As we kick off a new year, the phrase “out with old, in with new” is often heard. I decided to follow this advice during my recent journey to Singapore. As a cocktail geek, whenever I’m in Singapore, I always make a pilgrimage to Raffles, the birthplace of the Singapore sling. While Raffles will always have history and a colonial elegance, the Singapore slings have a lost a bit of their magic, as throngs of tourists, cameras in hand, belly up to the bar for these now mass-produced tipples. It’s time to let go of the past, I thought, and time to find a new cocktail spot in the lion city. A friend suggested I try Ku Dé Ta, a rooftop hotspot located in the Marina Sands resort. This ultra-lux restaurant/bar/lounge provides stunning 360-degree views of the city from the 57th floor of its waterfront location. While the venue was impressive indeed, the handcrafted cocktails made an even more striking imprint. The menu, created by mixologist Knut Randhem, features a selection of tropical-tinged coolers, each one light and fresh, which pair to perfection with the food and climate. I start off with their most popular drink, the Storm Cooler, a mixture of vodka, passion fruit, honey and raw Persian licorice powder. While licorice in a drink may seem out of place in Southeast Asia, I am reminded that Randhem hails from Norway and Denmark, where this flavor is more common. The result is quite remarkable. “Very refreshing,“ says Mae Ng, Ku Dé Ta’s marketing executive. “It’s a sweet cocktail but not too overbearing.” I couldn’t agree more. While a drink forged from sweet passion fruit and honey could easily turn into a sugary jumble, the Storm Cooler finds a perfect balance with the piquant licorice powder, which gives it a sassy kick. This cocktail would be the ideal accompaniment to watching the sun set from the Skybar’s breathtaking patio. It’s served with large ice cubes, which melt slowly in the humid climate, keeping the flavor profile intact and not watered down. While the drink’s ingredients combine flavors of Scandinavia with a tropical flair, its moniker comes direct from Denmark. It is named in honor of a Norwegian sailor who saved a man from the sea near Denmark. The sailor later opened a beach hotel, one of the oldest in Denmark, where Randhem has worked during the busy summer season. The second drink I sample, named after Christopher Columbus, is a cultured mixture of Tahitian limes, Madagascar vanilla, pineapple, Spanish orange, vodka and sage. Given all its exotic flavors, I try to imagine if Columbus had made his way to Asia – instead of stumbling upon the Americas – if this would have been a cocktail he brought back to Europe. While pineapple is usually found in sweet drinks, this super-cool drink is wonderfully tart and brisk, based on a classic cobbler. The key is the sage, which imparts a zesty tang that compliments the tart lime and muddled pineapple. This unique combination was the brainchild of Randhem. “Pineapple works well with dry flavors like sage,” he says. “It breaks up the sweet fat flavor of the pineapple and opens it up.” The last drink I try is the Honey Rose Daiquiri. To the customary ingredients of rum and lime, Randhem adds honey and rosewater to give this standard an exceptional spin. I really enjoy this drink, because as in a well-made daiquiri the taste of the rum shines through as the other flavors harmonize perfectly – like the backup girls in a Ray Charles song. Randhem custom-blends the rum at Ku Dé Ta in order to achieve the desired flavor profile for his cocktails. The daiquiri is typical of many of the cocktails on his menu. “I like to take something that people are used to and present it in a completely different way,” he says. “I like to have lots of fun with odd flavor combinations.” Randhem’s modern take on cocktails makes for a stimulating experience, just right for a new year. When I return to Singapore in March, I’ll be heading straight to the bay for a delicious liquid treat at Ku Dé Ta.
