Cocktail of the Week

May 4, 2011

As Cinco de Mayo rolls around, many will celebrate the holiday by hoisting margaritas. However, these two traditions, the party and the cocktail, may actually be more American than Mexican.

Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for the fifth of May) commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the French-Mexican War. According to National Geographic, the anniversary of the victory is celebrated only sporadically in Mexico, mainly in the southern town of Puebla and in a few larger cities. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and ancestry, similar to the way that St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest celebrate the Irish and German heritage.

While the margarita is the #1 requested tequila cocktail in the U.S, the paloma is more popular in Mexico. Spanish for “dove,” the paloma is a refreshing highball made with tequila and grapefruit soda. According to Brown-Forman, which markets the El Jimador and Herradura tequila brands, 100,000 palomas are consumed each hour in Mexico.

While colas dominate the soft drink market in the United States, tropical fruit-flavored sodas are popular in Mexico. These preferred refreshments are believed to have evolved from agua fresca, or fruit waters, sold by street vendors throughout Latin America.

Mexican soft drinks differ from domestic sodas in two main ways. They are sweetened with natural sugar instead of corn syrup, which gives them a brighter flavor. They also tend to taste more like juice than the highly carbonated drinks favored in the U.S.

Squirt is a well-known brand of grapefruit soda in the States, however it has more of a lemon-lime flavor than the Squirt sold in Mexico. Jarritos, a popular Mexican soft drink brand, is available in many unique flavors, including Toronja or grapefruit. It can be found in Latin American markets.

Knowing these differences, one could make a paloma with Squirt or Jarritos, but for deliciously brisk version, I recommend using freshly squeezed grapefruit and lime juices topped with soda for a bit of fizz.

Just like a margarita, the paloma may be served with or without salt on the rim. The salt adds an additional layer of flavor: sweet, sour, and salty, with just a pinch of bitterness.

The paloma can be found at a few Washington Mexican restaurants including Oyamel and Rosa Mexicana. Chief mixologist Jon Arroyo at Founding Farmers in Foggy Bottom offers a different take, with an added kick most don’t have.

Arroyo uses house-made chipotle syrup to add seasoning and the drink is topped off with a mescal floater to give it an extra agave punch. These smoky elements provide one more level of complexity.

“I’m a big supporter of spice mixed with fruits,” Arroyo says. “I like the balance.” Arroyo’s cocktail starts out crisp and refreshing, then it hits you with spicy smack.

Founding Farmers is a perfect place to try the paloma on Cinco De Mayo if you want to avoid the rush at area Mexican restaurants. Or if you prefer to dine-in, try this easy-make paloma at home.

The Paloma

1/2 oz fresh lime juice (1/2 lime)
3 oz fresh grapefruit juice
2 oz tequila
1/2 oz agave nectar (or simple syrup)

Rim a Collins glass with salt. Mix first four ingredients and pour over ice into glass. Top with club soda or grapefruit soda.

Dixie Liquor in Georgetown will host a tequila tasting on May 5, from 5-8 pm.

