The event, led by Chef Geoff’s Elli Benchimol and PS7’s Gina Chersevani, provided detailed instructions on creating tinctures from fresh herbs, peppers and blossoms, and pickling and canning techniques for fruits and veggies. And, of course, the demonstrations included sampling some magnificent cocktails.
The creative concoctions included Elli’s Salsa Verde, a tequila-based cocktail forged with cilantro and a habanero tincture and Chersevani’s gin martini variation topped with a pickled grape and seasoned with her pickling liquid.
The drink that piqued my interest the most was Chersevani’s raspberry shrub punch. This multi-layered cocktail incorporated a plethora of fresh herbs and combined them with rye whiskey, sparkling wine and a zesty homemade raspberry shrub.
A shrub is vinegar and fruit based drink that dates back to American colonial days. It was an easy way for farmers to preserve end-of–season fruit. According to Chersevani,  shrubs were a popular refresher at that time, often enjoyed by field workers who spent their days toiling in the sun. The acidity in the drink would make the laborers feel less thirsty.
While the fruit and vinegar combination may sound strange, imagine the way that an acidic squeeze of fresh lemon juice can highlight the flavor of fresh berries.
Chersevani describes the shrub as one of the easiest preservation techniques to master. In addition to berries, she suggests experimenting with apricots, peaches, plums and pears.
Her shrub recipe implements a simple 1:1:1:1 ratio. The process starts by combining one  pint of fresh fruit, in this case raspberries, and one cup of red wine vinegar. The two are combined and placed on a shelf for ten days to meld. The only action required is a simple agitation of the jar once a day. “Do not shake it,” Chersevani warned,” Just give a quick swirl-around.”
After the allotted time, the fruit and vinegar combo is poured into a saucepan and mixed with one pint of sugar and  water. The blend is boiled until its volume is halved. The shrub is strained, cooled and stored in jars.
On its own, Chersevani’s shrub had a strong and pungent flavor. But when mixed in her punch, it provided a jovial tart and toothsome smack that tasted like a brisk walk through a ripe orchard.
While the punch had a pleasant sweetness, no additional sugar, other than what was used in making the shrub, was used. Instead of being cloyingly sweet, the acidity of the shrub popped the bright taste of the rye whiskey and highlighted the complex flavor of the herbs.
While this punch takes several stages to put together, its unique sunny essence will impress your guests at your next get-together.

Farm Stand Shrub Punch
16 oz. raspberry shrub
32 oz .Wild Turkey Rye
16 oz. lemon juice
32 oz. sparkling wine
20 sage leaves
10 basil leaves
10 sprigs of thyme
10 dashes lemon bitters

In a punch bowl combine rye, shrub, lemon juice and herbs. Gina suggests dry muddling the herbs and placing them in an empty tea bag. Let mixture stand for at least one hour. Before serving, add ice, bitters and sparkling wine. Serve in punch glasses with a lemon slice.
Ingredients to make this punch may be purchased at Dixie liquor located at 3429 M St. in Georgetown. For more information about upcoming Museum of the American Cocktail seminars go to

Cocktail of the Week: Up in Smoke

What do you get when you cross one of Washington’s most innovative and crafty bar chefs with a New Zealand spirit that prides itself with being offbeat and irreverent? The answer is Gina Chersavani’s Up in Smoke, an award-winning cocktail forged from vodka and marigold topped off with an alluring poof of smoked sugar cotton candy. This whimsical tipple captures all the fun of an autumn carnival and combines it with sophisticated ambiance of an outdoor performance of Shakespeare in the park.
Chersavani, a self-proclaimed “mixtress” is well known for the fanciful cocktails at PS-7, where she presides. The Up in Smoke adds another creative choice to the already-eclectic menu.

This fun concoction was designed for the World Cocktail Cup sponsored by 42 below Vodka. According to Chersavani, the idea of the contest was to be as daring as you want to be. “The rule rules were, ‘there are no rules’,” she explained.

