Cocktail of the WeekSeptember 6, 2012

September 6, 2012

On a bitter and chilly night, nothing soothes the soul quite like a toasty warm cocktail. Cold days are not the norm in Washington during August and September, but I spent the majority of this summer in the winter of the Southern hemisphere, where I experienced plenty of recent nippy winter evenings that were heated up with a hot toddy.

In Cusco, Peru, the days are filled with brilliant blue skies and powerful rays of sun due to its altitude of over 11,000 feet in the Andes. Once the sun goes down, the historical city center is illuminated with golden streams of floodlights, and the mercury drops to a brisk spot in the low 50s. While the tourist bars and salsa clubs near Plaza des Arms and San Blas get packed with party-goers downing pisco sours and Cusquena beers, my friend Suzanne introduced me to a mellow locals-only spot tucked away on a side street where we quenched our thirst and warmed our spirits with a steaming pitcher of coca tea and pisco.

This combination blends two of the most popular beverages in Peru. Coca tea or mate de coca, is an herbal tea brewed with leaves from the coca plant, which is grown throughout Northwest South America. The tea can be made by steeping raw coca leaves or commercially made tea bags in boiling water. This Andean beverage has an earthy flavor similar to green tea but with a sweeter finish.
The beverage has many beneficial effects. It is often recommended to combat the effects of altitude sickness. During my months in the Andes, I found no matter what my ailment ? cough, sore throat, hangover ? the locals would convincingly advise me, ?Drink coca tea!? Or, you can skip the drinking altogether and just chew on the raw coca leaves like many native Andean people do.

The tea also works as a stimulant, for it is brewed from the same leaves that are used to make cocaine. Hence, it is illegal to import or sell in the U.S., although I found a few websites, including Amazon.com, where the tea bags were available.

Pisco, which is the national drink of Peru, is a clear white spirit distilled from grapes that dates back to the 16th century. It is considered a brandy and has a distinctive grape flavor.

According to SouthAmericanFood.com, there are numerous explanations for how this brandy got its name. Some say that the word comes from the Quechuan word ?pisqu?, which was the name of a bird found in the Inca valley region of Peru. Another theory is that it is named after the town of Pisco, a port city where pisco was shipped to Lima as well as popularized by sailors. The name is also said to come from the large pre-Colombian clay pots, called piscos that are used to ferment the grapes.
When mixed together to make ?Te Macho? the coca and pisco combination results in a steamy yet potent tipple. Not being one who likes sugary cocktails I found this drink to be delightfully refreshing. The homey and robust tea combines brilliantly with the subtle sweetness and woodsy spice of the pisco.

Soon after my excursion with Suzanne, I discovered that the pisco and coca tea formula was a popular way for locals to enjoy their national beverage and stay snug in their unheated homes. I spent many frosty evenings in the rural town of Huasao sipping pitchers of te macho with my Shaman, Illapa, his brother, Fernando, and their various followers. This easy-going down-to-earth punch, along with the company, had such a comforting and uplifting effect, that soon I felt like I had a home away from home.

**Te Macho**

2 cups pisco
3 cups boiling water
4 bags mate de coca tea

Add two cups of pisco to heatproof pitcher. Add two cups of boiling water. Step tea bags until the liquid turns a yellowish green color. Serve hot and garnish with coca leaves (if available) Serves 5.

Cocktail of the Week: Cocktails and Bar Tales by Mixologist Dale DeGroff

August 10, 2012

The lively piano notes danced through the air as I walked into the Warehouse Theater. I was greeted with a cocktail, more specifically, a sweet and lemony Colonial punch made from Jamaican rum and cognac. As I took my seat, I recognized one of the tunes being played by Washington’s piano virtuoso Dan Ruskinas, “Those Were the Days.”

But this was no typical theater-going experience. The main act was not a famous musician or actor, but rather a storyteller who made his mark in the world of cocktails and mixology, Dale DeGroff. In addition to the music, we were about to hear all about “Those Days, ” the golden age of bars and bartenders. DeGroff came armed with an earful of stories about the history and his experience working at some of New York’s most legendary watering holes.

If an evening of bar stories doesn’t sound exciting and entertaining, you’ve never seen DeGroff in action. Known as one of the pioneers of the craft cocktail movement, DeGroff has authored two best selling cocktail books, “The Essential Cocktail” and “The Craft of the Cocktail,” and was the recipient of a 2009 James Beard award. He has held court at the famed Rainbow Room, where he used a gourmet approach to recreate many long-forgotten cocktails.