Without a doubt, winter has arrived in our nation’s capital. Whether it’s a Georgetown preppie clad in cashmere and Burberry plaid or a hipster walking down 14th Street with boot socks, fringed jacket and infinity scarf, everyone in the metro area is bundled up and trying to beat the cold. My December visit came as a shock to my body. As a D.C. expat living on a tropical island, I am accustomed to temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit. While dressing in layers and pulling warm clothes out from my storage bin helped my plight, I found a more jovial cure: hot cocktails to soothe the soul and defrost my frozen bones. On the weekend before Christmas, I felt like I was turning into a snowman while shopping at the outdoor holiday market downtown. Fortunately, a remedy was close by. Across F Street, Nopa Kitchen + Bar features a diverse menu of winter-warmer cocktails. I sampled three of their hot tipples, each one completely different. The first was called Nopa’s Punch, their version of mulled wine, a Northern European winter staple. Served hot, this beverage is usually made with red wine, various mulling spices and citrus fruits. It is often enhanced with another flavored liquor such as schnapps or brandy. It immediately took me back a few years, when my partner and I strolled through the Christmas market in Belfast, Ireland, admiring the local crafts, riding a Ferris wheel and taking a break from Guinness as we stayed cheerful with a soothing glass of spiced hot wine. Nopa’s version starts off with a good quality red wine. Beverage Director Jesse Hiney says that doing so is important because the flavor comes through in the finished product. The wine is mixed with a spice mixture, Granny Smith apples, orange, lime and Becherovka, a Czech liqueur spiced with ginger and cinnamon. The result is a drink that is a bit bolder, with a more pronounced spicy flavor than most of the mulled wines I have tried. It is served with a gluten-free ginger cookie that echoes its snappiness. Hiney says he has received many compliments from European customers accustomed to drinking mulled wines, who call Nopa’s version especially nice. Nopa also offers a classic hot toddy with a striking twist. The base liquor for this drink is a cardamom-infused bourbon that dominates the flavor. According to Hiney, whole cardamom pods are left to infuse in bourbon for a month. The whiskey is combined with lemon juice, spiced apple syrup, honey and hot water, then topped off with an amaretto meringue made by Nopa’s pastry chef, Jemil Gadea. The final result tasted like a hot lemon meringue pie from an exotic land, the cardamom flavor shining through. The fluffy topping merged seamlessly into the hot liquid, with the amaretto and spiced apple syrup tempering the strong spicy flavor. Finally, for a truly decadent treat, one should not miss Nopa’s adult version of hot chocolate. Starting off with 65-percent, single-origin Ecuadorian chocolate, this delicacy is served with a choice of liqueurs including Frangelico, Grand Marnier and Kahlua. By using superior chocolate, Nopa has created a delectable and incredibly rich dessert in a glass. Hiney suggested I sample it mixed with Patrón XO Café Incendio, a liqueur forged from arbol chiles, Criollo chocolate and Patrón tequila. This newly created spirit magically combines the flavors of spicy and sweet with a touch of heat. When used in Nopa’s hot chocolate, the result is extraordinary. It comes served with a light and pillowy homemade marshmallow, a special touch. The marshmallow easily blends into the rich and thick chocolate, giving it a smooth, silky finish. By the time I had sampled all three of these warmers, my body had thawed. I had shed my alpaca poncho and faux fur jacket. I was ready to face the bitter chill and carry on – full of cheer – with my holiday errands. Readers can sample these cocktails at Nopa Kitchen + Bar, 800 F St. NW.
Folks who arrived in Washington within the last decade would find it hard to imagine what 14th Street looked like years ago. Today this thoroughfare is D.C.’s mecca for stylish dining, trendy bars and fashionable interior design stores. Only a generation ago, this street was a seedy offshoot of U Street, dotted with ratty storefronts, questionable establishments and ladies of ill repute. Now it seems that hardly a month goes by without the opening of another chic restaurant. The “in” crowd keeps pouring in. On the corner of R Street, a sublime nightspot with a welcoming patio pays homage to the corridor’s past. Red Light opened earlier this year with craft cocktails and decadent desserts made by an in-house pastry chef. It quickly became the dessert destination of choice for discerning diners looking for something potable with their sweets. Making a good thing even better, Red Light recently added a new menu of savory nibbles and plates. Whether you visit Red Light for something sweet, savory or both, the cocktails are not to be missed. As owner Aaron Gordon gleefully says, “It’s more fun to eat in a bar than drink in a restaurant.” The sleek interior, with its restrained lighting, gives it a seductive feel. Gordon calls it “subtly risqué.” A local artist made the light fixtures. Meanwhile, the outdoor patio with its pots of fresh lavender gives the joint a European flair: perfect for relaxing and watching the modish clientele of 14th Street stroll by. Acknowledging the area’s sordid past, many of Red Light’s cocktails have such amusing names as Street Corner Girl, Dirty Shirley and the Madame. In fact, the menu jovially lists them as “burlesque” cocktails. If you’re looking for a drink that knows how to make an entrance, I suggest you order Peep Show. This delicious concoction arrives at the table with a flaming garnish of fresh rosemary, lighting up the patio and eliciting oohs and ahs from nearby tables. Fortunately, this tipple has the substance to match its flamboyant style. The Peep Show cocktail combines ginger beer, bourbon, lemon and Pimm’s No. 1 Cup liqueur to create a supreme mixture with an herbal twist. Pimm's is a mahogany-colored gin-based spirit made from liqueur, fruit and spices. The sweet bourbon mingles well with the spicy ginger beer, while the Pimm’s and lemon give the drink an extra herbal edge. Peep Show is garnished with a rosemary stick and cucumber, a twist on the traditional serving style for a Pimm’s and lemonade cocktail – with a slice of cucumber or a sprig of mint. The rosemary is seared to help pop its fresh flavor. The concoction is served in a metal cup, paying homage to the Moscow Mule, a classic ginger-beer cocktail served in copper mugs. While Peep Show is the most popular cocktail at Red Light, do not overlook the other choices. Gypsy Eyes is a delicate effervescent mixture of vodka, crème de violette, lemon and Prosecco. A more hearty choice is the Mata Hari, a spicy combination of vindaloo-infused whiskey and fruity apricot liqueur. With a drinks menu as varied as the menu of snacks and sweets, Red Light offers cocktails for every taste. Peep Show 1.5 ounces Pimm's 1.5 ounces bourbon 1 ounce lemon juice 1/2 ounce ginger syrup Muddled cucumber Dash Angostura bitters Top with ginger beer and garnish with a sprig of burnt rosemary. Readers can sample the Peep Show and other cocktails at Red Light, 1401 R St. NW (on the corner of 14th Street).
