Cocktail Of The Month: The Hangovertini

September 14, 2016

The scene opens with gangster Leslie Chow singing “If I Could Save Time in a Bottle” as the elevator rises …

Cocktail of the Month: Patrón Mango Margarita

August 10, 2016

There’s no doubt that one of the best summer drinks ever invented is the margarita. It’s cool, tart, a little tangy — with a spicy tequila smack — and salty […]

The Lady Bird

June 28, 2016

Warm weather in the nation’s capital means outdoor drinking, whether it’s on a patio or a roof deck. An outside space has become a necessity for D.C. bars and restaurants, […]

The Lady Bird

June 22, 2016

Warm weather in the nation’s capital means outdoor drinking, whether it’s on a patio or a roof deck …

Kevin Plank Launches Rye in Time for Preakness

May 25, 2016

The first batch of Sagamore Spirit, Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank’s new straight rye whiskey, was released May 13, just in time to be the official rye of the Preakness Stakes.

At Plank’s Sagamore Farm — about 15 miles northwest of Baltimore’s Pimlico race track, home of the Preakness — Sagamore Spirit co-founder (with Plank) Bill McDermond hosted a launch party for the rye May 19. Restaurateurs and bartenders from D.C. and Baltimore drank rye and rye cocktails, tossed down bites from area eateries, smoked cigars, listened to a Nashville band and rode a mechanical bull. Plank’s remarks were on video; he was giving the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Maryland.

The hugely successful athletic-wear entrepreneur bought Sagamore, former horse-breeding farm of Pimlico owner and president Albert G. Vanderbilt II, in 2007. About 100,000 attendees are expected at this year’s Preakness, on Saturday, May 21. The favorite, Nyquist, won the Kentucky Derby May 7.

A distillery for Sagamore Spirit, under construction in the Port Covington section of Baltimore, is expected to open to the public by early 2017, complete with tasting rooms. The rye, currently aged out of state, is cut to 83 proof with springwater that bubbles up through the limestone on Plank’s farm.

Two Georgetown liquor stores sell Plank’s Sagamore Spirit for $44.99 per 750-ml bottle.

“The guys like it,” said Steve Feldman of Potomac Wine & Spirits at 33rd and M Streets. “It’s kind of a sweet rye.”

Hop, Cask & Barrell — on Wisconsin Avenue near R Street — also had about six bottles left, pre-Preakness.

Cocktail of the Month: Special Delivery: Pineapple Airmail

May 4, 2016

What’s cooking behind the bar?

On a recent spring day, I was enjoying an after-lunch drink with a friend at Poste Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco when I was struck by an enchanting aroma coming from behind the bar. It had a fruity scent, joined with the fragrance of exotic spices. Since it was one of the first warm days after an early-April cold snap, the tropical scent tingled my senses.

As I leaned over to take a peek, I spied a pot filled with a brilliant yellow hue slowly simmering. Bartender Joel Newbraugh explained that he was preparing a seasoned pineapple syrup for one of the house cocktails, the pineapple airmail. The bouquet of spices included cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon.

The airmail is a classic, dating back to the golden age of cocktails. Even the name brings back memories of days gone by. Airmail (the service) was quite a feat when it lifted off in the U.S. in 1911. The idea of sending correspondence across the country — and later over the ocean — in a few days was unthinkable just a generation before.

Airmail eventually gave way to special couriers like FedEx and DHL — and, eventually, email. But at one time if you wanted a letter to get somewhere quickly, you went to the post office, bought an envelope with red and blue barbershop piping around the edges and attached a special stamp (often with a photo of an airplane).

Cuba began regular airmail service in 1930 and the cocktail of the same name appeared shortly afterward in a promotional pamphlet for Bacardi, then headquartered in Cuba. It is not known whether it was a Bacardi creation or copied from a Havana bar.

This delightful drink was composed of Cuban rum, honey, fresh lime juice and Champagne. It later officially turned up in in Esquire’s 1949 Handbook for Hosts. It was sometimes served with a special airmail stamp affixed to the glass.