DeGroff engaged the audience with his witty narrative, tracing the history of the drinking, from colonial-era taverns, through prohibition speakeasies, up to his personal favorites. His colloquial manner and charming personality took the audience back to a time when the local bar was an important part of the community and bartenders treated their customers like old friends. He opened the evening playing his guitar and singing a Hank Williams tune. And, of course, there was a great story behind this ditty.

With the enthusiasm of screenwriter and monologuist Spalding Gray, DeGroff launched into a tale about the first neighborhood bar he discovered in New York, Paddy McGlades in 1969. At the time, DeGroff was living at the YMCA, hoping to get his big break on Broadway, when a friend of a friend, who had a room for rent, asked to meet him at McGlades. DeGroff arrived at the bar, with his guitar, suitcase and $2.50 in his pocket, which he quickly blew through before his friend arrived. When someone asked him if he could play the guitar he launched into a rendition of “Your Cheating Heart“ to which he was rewarded with a beer on the house. He duly played it three more times for three more beers, since it was the only song that he knew all the lyrics to.

DeGroff reminisced about McGlades as if it were a long lost friend. Which it is, since a Starbucks now stands in its place. He continued with anecdotes about many storied bars, including P.J. Clarke’s (the original, not the D.C. outpost), McSorley’s Ale House, the 21 Club, the Blue Note and eventually the Rainbow Room, where in the 1980s he put together a menu of cocktails inspired by the great supper clubs of days-gone-by.

Cocktails flowed throughout the evening, each one a delightful concoction perfected by DeGroff. The experience was akin to going to a fabulous bar where you luck out and find yourself seated next to the most interesting man in the joint.

Having lived in Manhattan before moving to Washington, DeGroff actually made me a bit homesick for places like McSorley’s, New York’s oldest bar, which was a few blocks from my apartment in the East Village or the Rainbow Room, my favorite spot to take out-of-town guests, which was located across the street from my office at the Associated Press in Rockefeller Center.

Before I knew it, two hours had passed. It was time to call it a night. The evening was capped off with a Yuzu gimlet, a refreshing twist on the standard, jazzed up with Asian Yuzu juice and honey.

DeGroff’s traveling show, which is being performed as a fundraiser for the Museum of the American Cocktail, will be making stops in New York and Philadelphia. For more information, visit KingCocktail.com/onthetown.htm or www.MuseumoftheAmericanCocktail.org

YUZU GIMLET?
1 1/2 ounce Hendricks Gin?
1/4  Yuzu juice  ?
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice?
1 ounce honey syrup
?Lime wheel garnish??
Assemble ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with thin wheel of lime. Adjust sweetness with honey syrup. [gallery ids="100737,121495" nav="thumbs"]

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


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.

Cocktail of the WeekMay 30, 2012

May 30, 2012

Just in time for the upcoming summer season, the Museum of the American Cocktail hosted an event last week at the Georgetown Four Seasons Hotel celebrating popular drinks from South of the Border. Three bartenders from Bourbon Steak?Duane Sylvester, JP Caceres and Jamie McBain?each prepared cocktails featuring spirits from Latin America and the Caribbean. Sylvester, whose family hails from Trinidad and Tobago, presented two rum drinks, a classic punch and mojito. Caceres, from Bolivia, presented two traditional South American cocktails, the caipirinha, made with cachaca from Brazil, the pisco sour, and the forged frompisco, a Peruvian grape-based spirit.

McBain presented the only original cocktail of the evening?a crimson-red tequila and beet juice concoction called ?We Got the Beet.? Being a tequila lover, I am always on the lookout for non-traditional agave tipples. But for a person who doesn?t like beets, I approached this concoction with hesitation. I later learned that Jamie, himself, doesn?t eat beets either.

He developed the recipe after receiving multiple requests as a bartender for flavored margaritas. ?I get asked to make flavored margaritas, which I don?t,? Jamie said sternly. ?This is my small concession.?

The classic margarita is a simple formula. Consisting of tequila, lime juice and a sweetener?usually an orange liqueur like Cointreau or triple sec?it yields a pleasing sweet and sour and potentially salty profile if you enjoy a salted rim.