Pumpkin, along with apples, cinnamon and cloves, is one of the classic flavors of fall. The mere mention of this orange squash invokes images of the autumn harvest, jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. The incorporation of seasonal flavors and ingredients into our food and drink has made pumpkin a shining star once the leaves begin to change. Imbibers have a wide choice of delicious pumpkin beers and themed cocktails. Some of my favorite pumpkin ales come from Schlafly in Saint Louis and Dogfish in nearby Delaware (where they spell it ‘punkin’). My only issue is that many of these beers start appearing in stores and on menus in late August and early September. While a pint of Weyerbacher imperial pumpkin ale is fantastic on a brisk afternoon while admiring the colorful foliage, I have trouble enjoying spiced ale during D.C.’s Indian summer days – when temperatures continue to hover in the 80s. Even though Halloween is the first pumpkin holiday of fall, it is not uncommon for some of the pumpkin beers to be sold out and replaced by winter brews. Thankfully for those who enjoy pumpkin cocktails, the selection usually remains constant through Thanksgiving. If you like to have your pumpkin cocktail and beer in one, the Copperwood Tavern in Arlington, Va., is offering a fall-themed version of the classic flip cocktail (a heated mixture of beer, rum, egg and sugar). Copperwood's version is forged from Cruzan rum, egg and pumpkin syrup, topped with Port City porter. While pumpkins are usually associated with Americana, there is no shortage of international cocktails to try. For example, Daikaya, a traditional Japanese ramen shop in Chinatown, is offering a spiced pumpkin mule cocktail made with fresh pumpkin, cinnamon, clove, ginger, turmeric, lemon and bourbon. Spanish hotspot Estadio is serving a pumpkin slushito, a mixture of scotch, pumpkin puree, black tea, lemon and beer. A surprising one, and the most refreshing tipple I uncovered this year, is El Centro’s pumpkin margarita. At first, the idea of altering this warm-weather favorite with pumpkin seemed a bit odd, but the key to this drink is its subtleness. Instead of using a pumpkin puree or syrup, El Centro infuses the tequila with roasted pumpkin and spices. “We like infusing tequila,” GM Joshua Gray said. “It’s fun to play around with different flavors.” I sampled the tequila infusion on its own, and its flavor reminded me of being enveloped in a cozy poncho on a cool night in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Bartender David Constantine shared my approval. “I’d drink it straight,” he said. The flavored liquor is mixed with agave nectar and freshly squeezed lime, then served in a pint glass with a cinnamon-sugar rim. The result is a light and aromatic drink. The fall spices blend with the slightly peppery reposado tequila, adding some zing to the Mexican staple. The cinnamon-sugar rim adds a perfect amount of spice/sweetness to balance the tartness of the lime. Unlike some heavy autumn elixirs, this pumpkin drink would be refreshing year-round. I just may be making pumpkin margaritas next July! Roasted Pumpkin Spice-Infused Tequila 1 750ml bottle Sauza Blue Reposado 1.5 stars of anise 1 teaspoon cloves 1.5 half-sticks cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/16 teaspoon ground allspice 1 tablespoon granulated sugar 1 29-ounce can pumpkin puree Crush spices together using a mortar and pestle. Fold spice mixture and sugar into pumpkin puree. Spread flat onto a sheet pan lined with wax paper. Roast at 250 degrees for 30 minutes. Place cooked mixture into cheesecloth and tie tightly. Place cheesecloth-wrapped mixture into a glass mason jar. Fill with tequila. Let sit 5-7 days, agitating daily. Strain mixture. To make a margarita, mix tequila with agave nectar and fresh lime and serve in a glass with a cinnamon-sugar rim. Readers may sample the pumpkin margarita at either of El Centro D.F.’s locations: 1218 Wisconsin Ave., NW, and 1819 14th St., NW.