Poste’s pineapple version, conceived by head bartender Justin Hampton, reinvents this timeless drink by replacing the honey with the aforementioned pineapple syrup, adding a sultry dimension.

The original version calls for Cuban rum, which unfortunately is not available here in the States. This rendering uses Plantation 3 Stars — a multinational rum blended with spirits from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad. Bartender Amy Russell describes the flavor as similar to a rhum agricole (rum-distilled sugarcane juice), “but not as intense.”

The distiller says that each of the three distinct rums lends a specific character to the spirit. “Matured Trinidad rum imparts its classic elegance, Barbados delivers sophistication with a balanced mouthfeel and Jamaica conveys its unmistakable structure and rustic edge.”

The pineapple airmail is served in a champagne flute garnished with a mint leaf. While its appearance may look like a gentle mimosa, do not be fooled; this drink is definitely not tame.

On first sip, the full-bodied flavor of the rum and spice hits your tongue, mingling with the sweetness of the pineapple like happy bedfellows. Then, thanks to the lime and sparkling wine, it has a dry tart finish. The mint leaf adds a bit of coolness.

Pineapple drinks can easily become cloying, but cooking the fruit with spices curbs its sugariness. The airmail delivers the whimsical fun of a tropical drink with a refined flair.

If you want to try the pineapple airmail, you must hurry to the Hotel Monaco. Poste Brasserie is slated to close temporarily this summer, then reopen with an edgy new concept.

The Pineapple Airmail

1 ounce rum
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce spiced pineapple syrup

Combine the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker and pour into a champagne flute. Top it off with Prosecco.

Cocktail of the Month: Canning the Fine Brine

April 8, 2016

If you’re a barfly in the D.C. area, you may be on to a bartender’s best-kept secret. Just in case you aren’t, local pickle company Gordy’s Pickle Jar is letting us in on it — and canned it for home bartenders here and nationwide.

Gordy’s Fine Brine is the first pickle brine for cocktails to be sold in a can. Drink connoisseurs were pouring pickle brine from refrigerator jars — not the cleanest of options. Gordy’s founders, Sarah Gordon and Sheila Fain, were doing the same thing and realized there had to be (and needed to be) a better way. The cocktail pickle-brine can was born.

Gordon and Fain founded Gordy’s five years ago after deciding to go into the pickling business. Fain was in the hospitality industry and Gordon had her own consulting firm that focused on branding. The two met through mutual friends and created Gordy’s, named after Gordon’s father, whom everyone called Gordy.

“Gordy’s just seemed like a really strong pickle name,” Gordon said.

A Chicago native, Gordon has lived in D.C. for 10 years, while Fain grew up in Columbia, Maryland, and later attended the University of Maryland. Fain had been living in San Francisco, but since the pickle market there was already oversaturated with small batch producers, back to D.C. she came to start up Gordy’s. The partners decided to set up shop in the Petworth neighborhood at 2nd and Upshur streets NW.

“We love the neighborhood,” Gordon said. “It’s great. Upshur is getting a makeover and there are a lot of new businesses and young families.”

Gordon added that while it’s not an ideal place to manufacture pickles, they rented 1,500 square feet because of their immediate need for space. “Right now it’s working for us, but we always have our eyes open for the next potential space,” Gordon said.

The duo focuses on craftsmanship and sustainability, working with local farmers and farmers markets like Fresh Farm Markets ( They’re also at Whole Foods stores in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, as well as Harris Teeters and a number of small retailers. They also sell their products at local restaurants. For pickle-obsessed family members not in the D.C. area, Gordy’s ships nationwide.

Gordon and Fain also have a deal with Nordstrom as part of their “Pop-In” series. Until April 17, “Pop-In: Eats” is going on at Nordstrom Tysons Corner. Gordy’s and other foods will be available. Additional Nordstrom “Pop-In” series cities include Chicago, Seattle and Dallas.