Her idea of cotton candy cocktail certainly fit the bill. ”It wasn’t so much as using cotton candy, but more of the idea of using it as a vessel,” Chersavani explained. “It was a way of putting the sugar into a cocktail in a different form.”

After winning the Washington, D.C., round of the competition, Chersavani had to tote her cotton candy-making machine to New York for the U.S. finals. She rode with the contraption on the train and schlepped it around Manhattan on a dolly. While she didn’t advance to the next round of the competition in New Zealand, luckily for Washingtonians, she brought her cocktail back to D.C. where it earned a spot on PS-7’s fall cocktail menu.

While most folks do not have a cotton candy machine lurking in their kitchens, replicating Chersavani’s cocktail is easily achievable task for home bartenders. The drink is enjoyable with or without its fluffy topper.

The base (minus the cotton candy) of the Up In Smoke is a mixture of vodka lemon, honey, bitters and marigold seed. While the latter ingredient may sound exotic, Chersavani says that it’s more common than you think. It can be purchased at Teaism, Whole Foods and health food store. She steeps the marigold as though she were making a pot of herbal tea to create a base liquid. The marigold gives this potable a bright and sunny fresh flavor.

Even though she likes to utilize out of the ordinary ingredients, Chersavani prefers to keep the components in her cocktails accessible. She doesn’t like recipes where the ingredients are too difficult or rare to find. “That’s not going to work for most people,” she says.

So, if you are seeking fall festival-style sweet and don’t feel like heading to the suburbs, swing by PS-7 for a decidedly adult twist on one of your childhood treats. Or, if you feel like relaxing at home, you can whip up this cocktail on your own and add a pinch or two of smoked sugar to suit your taste.

Up in Smoke

1.5 oz 42 Below Vodka
1 oz lemon juice
2 oz Marigold Tea or a Teazan of fruit would
be a good substitute
2 or 3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 or 3 dashes Gary Reagan bitters
In a shaker 3/4 filled with ice, combine all ingredients, shake until frothy, strain into a small wine glass.  Then, top with smoked cotton candy.

Readers may sample the “Up In Smoke” at PS-7 located at 777 I Street NW. [gallery ids="100311,107977" nav="thumbs"]

Applejack, Drinking in Halloween

It’s a dark and creepy Halloween night in suburban Maryland. The young trick-or-treaters, gingerly approach their neighbor’s yard, a house usually occupied by the humble Mr. and Mrs. Lenoir. But tonight they can sense something is different. Maybe it’s the ghosts fluttering in the evening breeze, the ghouls lurking in the shadows or vampires waiting to pounce. Who or what should they expect?
Before you can say boo – a squeal of delight is heard from the youngsters and their parents as well. They have stumbled on the Halloween house of Mr. Booze.

Halloween is favorite holiday for Jerry Lenoir, the leading man behind the nifty website. If you’re looking for classic cocktail recipes, mood music and tips for setting up your home entertainment center aka home bar, is your go-to place. The site includes a special section on Halloween entertaining.

Lenoir celebrates Halloween in a large way. “I do a big yard haunt,” he says. “Neighbors with children, and even some without, walk on over to check out the zombies, ghouls, and vampires I put out to thrill the kids. Of course, I also make a big batch of an autumnal libation for parents to carry on their rounds. It’s funny, because after the moms and dads bring their kids home for the evening, you’ll see a George Romero-esque, zombie pack of dads stumble back towards my garage by light of the moon, for an annual bending of the elbow. We’ll have a few more drinks and enjoy the chilly night engaged in silly conversation.”

Halloween is one of the most popular holidays for hosting a party. The Mr-Booze website is full of ideas on how set a spooky mood. “October calls for unique and seasonal cocktails the whole way through,” Lenoir says. Spicy and seasonal ingredients such as ginger and apple will give your cocktails a warming punch for autumn. Some of the fabulous fall drinks on the website include Applejack rabbits, nutty monks and ginger daiquiris.