Cocktail of the Week

March 8, 2011

As St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, many folks will take part in activities they believe are inherently Irish such as watching parades, wearing green and hitting the pubs. But in actuality, these traditions stem from the U.S. rather than the Emerald Isle.
According to National Geographic, colonial New York City hosted the first official St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1762, when Irish immigrants in the British colonial army marched down city streets. In contrast, Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is a little more than 75 years old.
In the States, it’s customary to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. But in Ireland, the color was long considered to be unlucky, says Bridget Haggerty, author of “The Traditional Irish Wedding” and the Irish Culture and Customs website.
And perhaps most surprising is that pubs in Ireland were closed by law on St. Patrick’s Day, a national religious holiday, as recently as the 1970s.
While many great brews, including Guinness, Murphy’s, Caffrey’s and Smithwicks hail from Ireland, the black and tan, a beer cocktail layered with a stout and ale, actually originated in England. Because it is made with Guinness, the black and tan is often considered an Irish elixir. However, the style is believed to have originated in Britain with drinkers ordering a mix of dark stout and draught bitter.
According to Washington Post beer columnist Greg Kitsock, The black and tan – properly, a blend of Guinness Draught and Bass ale – dates from 19th century England. A few American brewers, including Yuengling, currently make bottled versions of the black and tan, yet they lack the visual appeal of a freshly poured pint.
But if you find yourself in a pub in Ireland, it’s best not to order a black and tan. Black and tans are the nickname given to the British paramilitary force formed to suppress the Irish Independence movement in 1920 and 1921. The name comes from the mixture of police uniforms and khaki that they wore.
If you wish to imbibe a Black and Tan in the states this holiday, go ahead, but make it an all-Irish combination by substituting Smithwick’s Irish Ale in place of the British-made Bass. Or try a half and half, a more highly contrasting version of the drink made by substituting Harp lager for ale.
The secret to making a perfectly layered pint is to pour the beer slowly using a spoon. Specially made black and tan spoons are available, but a regular kitchen spoon will also do the job. The spoon will keep the Guinness from mixing with the ale, allowing it to layer on top. You must use Guinness Draught, which comes with a nitrogen widget, otherwise the stout will not float properly.

All-Irish Black and Tan

1/2 pint(s) Guinness Draught
1/2 pint(s) Smithwicks Ale

From a chilled bottle, fill a clean pint glass just over halfway with Smithwick’s Ale. Open a chilled can of Guinness Draught. The head will rise. Prepare to pour. Place spoon face down on the rim of the glass and slowly pour your newly opened Guinness over it. Fill just short of the rim.

Cocktail of the Week

February 22, 2011

Bourbon Cobbler

Foggy Bottom’s Founding Farmers, along with its sister restaurant Farmers and Fishers, are already known as among the hottest spots in DC for handcrafted cocktails. The restaurants, both renowned for their farm-fresh produce, fine spirits, and homemade mixers and juices, sport an evolving drink menu designed by chief mixologist Chef Jon Arroyo.

New for spring at Founding Farmers is Arroyo’s customizable menu of juleps and cobblers. While most imbibers are familiar with juleps due to the popularity of mint juleps, the cobbler cocktail may be an unfamiliar concept for many casual drinkers.

The word cobbler conjures up visions of pastry dishes soaked with baked ripened fruits. Webster’s dictionary sports two edible definitions for cobbler.

1. A deep-dish fruit dessert with a thick top crust.

2. A tall sweetened iced drink of wine or liquor with fruit.

The original cobbler cocktail, according to Arroyo, was made with sherry. It was one of the most popular libations during the last half of the nineteenth century. Because cobblers were made with fresh fruit and sugar they were among the first cocktails to be shaken.

Early cobblers were very sweet and fancy cocktails. They were garnished beautifully with fresh berries. It became known as a ladies’ tipple, but in Arroyo’s opinion it is definitely not a ladies’ drink.

Perhaps the most exciting element of Founding Farmer’s new menu is the concept that the drinks will be customized for each customer—male or female—based on their spirits preference.

On the blistery Tuesday that I sat down with Arroyo, he asked me what type of liquor I was in the mood for. Feeling a bit chilled, I requested a bourbon drink. Off to work he went, preparing me a personalized cocktail.

All of the cobblers at Founding Farmers will start with some basic ingredients: muddled lemon, lime, orange, along with bitters and sugar. The remaining ingredients will take the direction of the spirit requested.

For the base spirit, Arroyo chose Knob Creek Bourbon. “There’s dryness to the Knob Creek which balances out the fruit,” Arroyo said. “I like it because it’s a big bourbon with a lot of spice. You’re going to know you’re drinking it.”