Jamie?s five-ingredient recipe of tequila, beet juice, agave syrup, lime and Averna Amaro, creates a multi-layered complex cocktail. Amaro?meaning ?bitter? in Italian?is an herbal liqueur, usually enjoyed as an after-dinner digestif. It is produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark and citrus peels in alcohol, mixing it with sugar syrup, and allowing it to age in casks or bottles. Averna has a distinct herbaceous flavor that tempers the sweetness of the beet juice and highlights the root vegetable?s earthy quality. The result is a harmonious balance of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

For tequila, Jamie uses Partido Reposado for this cocktail. Reposado?meaning ?rested? in Spanish?refers to any 100 percent agave tequila, which has been aged between two and 12 months in oak barrels. Jamie enjoys the subtle smoky flavor the reposado tequila imparts in this drink.

For those planning to make this cocktail at home, finding the beet juice can be tricky. A health food store that sells fresh juices may be your only pre-made option. Otherwise, you?ll need a juicer to make it at home. At Bourbon Steak, Jamie uses beets that have been steamed first. But if you would prefer a more pronounced earthy flavor in your cocktail, he suggests roasting the vegetables before juicing. In addition to their unique freshness, the beets, will give this cocktail a stunning scarlet hue.
If you don?t have access to a juicer at home, you can sample the ?We Got The Beat? at Bourbon Steak located inside the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown. For more information on upcoming seminars being hosted by the Museum of the American Cocktail, please visit www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org

**We Got The Beet**

1.5 ounces Partido reposado tequila
.5 ounce beet juice
.5 ounces Agave nectar
.5 ounce Averna
.5 Ounce lime juice.
Salt
Salt half the rim of your cocktail glass. Mix four ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake.Strain intoglass.

The Cosmopolitan: Once the “It” Cocktail

May 17, 2012

Maybe it’s the appealing pink color, the pleasing tart flavor or the swanky glassware. Perhaps it was the four liberated and stylish ladies of New York who adored them. But for one reason or another. the Cosmopolitan — or Cosmo, for short — was the “It” cocktail of the late 1990s and first half of the 2000s.

This tipple hit its zenith of fame when it became the favorite drink of Carrie Bradshaw on HBO’s “Sex and the City.” But believe or not, the Cosmo pre-dates the prime time television show by years. It was also another trend-setting celebrity that lent her hand at influencing this drink ‘s destiny before Sarah Jessica Parker started to imbibe on this vodka, cranberry and citrus concoction.

The Museum of the American Cocktail recently hosted a seminar on popular vodka drinks, which included the history behind the Cosmopolitan. Phil Greene, founding member of the museum and author of “To Have and Have Another : A Hemingway Cocktail Companion,” hosted the event, which was held at the Warehouse theater inside the Passenger bar.

Several recipes for cocktails similar to Cosmopolitan have been uncovered. One recipe for a drink named “Cosmopolitan” that Greene dug up dates back to 1934, from the book “Pioneers of Mixing Gin ?at Elite Bar 1903-1933.” While this early recipe uses gin instead of vodka, its remaining ingredients are comparable to today’s version. Using gin in a cocktail during that time was commonplace. Vodka did not start to get a stronghold in the American drink scene until the 1950s. Another similar recipe from the Ocean Spray Cranberry Growers from the 1960s, was unearthed by Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff which calls for one ounce of vodka, one ounce of cranberry and a squeeze of lime.

The invention of the modern-day Cosmo is generally credited to bartender Cheryl Cook in Miami’s South Beach. According to Greene, “In the mid-1980s the martini was making a comeback, and many customers were ordering them, seemingly just to be seen holding the iconic martini glass. However, for many, including women, martinis were a bit too strong and powerful. So she came up with the idea to create a drink that was visually stunning and uses the martini glass. Using a new product called Absolut Citron, a splash of triple sec, a few dashes of Rose’s Lime and some cranberry juice to turn it pink, the Cosmopolitan was born.”

The Cosmo further evolved when cocktail heavyweight DeGroff sampled it at the Fog City Diner in San Francisco. DeGroff decided he could improve upon this formula and created his own version for the Rainbow Room in New York.  According to Greene, he used Absolut Citron, Cointreau, cranberry juice and fresh lime juice, along with a flamed orange peel garnish.

It was at the Rainbow Room where the Cosmo’s superstardom began. Its prominence skyrocketed when Madonna was pictured sipping one at the Rainbow Room Grammy party, when the award show was held next-door at Radio City Music Hall. Next came “Sex and the City,” which cemented the Cosmopolitan’s place in drink history.