Your decorating scheme doesn’t have to be over the top. “‘I’ll burn a cinnamon-apple scented candle and put some good old-school jazz on hi-fi,” Lenoir says. “I even have a list of Halloween-themed CDs and downloadable music on the site.”

Autumn and Halloween are the perfect time of year for festivity. “The hot weather has blown away, the leaves are gorgeous, the food gets a bit richer and quilts go on the beds,” Lenoir says. “People’s moods change. I think Halloween is a culmination and celebration of comfort.” He says “ Adults, for the most part, are still kids deep inside. I’ve never forgotten how thrilling the night can be. I still love werewolves, The Monster Mash and caramel apples — only now I’m in my 40s. How great is it to watch children get excited by the very same things that grabbed you at their age. Only now, you can have a cocktail and watch their fun.”

Applejack Rabbit

• 2 oz Laird’s Applejack
• 1 oz lemon juice
• 2 oz orange juice
• 3/4 oz real maple syrup

Shake all ingredients with cracked ice in a shaker. Serve up and ice-cold in a cocktail glass, garnish with an apple slice, light the jack-o-lantern up and enjoy.

Ingredients to make the Applejack Rabbit may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, 3429 M Street, N.W., in Georgetown. For more recipes, visit

Cocktail of the Week: Gift Guide

It’s the season of giving — and the daunting task of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list. In today’s era of instant gratification and over-the-top consumption, it can be a backbreaking chore to find an original offering for people who seem to have it all. Fortunately for me, a cocktail lover, most of my friends enjoy a well-crafted drink as much as I do. So, I base my shopping list on a few key elements for creating a delicious tipple. Here are my top five gift picks for cocktail lovers:

1. Bluecoat Gin – The gin market is hot once again, with the emergence of the “American-Style” gin, which boasts softer juniper notes and a mix of botanicals and citrus flavors. Distilled in Philadelphia, Bluecoat is my favorite out of the new crop of craft gins. It has a strong floral character and finishes with slightly sweet touch. I’ve always loved gin and tonics during the holidays — the piney juniper flavor always reminds me of Christmas trees (And my Uncle Joe who had a bar and slot machine in his basement). Mix this spirit for a classic G&T, and let the complexity of Bluecoat shine through. Bluecoat is packaged in an exquisitely patterned royal blue bottle that makes it as elegant on the outside as it is on the inside.

2. St Germain – This liqueur set the cocktail world on fire after its introduction in 2007. Made from elderflower blossoms, St Germain boasts a truly unique flavor that’s hard to put a finger on – think honeysuckle or a fresh spring meadow. Plus, there’s a cute story about how the delicate elderflowers bloom for only a few weeks each year in the Alps and are hand-picked by harvesters who transport them to market on their specially rigged bicycles at their peak. Mix this liqueur with a sparking wine for a festive bubbly tipple – it’s an easy drink that’s both sophisticated and refreshing. The bottle is crafted in art nouveau style that would make a classy addition to any home bar.

3. Domain de Canton – Forged from baby Vietnamese ginger, Cognac. Tahitian vanilla, Provencal honey, and Tunisian ginseng, Domain de Canton will add an exotic twist to your drink repertoire. This spicy liqueur will lend a dash of winter warmth and spice to many classic cocktails. Use it in a Cosmopolitan to make a cozy ginger-cranberry holiday treat perfect for snuggling by the fire. The bottle is crafted formed to resemble an oversized stock of bamboo — very modern and chic.

4. Ultimat Vodka – While most cocktail snobs will turn their nose up at vodka, you can’t deny this versatile spirit makes a good gift for those who do not enjoy strong-favored liquors. Brought to you by the same people who made Patron tequila a status symbol, Ultimat is distilled from three sources — wheat, rye and potatoes — then blended. Serve this one straight up in a chilled martini with a twist of lemon. It’s packaged in a hand-blown cobalt blue crystal decanter.

5. Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project Bourbon – This one will appeal to both the bourbon lover and the scientist. This limited edition collection started off as an experiment of sorts. According to Buffalo Trace, 96 American oak trees were individually selected from the Missouri Ozarks. The trees differed according to the number of growth rings per inch and growing location. Each tree was then cut into two parts — top and bottom — yielding 192 unique tree sections. A single barrel was constructed from each unique section. These single oak barrels were then filled with different recipe whiskeys, at various entry proofs and aged in a variety of different warehouse styles. Now, more than a decade later, each of these bourbons are available in individually hand-numbered bottles that whiskey aficionados can collect, compare and contrast. Or you can just make fantastic Manhattan.

The Manhattan

• 2 oz Bourbon
• 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
• 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
• Maraschino cherry for garnish

Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice cubes. Stir well. strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

These and many other gift ideas are available at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.
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Cocktail of the Week: Iceland’s pungent ‘black death,’ Brennivin

While most travelers are familiar with the many specialty foods of Europe, many of these same countries also make their own specialty liqueurs.

In Italy, the spirits selection is as varied as its amazing cuisine. If you happen to find yourself in the birthplace of spaghetti, make sure you save some room for Sambucca, Limoncello or Aperol. In Greece, the anise-favored Ouzo is considered a symbol of Greek culture. And in Scandinavian countries, the locals enjoy Aquavit a spiced liqueur whose name is derived from the Latin “aqua vitae,” meaning “water of life.” Sampling these local elixirs during your vacation can be as much fun and culturally invigorating as enjoying a dinner of local fare.

During a recent trip to Iceland, I was excited about trying the local spirit: Brennivin, a type of schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway seeds. The name Brennivin, which literally translates into English as “burning wine,” is also known locally as “black death.” With a name like that how could one not be intrigued? Before landing in the capital city of Reykjavik, I envisioned Iceland as a land of hard-drinking Vikings staving off the frigid climate with loads of alcohol. I had read about the legendary nightlife in Reykjavik, a city where the darkness can last up to 20 hours in the dead of winter.

Even though my hotel was situated on Laugavegur Street, Reykjavik’s main party-strip, I decided to get into the spirit of Vikings before trying my first taste of Brennivin. I headed to the Vikingarain restaurant, a themed eatery that also features skits based on Icelandic history. Visitors enter the restaurant through a primitive fort-like wooden gate. Inside, the rooms are covered with rough pieces of raw wood, candlelight, bones and animals skins draped over the rustic tables and chairs. As servers greet you in traditional clothing, you are transported back 1,000 years in time.

The restaurant boasts that it presents the same food cooked and served in the same style as the Vikings ate. While I was eagerly looking forward to ordering a whale steak, I was curious to drink what the Vikings drank. While I had pictures in my head of Vikings carousing with giant steins of brewski, my bartender explained that they actually drank mead, a honey wine.

While modern Iceland is known for nightlife, the country has had a temperance tradition since the early 1900s. Prohibition was enforced 1915 through 1921 for wine and until 1935 for alcohol. Surprisingly, beer was prohibited until 1989. According to my bartender, on the first day that beer was legalized, more than 350,000 bottles were sold — more than the entire population of Iceland.

It turns out that Brennivin’s lethal nickname stems from the temperance movement. In an effort to scare consumers, the Icelandic government placed a skull and crossbones logo on all liquor bottles. With its stark black label and skeleton, Brennivin became known as “black death.” Today, the label sports an outline map of Iceland in lieu of a skull. Undeterred by the propaganda, I asked my bartender for a shot of Brennivin which he suggested washing down with a cold beer. The liqueur had a bold and pungent taste, heavy on the caraway, almost like drinking a slice of liquid rye bread. As my taste buds were processing this sharp flavor, my bartender explained that traditionally Brennivin was served with dried fish — specifically Hakral, a putrefied shark — in an effort to stave off an even stronger taste.