Arroyo’s first augmentation to my cocktail was the Angostura brand of bitters, but the flavor of bitters used in each cobbler will depend on the type of liquor. Next he added homemade ginger syrup, because he likes the spice that ginger adds to bourbon. In the spirit of tradition, he plopped in a bit of red wine Malbec, in lieu of sherry. But for me, the most curiously wonderful addition was the touch of absinthe

The finished cocktail was a taste explosion on my tongue. It had a robust fruit-forward flavor up front while the boldness of the bourbon warmed my mouth with an earthy goodness. While I was a bit hesitant about the Absinthe, it turned out to be a key ingredient. Its herbaceous quality tied the variety of fruity and spicy elements together in a delightful symphony.

While the drink was served in a pretty metal julep glass and garnished daintily with fresh berries and mint leaves, I agreed with Arroyo that it was decidedly not a ladies only drink. Its complexity and freshness provided many layers of flavor that any discerning drinker would enjoy. And yes, I could definitely taste the bourbon.

Arroyo’s spring cocktail menu debuted in February, and he assured me that all the bartenders at Founding Farmers will be well trained in making the customizable cocktails. “Depending on the spirit you choose,” he said “The bartender will choose the direction for the cocktail.”

Latte di Chocolate di Basil

February 9, 2011

The Italian language has a beautiful ring with lyrical words that dance with alliteration. When “Eat Pray Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert decided to study Italian during the course of her divorce, she described “every word as a singing sparrow, a magic trick, a truffle.” According to Gilbert, “Speaking these words made me feel sexy and happy.”

So it’s no surprise that many of Italy’s contributions to the seductive realm of cocktails boast monikers that roll off the tongue like romantic prose … Prosecco, Bellini, Campari, and Negroni.

The Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC) recently celebrated Italy’s contribution to the cocktail world with an event at the Occidental Grill.

Phil Greene,MOTAC founding member, kicked off the event by discussing the history behind the Bellini, a refreshing mix of peach and sparkling wine made famous at Harry’s bar in Venice and the Negroni, which is named after Count Camillo Negroni. World-renowned PS-7 bar chef Gina Chersevani, an Italian-American, continued the theme by sharing her family recipe for Limoncello and the Trieste Spritz. Attendees also learned about various brands of Italian liqueurs including Campari, Aperol, Fernet Branca and Luxardo.
The evening was capped off with Gina’s chocolate ice cream cocktail featuring Averna Amaro.

Amaro, meaning “bitter” in Italian, is an herbal liqueur, usually enjoyed after dinner. Amaro is produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark and citrus peels in alcohol, mixing them with sugar syrup, and allowing it to age in casks or bottles.

Averna is an Amaro produced on the island of Sicily, which is named after its inventor, Salvatore Averna, who developed his recipe in 1868. According to Gina, whose mom is from Sicily, this traditional liqueur is often served alone or with coffee.

Gina invented her Averna cocktail to pair with a chocolate basil cake at PS-7. She was trying to think of something to tie the two ingredients (chocolate and basil) together when it dawned on her to use Averna. “It has a certain herbaceous quality to it,” she says, “and rich overtones of nuts”

While Averna Amaro has been made in Italy for over 140 years, Gina said it disappeared from the US temporarily. Only in the last two or three years did it begin importing back into the US.

Gina told a delightful story about a family gathering at her aunt’s home, where the lady of the house presented Gina’s father with a bottle of Averna that they drank with coffee.

Gina told her father that the Avema makes a great chocolate milkshake, to which he replied, ”You know you mom doesn’t allow me to have milkshakes.”

But later that evening, alone at Gina’s house, her father coyly asked her to make him one of her Averno ice cream drinks. Her father loved the combination, and to this day he still enjoys his forbidden milkshake tipple in private.

Gina describes the recipe as “foolproof” and recommends using a good quality chocolate ice cream. This luscious cocktail would work well as either a drink or as a stand-alone dessert.

Latte di Chocolate di Basil

1.5 oz Averna Amaro
4 oz. whole milk
1 scoop chocolate ice cream
3 fresh basil leaves

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Serve in a glass and garnish with a fresh basil leaf.

Averna Amaro may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown. For more information on cocktail seminars visit