GOOOOAAALL!!!!! It strikes once every four years – World Cup fever. People from every corner of the world (even America) are glued to their television sets watching soccer (or football everywhere else in the world). Sports fans gather at parties or bars for festive celebrations, employees call in sick and in many countries workers get the day off to watch their teams compete. This year’s Cup has already proven to be an exciting one, with surprising upsets and underdog victories in the first round. What also makes the 2014 World Cup special is that it is being held in what is arguably the most football-crazed nation in the world: Brazil. I witnessed the madness in Brazil 12 years ago, the last time they took the World Cup crown. I was staying in an eco-resort, deep in the Amazon. Even in the very heart of the jungle, we would pass by fishermen’s shacks with Brazil banners proudly displayed. For the semi-final match, the resort basically shut down except for three televisions outside, where everyone gathered to watch the game. Since the match was being played in Japan, it started around sunrise. This early-morning start had no impact on the Brazilians’ party spirit. They gathered with gusto and served free glasses of cachaça (yes, I did imbibe at 6 a.m.). Four days later, the scenario repeated itself, except I was overnighting in Manaus, the capital city of the northern state of Amazonas, before my flight back to the States. When Brazil knocked off Germany for the championship, the entire city erupted into one big party. The streets were filled with revelers and this continued all day and night. Luckily (or maybe unluckily) for me, the airport was still open and I returned to the States, where Brazil’s triumph barely merited a mention. Almost as closely associated with Brazil as soccer is cachaça, a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane. While most rum is produced by distilling molasses, a byproduct of refining cane into sugar, cachaça is forged from fermented cane juice. One and a half billion liters of cachaça are consumed annually in Brazil. The liquor has a fiery flavor tempered with a hint of sugary sweetness. The most popular way to enjoy cachaça is the caipirinha, considered the national drink of Brazil. The cocktail is a combination of muddled lime, sugar and cachaça served over ice. Cachaça was first consumed in the mid-1500s by slaves on sugar cane plantations in the country's northeast. The name caipirinha is derived from the Portuguese word caipira, which refers to someone from the countryside, loosely meaning hick or country bumpkin. This is coupled to the -inha suffix, a term of endearment denoting little or small (as in the nicknames of famous footballers Paulinho and Ronaldinho). Similar to its Cuban cousin the mojito, the caipirinha is created from muddled limes, making for a fresh and citrusy drink. There are two keys to the traditional Brazilian recipe: one, using superfine sugar, which dissolves much better than regular sugar; and two, muddling the sugar granules with the lime wedges, so that the oils are extracted from the lime zest, enhancing the aroma and flavor. The result is a super-refreshing elixir, perfect for a hot afternoon of watching football. No matter what team you support, give a nod to the hosts of this year’s tournament with a caipirinha toast. The Caipirinha Ingredients 2 ounces cachaça .75 ounces fresh lime juice 1 teaspoon superfine sugar 1 peeled lime (quartered) Directions First, peel the skin of a lime, cut the flesh into eighths and muddle in a mixing glass with simple syrup. Add the rest of the ingredients with ice and shake vigorously. Dump with shaken ice into a glass and serve. Sprinkle with a dash of sugar on top and garnish with a lime wedge.