Brennivin today is mostly enjoyed as a patriotic drink, most notably on St. Thorlac’s Day (December 23), a holiday that honors the patron saint of Iceland. It’s a popular souvenir sampled then brought home by Iceland’s growing number of tourists. Although it’s not currently imported into Washington, Brennivin can be purchased online at

Cocktail of the Week: Warming Up to Tom and Jerry

February 8, 2012

Washingtonians rang in 2012 during one the warmest New Year’s Eves in memory, but the days that followed turned bitterly cold giving locals their first real taste of winter this season. Last week’s spell of gusty winds and snow flurries set the stage for me to whip up a winter cocktail to soothe my January chills.

Fortunately, I was armed with a collection of recipes that I sampled last month during the Musuem of the American Cocktail’s annual holiday party The event featured seasonal offerings from some of Washington’s most innovative cocktail lounges, including Bourbon Steak, the Columbia Room, PS-7 and Room 11. Jon Harris of the Gibson presented a classic tipple, the Tom and Jerry using Jerry Thomas’s original recipe from the 1850s.

The Tom and Jerry is a hot variation of the holiday staple eggnog, spiked with cognac and rum. But while most people forget about eggnog after December, the Tom and Jerry makes a delightful warmer throughout the cold and snowy months.

The biggest difference between the two is that the Tom and Jerry is served warm; secondly, the Tom and Jerry has a whipped, silky texture that doesn’t weigh you down like thick eggnog.

According to Harris, the Tom and Jerry first appeared in the 1820s. It was created by London sportswriter Pierce Eagan. Its name is not derived from the famous cartoon cat and mouse duo but from a book Eagan wrote called “Life of London: or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorne and His Elegant Friend Corinthina Tom.” The book described the exploits of two gentlemen as they ran rampant through London having a good time, drinking and carousing. Eagan fashioned the drink as a publicity stunt to promote his work. He would hand out cocktails in shops in hopes of increasing sales.

The popularity of the Tom and Jerry exploded in the 1860s after it was featured in “How to Mix Drinks,” “Professor” Jerry Thomas’s pioneering collection of cocktail recipes. It remained fashionable through the 1940s, and ’50s, when people held Tom and Jerry parties and served their drinks in specially made sets of gold-trimmed ceramic mugs with “Tom and Jerry” emblazoned on the front. These collectibles can still be found on eBay and antique stores. The drink nearly disappeared in 1960s during the era of convenience foods, when pre-made mixes replaced fruit juice and fresh ingredients in cocktails.

Making a Tom and Jerry from scratch is a time-consuming process. It involves a dozen of eggs, separated, with the whites whipped into stiff peaks and yolks beaten with sugar and spices. These two components are then folded together to form a batter, which can be made ahead and stored. Harris recommends keeping it overnight to allow the spices to meld.

When ready to serve, prepare a cup by pouring a shot each of cognac and rum, then adding a dollop or two of batter. Heat the cocktail by adding warm milk and stirring.

A properly made Tom and Jerry makes a soothing treat that will kill the chill in your fingers and toes. It starts off with a potent kick from the rum and cognac but goes down smoothly with a soft, fluffy meringue-like finish. It’s just the ticket until the milder days of spring return.

The Tom and Jerry
(based on Jerry Thomas’s recipe)

12 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 bottle Remy Martin cognac
Pinch each of ground allspice, ground cinnamon, clove and nutmeg
1 bottle Appleton’s Reserve Extra 12-Year-Old Rum

Separate the eggs. Beat the whites until they form a stiff froth. Beat the yolks and sugar and spices, separately until thin. Gradually add 4 ounces cognac. Fold the whites into the yolks.

When ready to serve, give it another stir and then put 1 tablespoon of this batter in a small mug or tumbler. Add 1-ounce cognac and rum, stirring constantly to avoid curdling. Fill to the top with hot milk (or a 50/50 mixture of water and milk) and stir until foamy. Garnish with nutmeg on top.

Ingredients to make the Tom and Jerry may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, 3429 M Street, N.W., in Georgetown. For more winter drink recipes, visit CocktailMuseum.Wordpress.Com.