Soon, Cosmos were on cocktail menus across the nation along with various drinks with names ending in “ini” and served in the cone-shape big martini glasses. While the Cosmo’s place in the sun has faded somewhat, it has earned a spot on the list of classic cocktails. Even our favorite New York girl seems to have cooled on her Cosmopolitan. In the film version of Sex and City, Miranda asks why the girls stopped drinking Cosmos. Carrie replies, “Because everyone else started.”

Dale DeGroff’s Cosmopolitan:
1.5 oz. Absolut Citron Vodka
.5 oz. Cointreau
.25 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz. Cranberry Juice

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

The Museum of the American Cocktail will be sponsoring evening of stories, cocktails and songs led by Dale DeGroff on Thursday, April 12. For more information, visit www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org

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 Mr-Booze.com.

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 Mr-Booze.com website. If you’re looking for classic cocktail recipes, mood music and tips for setting up your home entertainment center aka home bar, Mr-Booze.com 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 www.Mr-Booze.com.

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 NordicStore.com.

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
Milk

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.

Cocktail of the WeekNovember 16, 2011

November 16, 2011

As far as acclaimed drinking establishments in Washington D.C., one place stands the test of time over all others ? the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel. Perhaps it?s the long and storied history, the impressive roster of influential guests, or its long-standing reputation as a gathering place for high society

This uniquely Washington landmark, steps from the White House, transports visitors back in time, to an era of grand and luxurious hotels. Jim Hewes has been entertaining the well-to-do and mixing classic cocktails at the Round Robin since 1986.

Conversing with Hewes reminds you of a golden age when hotel bars hired top-notch bartenders who were as skilled in the art of conversation as they were at mixing libations. Whether you are a celebrity, a tourist, a politician or a local, Hewes will make you feel at home and, if you like, provide you with a witty and enjoyable history lesson.

The Round Robin is well known for its mint julep. The recipe hasn?t changed since Kentucky Congressman Henry Clay introduced the Southern-style drink to Washington in the 1800?s. The julep aside, the Willard is revered by those seeking a quality cocktail in a stately environment. Hewes can shake up a first-rate martini with pizzazz and mix an impressive repertoire of classic drinks.
One of those concoctions is the hotel?s namesake cocktail, the Willard. This tipple was invented to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Willard in 1947. Hewes uncovered the recipe years ago in a James Beard article on hotel bars and cocktails in the New York Times.

Like many classic cocktails, the Willard starts out with a gin base. Hewes recommends a dry gin such as Plymouth or Beefeater, in lieu of a sweeter gin, which can be too overbearing. The recipe also includes peach and apricot brandies along with a dash of lime juice. While the original recipe called for fresh squeezed lime, Hewes prefers to use Rose?s lime juice. ?I like to use Rose?s, reason being, that it keeps a clarity to the drink, ?He says. ?It?s not cloudy, you can look right through it and see what you?re drinking.?

The Willard has a strong gin rush up front but finishes with a refreshingly sweet touch from the fruit liqueurs. It?s a timeless drink. ?We like to keep things simple here,? Hewes says. ?It?s a classic cocktail ? two sips. One is not enough. Three is too many.?

The circular Round Robin bar is perched in an elegant room on the Eastern end of the hotel. According to Hewes, the bar has always had a similar arrangement. ?There has been a bar on this corner since the early 1800?s. Thomas Jefferson sat here after he left office,? Hewes informs. ?The room has always had a round configuration. At one time ?meet me at the rotunda? meant ?meet me at the Willard? – not the Capitol.?

During his tenure, Hewes has served many important guests. ?History is always happening here. You never know who?s going to walk in and have a drink,? he says. ?Heads of states, captains of industry, entertainers, you name it.?

When people ask Hewes if anyone famous been there, his line is usually, ?Well I didn?t catch his name, but he must have been famous because he had the Pope driving him around.?

**The Willard Cocktail**
*?Circa 1947?*
1 1/4 oz dry Gin
? oz Apricot brandy
? oz peach brandy
? oz lime use (Rose?s lime or fresh lime – your preference)

Pout over ice, shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel and a cherry.
Readers may sample the Willard at the Round Robin bar located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. Ingredients to make the Willard cocktail may be purchased at Dixie Liquor (3429 M Street NW).