No matter where you go in Indonesia, you will see them. A small storefront with a counter, a vendor on the street. They are dispensing drinks of an odd consistency: most of them thick and gooey, like globs of brownish mud. These curious potables can be purchased at one of the incalculable number of jamu shops that fill this island nation. Jamu is a traditional herbal medicine from Indonesia, dating to ancient times. While little known in the States, jamu is widely used by locals. Indigenous healers, or dukuns, were the original jamu practitioners, but now it is more widespread than CVS in D.C. A mixture of plants, leaves, seeds, herbs, bark, spices, fruits and flowers, jamu is purported to cure everything. It can treat diabetes, lower cholesterol, eliminate body odor, improve sexual stamina, cool the body, cure arthritis and even provide harmony within your family. The list goes on and on. Depending on the ailment, a different combination is prescribed. Commercially prepared jamu is widely available, but most prefer to have it freshly made at a shop, where they can get a custom blend. It comes in tablets, powders and teas, but is most commonly consumed as a drink. Sometimes it is served in a combination of these. My first jamu experience came courtesy of my friend Henry Kunjuik, who runs three jamu shops in Denpasar, the busy capital of Bali. Over the course of my nine months in Indonesia, Henry has treated me for a leg infection, hangovers and cuts and scrapes. Henry comes from Padang, a region of Sumatra famous for its spicy food. He has been practicing jamu in Bali for more than seven years. He and his older cousin learned to make jamu from a master jamu guru in Java. Henry works at one of his stores and has taught his younger brothers how to run the other two. Located on a busy thoroughfare, his main store opens around 4 p.m. every day to provide a relief for tired souls coming home from work and looking for a pick-me-up. He stays open until 1 or 2 a.m. In the meantime, his shop becomes a gathering point for a truckload of friends he refers to as brothers. The typical jamu order is a customized combo of a thick, freshly prepared natural smoothie with a shot of juice or tea and a tablet on the side. The most popular requests can be ordered from a menu, divided into jamu for men, jamu for women and jamu for both sexes. An average serving costs about 8,000-12,000 rupiah (72-94 cents), depending on the mixture and the type of egg used (duck or chicken). Jamu Pegel Linu, which relieves muscle fatigue and helps one get a good night’s sleep, is the most frequently ordered item on the menu. Customers can expect to wake up the next morning rested and ready to go. “You work hard all day, then you’re so tired, “ says Henry. “Then you drink jamu before you sleep and when you wake up you much feel better.” When I ask Henry for an analysis of the natural ingredients, he recites a list of Indonesian words. While some are familiar – like ginger, citrus and turmeric – most of the words can’t be deciphered by Google’s online translator. In Indonesia, words vary not only from English, but from one island to another. Two of the ingredients common to most jamu drinks are egg and honey. It is generally believed in Indonesia that when mixed together they increase stamina. (If you want to make jamu at home, you will have to have most of the ingredients shipped to you, since they are native only to Indonesia. You can also order commercially made powders online.) Henry mixes up a concoction to relieve my insomnia and teaches me to drink like a local. First, he whips up a thick sludge using a mixer mounted to the counter. I watch as he cracks an egg into a cup and throws in various powders, Beras Kencur –a locally produced juice infused with herbs – and a special honey only made and sold for jamu. After a series of whirs and clanks, Henry pours a thick goop into a glass. He offers me a sample first. It’s bitter and medicinal, a bit like Jagermeister. He rims the glass with lime and squeezes the remaining juice into my glass, which adds a pleasant citrus flare. My prescription is served on a plate, along with a sunny glass of Henry’s handcrafted ginger tea, a tablet of commercially made jamu and a piece of candy for dessert. I am instructed to chug the jamu and chase it with the sugary tea. The smack of the sweet and spicy ginger provides a lovely contrast to the herbaceous jamu, washing down the slurry with a refreshing twist. I finish up by taking the tablet with the remaining tea and skip the candy. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but I begin to feel invigorated almost immediately. When I go home that night, I ease into a soothing slumber.
Naming cocktails after current events is nothing new, especially in a wonky city like Washington. Whether it’s an election, scandal, debt ceiling, snowstorm or government shutdown, there is always a cocktail commemorating something in D.C. Two of my favorites in recent years have been the “Binders Full of Women,” a Mitt Romney-themed election tipple from the Mt. Vernon Square bar and restaurant The Passenger, and BLT Steak’s “Gun to a Snowball Fight,” named after the 2009 incident in which a cop in plainclothes pulled a gun during a snowball fight on U Street. What about naming a cocktail after an international court ruling? This occurred in Peru last month after the International Court of Justice gave Lima economic rights over a slice of Pacific Ocean maritime territory in a 100-year-old dispute with neighboring Chile. The new elixir, called the La Haya Sour (The Hague Sour) after the Dutch city where the ICJ is based, is a variation on the Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink. According to Agence France Presse, the cocktail was unveiled on the eve of the country’s Pisco Sour Day. Peruvians are so crazy about pisco, they have not one, but two national holidays commemorating their flagship spirit: National Pisco Sour Day (the first Saturday in February) and National Pisco Day (the fourth Sunday in July). The official website of the Peruvian government has a link to a site called “Pisco es Perú.” According to AFP, which interviewed the drink’s creator, bartender Javier Perez, the concoction’s intense blue comes from a dash of Curacao, to “give it the color of the sea.” Says Perez: “It’s a drink that pays tribute to The Hague ruling in favor of Peru and that puts an end to border problems with Chile.” Naming a pisco drink after Peru’s court victory is a double smack in the face for Chile. Peru and Chile have been fighting for decades over who invented pisco (a grape brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile). Both countries also claim the Pisco Sour as their national drink. While it may sound trivial, the debate can become fierce between these neighbors. There is actually a town named Pisco in both countries, so each can lay international claim to an “appellation of origin,” a direct link between the product and the land. This is similar to France, where Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy can only be labeled as such if they’re produced in those specific regions. The Peruvian city by that name dates back to 1574, while the Chilean town was given its moniker in 1936, when then Chilean president Gabriel González changed the name of La Unión to Pisco Elqui. Many believe the name was only changed in an attempt to steal the Pisco name from Peru. In 2013, the European Commission ruled that Peru will be recognized as the original home of pisco. The decision established the Peruvian village of Pisco as the geographical origin of the drink and protects the country’s right to claim its provenance in the European market. The rivalry between these two nations goes back to the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), which pitted Peru and Bolivia against Chile. During the conflict, Chile invaded Peru, occupying the capital, Lima, and delivered a crushing defeat to its Andean enemies. Peru, which lost the territories of Arica and Tacna, fared better than Bolivia, which lost its entire coastline to Chile. Tacna was returned to Peru in 1929. Some Peruvians say that Chile stole the production of pisco during these years of disputed borders. “Chile, they try to claim everything from Peru as their own,” says Lowell Haise Contreras, a musician from Villa María del Triunfo, a district of Lima that was on the front lines during the 1881 battle for the capital. “Pisco, ceviche, empanadas. . . . They don’t make anything of their own, so they try to take credit for the great creations of Peru.” As for me, since I consider Peru my second home, I have to side with the land of Macchu Picchu. La Haya Sour (The Hague Sour) 1 egg white 3 ounces Peruvian pisco (I prefer Macchu Pisco) 1 ounce lime juice ½ ounce simple syrup ½ ounce blue Curacao Angostura bitters In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the first five ingredients. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a few drops of bitters. Garnish with a lime.
Peruvians are crazy for pisco. Not only is pisco, a grape brandy produced in Peru, the country’s national liquor, there are two public holidays celebrating its virtues. National Pisco Sour Day is celebrated during the first Saturday of February and National Pisco Day on the fourth Sunday of July. So one afternoon as I wandered the touristy corridor of Cuzco between the Plaza des Armes and San Blas, I wasn’t taken by surprise when I strolled by a storefront identifying itself as the Museo de Pisco (Pisco Museum). It seemed perfectly logical in this tourist mecca for a pisco museum to exist. With its walls filled with diagrams, graphs and maps explaining the pisco-making process, distillation equipment on display, and a vast collection of bottles behind the bar, I was ready to spend a cultural day communing with this local elixir. It didn’t take long, however, to deduce that the Museo de Pisco was actually a bar disguised as a museum. This revelation did not sour my visit in any way. While not official guides, I quickly realized that the bartending staff here had an encyclopedic knowledge about pisco and were eager to educate a gringa about their country’s pride and joy. Not only was I given a primer on the distillation process, but barman Ruben Dario educated me about the specific grape varietals used for pisco and the difference the each grape imparts on the finished product. The bar stocks more than 40 brands of pisco, each of them with their own unique qualities. After asking several questions about the merits of different types, another bartender, Joe Rojas Garcia, was kind enough to offer me a taste of some of his favorites. As a resident of Peru, I had been drinking pisco for nine months at this point, but I had never taken the time to explore the subtle differences in various varieties. While I was familiar with the most popular cocktails, pisco sour, Maracuayo sour (made from a local fruit), and Te Macho, (pisco and coca tea), I was instantly intrigued by the bar’s extensive cocktail menu. Overwhelmed by all the choices, I asked Joe what he recommended. In a flirty move, he suggested the Cusquenita Linda, literally translated, “pretty little lady from Cusco.” The cocktail is a mixture of pisco, cassis, lime and aguaymanto juice. Aguaymanto is a fruit native to Andean region of South America, also known as the capegooseberry, golden berry or Incan berry. It has a tart, yet slightly sweet, flavor. Herbalists have used it as a folk remedy for diabetes, inflammation and asthma. Not being a fan of sweet drinks, the fruit mixture intrigued me. The red-orange drink was presented in a martini glass with a cheery star fruit garnish. The mixture of sharp Aguaymanto with the piquant blackcurrant flavor of the cassis and sour lime proved a fitting foil for the crisp, clean and tangy flavor of pisco. The overall result was a sublime and unique tipple that was captivating and refreshing at the same time. As I savored my cocktail, a tour group arrived, and I was able to absorb another education lecture from their guide, as well as sip on a free sample of pisco punch, mixed with lime and pineapple, offered to the group. I also watched as another bartender prepared one of the many pisco infusions made in-house, which include morado (purple corn), eucalyptus, chili pepper and ginger. It would be easy to spend an entire afternoon or evening at the Pisco Museum, engaging with the friendly staff and sampling the many delicacies. This year, Peru’s National Pisco day falls on July 28. Wherever you may be on that day, celebrate it with a South American pisco treat. La Cusquenita Linda 2 oz Pisco 2 oz Aquaymanto juice ¼ oz Lime juice ¼ oz sugar 1 oz crème de Cassis Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice, then pour into a martini glass. Garnish with star fruit. [gallery ids="101372,153206,153204" nav="thumbs"]
As Washington – and much of the United States – thaws out from one of the biggest cold spells in recent memory, I have been relishing my new tropical home on the tranquil island of Bali. Enjoying an average daily temperature of 85 degrees and a 10-minute commute to the beach, just looking at the cold weather on CNN sends shivers down my spine. But if you can’t move to Polynesia, one of the best ways to bring the beach to you is with a tropical umbrella drink. While a hot toddy may warm your soul, nothing quite says sunshine and happiness like a tiki bar. The original tiki bar was Don the Beachcomber, created by Ernest Gantt in 1933 in Los Angeles. (Author Wayne Curtis tells the story in “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails”). Gantt, who had spent much of his youth rambling about the tropics, rented a small bar and decorated it with items he’d gathered in the South Pacific, along with driftwood, nets and parts of wrecked boats scavenged from the beach. Gantt stocked his bar with inexpensive rums, available in abundance after Prohibition, and invented an array of faux-tropical drinks using fruit juices and exotic liqueurs. His bar became incredibly fashionable, attracting celebrities and prompting Gantt to legally rename himself Donn Beach. The other iconic tiki bar was Trader Vic’s, founded in 1934 in Oakland, Calif., by Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. Originally called Hinky Dinks, Bergeron’s small bar and restaurant soon morphed into a Polynesian-themed spot with tropical drinks. It was renamed Trader Vic’s at the suggestion of Bergeron’s wife, who thought it would fit because her husband was always involved in some type of deal or trade. According to Curtis, Bergeron admits he swiped the tiki concept from Gantt. Both bars expanded to multiple locations, sparking a nationwide craze that spawned dozens of imitators, all rushing to replicate each other’s colorful tipples. Gantt was a talented mixologist who crafted complex drinks with lengthy ingredient lists, including multiple rums, homemade syrups and fresh fruit. But as more tiki-themed bars opened and Trader Vic’s turned to franchising, the intricate cocktails became watered-down and simplified. Perhaps the most duplicated tipple is the quintessential tiki drink: the mai tai. Both Gantt and Bergeron claimed to have invented it, but their recipes vary wildly. The name is derived from “Maita’i,” the Tahitian word for “good.” Though it later fell out of fashion, the mai tai was one of the most popular cocktails in the 1950s and ’60s. It featured prominently in Elvis Presley’s chartbuster movie “Blue Hawaii.” In their heyday, tiki bars were popular places to celebrate a big occasion. Trader Vic’s at the Washington Hilton was a hot spot for power lunches. It was a favorite of Richard Nixon, who had a fondness for mai tais. According to Curtis, a mai tai was the first thing requested by Patty Hearst, the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnap-victim turned conspirator, when she was released on bail in 1976. Eventually the tiki bubble burst. With scores of cheap imitators and poor locations, the Polynesian fad began to lose its luster. None of the original Don the Beachcombers are still in existence and Trader Vic’s has only a few remaining outposts. Perhaps the trend’s last stand came in 1989, when the ever-brash Donald Trump closed the venerable Trader Vic’s in New York’s Plaza Hotel, calling it “tacky.” Tiki crawled back into the spotlight over the last decade and a half as retro-hipsters embraced its kitschiness. Its comeback has continued with the recent cocktail renaissance. Modern mixologists have begun to uncover some of the original tropical recipes with their multi-layered rum profiles, fresh juices and handcrafted syrups. The craft tiki cocktail movement arrived in full force at the Georgetown waterfront in 2009 with mixologist Jon Arroyo’s extensive list of authentic cocktails at Farmers Fishers Bakers. Imbibers can sample homemade mai tais based on the recipes of both Bergeron and Gantt. Another option is Hogo, a Caribbean-themed rum bar on 7th Street, NW, featuring highend island cocktails. The man behind Hogo, launched just over a year ago, is Tom Brown, a partner in Washington’s craft cocktail palace The Passenger. So when the January frost is nipping at your nose, remember the words that Donn Beach would tell his customers: “If you can’t get to paradise, I’ll bring it to you.” Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai 1 1/2 oz. Myers’s Rum 1 oz. Cuban rum (use a medium-bodied rum such as Appleton or Barbancourt) 3/4 oz. lime juice 1 oz. grapefruit juice 1/4 oz. falernum syrup 1/2 oz. Cointreau 2 dashes Angostura bitters Dash of Pernod Trader Vic’s Mai Tai 2 oz. aged Jamaican rum .5 oz. orgeat syrup .5 oz. orange curacao .25 oz. rock candy syrup Juice from one fresh lime For both drinks: Shake everything with ice and strain into a double old-fashioned glass full of crushed ice. Garnish with pineapple spear, lime shell and a sprig of fresh mint.
When one thinks of liquor and Japan, sake immediately comes to mind. With its history dating back to the 700s, complex serving etiquette and array of fancy drinking vessels, this fermented rice wine is synonymous with Japan. But during my recent excursion to the Tokyo area, I discovered another beverage that is booming in popularity in the land of the rising sun. Sh?ch? is a distilled beverage, mostly forged from barley, sweet potatoes, wheat or rice. It varies in alcohol content from 20 percent to 25 percent and sports a crisp dry taste comparable to vodka or arrack. Multiple-distilled sh?ch?, which is generally used in mixed drinks, may contain up to 35-percent alcohol. The main difference between sake and sh?ch? is that sake is brewed, whereas sh?ch? is distilled. Sh?ch? originated in Kyushu, the most southwesterly island in Japan, where it has been drunk for centuries. In recent years, its popularity has surged. According to the Japan Times, sh?ch? had long been thought of as being “cheap and nasty.” But as premium brands emerged and it was discovered by a new generation, the last two decades have seen triple-digit growth in sales. Trendy bars specializing in sh?ch? began popping up all over Tokyo. Once considered stodgy, sh?ch? has been embraced by younger drinkers. Kimiyoshi Utsugi, a Tokyo resident, says he drinks sh?ch? every day. “My father always drank sake, but I drink sh?ch?,” he said. “The younger generation believes it’s much better for you.” Kimiyoshi says there is less sugar in sh?ch? and it won’t make you fat. The way sh?ch? is served depends on the quality. According to Kimiyoshi, if it’s of good quality, it’s drunk neat or on the rocks. Brands of lesser quality are mixed with fruit juice, tea, lemon or cola. The most popular sh?ch? cocktail is ch?hai (pronounced Shoe-High), which is a mixture of sh?ch? and lemon juice topped off with club soda for a fizzy finish. Douglas Ford, my fun-loving host during my holiday, introduced me to the ch?hai cocktail. After a traditional Japanese dinner, we stopped by Wesley’s, one of his preferred watering holes for a nightcap. We were in Fujisawa, an industrial city a short distance from his home in Kamakura. While the city lies about 46 kilometers south of Tokyo’s city center, to me it felt like part of the L.A.-type sprawl of Japan’s capital city. As we walked down a dark side street near the train station, we stopped at a narrow doorway that opened to a steep flight of enclosed stairs. Nothing from the street level indicated that anything at all was located in this dim building. But sure enough, once we ascended we arrived in a small cozy den of eclectic regulars. The walls in this dive bar were plastered with marker graffiti and a collection of posters and customer photos. It reminded me of CBGB’s meets Cheers. The true highlight of Wesley’s is the owner Kagefumi Yoshimora. Yo-Chan, as he is known, is an adorable bespectacled man with cute fuzzy eyebrows and a matching mustache. He becomes an instant friend with all his patrons. Not to be missed are the special nights when Yo-Chan plays guitar with his jazz band. Doug suggested that I try Yo-Chan’s special version of ch?hai. My drink, a bright yellow concoction, arrived in a handled beer mug. The flavor was bright, refreshing and effervescent. The pungent lemon shined while being softened by the fizzy soda. The sh?ch? added an invigorating bite. After a 90-plus degree summer day, this tipple is a perfect way to quench your burning thirst. Be forewarned, Yo-chan’s ch?hai packs a punch. After a frustrating day plodding through airports, his cocktails went straight to my head on my first night in Japan. After asking for his recipe I discovered why his ch?hai is so lethal: there is an approximate 5-1 ratio of sh?ch? to mixers. Ch?hai is not just popular in bars. It’s commonly found as a canned pre-mixed drink in supermarkets, convenience stores and even vending machines in train stations. Popular beverage companies like Kirin (beer) and Suntory (whiskey) produce their own ch?hai canned drinks. While pre-mixed versions may be a convenient option, some of my fondest memories of Japan are huddling around the cramped bar at Wesley’s, cooling down with a glass of “high test lemonade” and listening to Yo-chan jam with his mates. Domo arigatou. Ch?hai 150 ml Sh?ch? 30 ml Lemon Juice Pour in a beer mug and top with club soda.