If you visit Gordon and Fain’s website, there are delicious recipes created by the two, as well as some they collaborated on with other recipe magicians like Julia Turshen, who co-wrote “It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look and Feel Great” with Gwyneth Paltrow. Turshen created the “Kinda Korean Chicken” dish on their site (

As far as plans for their own book, Gordon seemed to have a “never say never” attitude.

“We really love pickles!” said Gordon, talking about her love of having a warm-weather vegetable all year round. “We love the idea of preserving the season.”

The back of Gordon and Fain’s cocktail-brine can has a unique drink recipe concocted by Adam Bernbach of U Street cocktail bar, 2 Birds 1 Stone. We’ve included the recipe here.

One Block Street

1 ½ ounces gin
1 ounce Gordy’s Fine Brine
½ ounce lime juice
¼ ounce rich simple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters

Shake. Strain into a coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel. [gallery ids="102396,122718" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Month: The Year of the Monkey

March 18, 2016

Along with the hope of an early spring from Punxsutawney Phil, February also ushered in the Lunar New Year. 2016 is the Year of the Monkey, which is also my Chinese zodiac sign. In accordance, I have decided this should be a year of celebration, requiring a signature “monkey” cocktail.

Perhaps the best-known tipple with a primate name is the brass monkey, which was made famous, or infamous, by the Beastie Boys song of the same name in the 1980s.

The brass monkey wasn’t necessarily something you would order at a bar; it was a premixed bottled cocktail manufactured by the Heublein Company and sold in retail liquor stores.

A magazine ad from the 1970s tells the story of a World War II spy named H.E. Rasske who frequented a bar called the Brass Monkey in Macau. The bar was named for a brass figurine and its specialty was its self-named cocktail.

While the contents of the drink at the fictional Asian club are unknown, Heublein’s version contained orange juice, dark rum and vodka. Dark rum, when mixed with the orange juice, produced a golden “brassy color.” Variations of this recipe sometimes include triple sec, grapefruit juice, Galliano and gin.

Other chimp cocktails exist. Many of them are sweet creamy concoctions made with bananas (no doubt because of the fruit’s identification as the preferred primate provender).

For example, the mocha monkey, created by Baileys liqueur, is a frozen drink composed of Baileys, vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and fresh banana. A slightly more potent concoction is the cheeky monkey, made with Baileys, crème de cacao and crème de banana.

The funky monkey, marketed by Bacardi, is a similar drink with the substitution of rum and coconut cream for the Baileys.
Absinthe is another common factor in monkey cocktails, perhaps due to the antiquated notion of absinthe making drinkers crazy. In 2012, during the height of the gin craze, Esquire magazine published a recipe for the flying monkey, which contained gin, lime, orange marmalade?and absinthe.

Another gin/absinthe combo is the monkey gland, created in the 1920s at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. According to, its moniker is derived from an archaic surgical technique of grafting monkey testicle tissue into humans. The practice was started by a French doctor, who was convinced that testosterone was the key to a long and healthy life. A precursor to Viagra, perhaps?

I found my signature monkey drink for 2016 in Singapore, where I went to celebrate Chinese New Year. The streets of Chinatown were illuminated with monkeys holding peaches (which symbolize immortality), and people were jammed into restaurants eating spring rolls and whole fish for good fortune.

In Singapore, I discovered Monkey Shoulder, a blended Speyside malt whisky. The name is a reference to a condition that maltmen from the distillery sometimes picked up while working long shifts, turning the barley by hand. Because this tended to cause their turning arm to hang down a bit like a monkey’s, they nicknamed the condition ‘monkey shoulder.’

Straight up, this scotch has a mild taste with hints of nutmeg and honey. The promotional materials claim it tastes like 007 wearing a tuxedo wetsuit. I also tried the ginger monkey, an uncomplicated mixture of scotch, ginger beer and orange. In Chinese culture, displaying and consuming oranges is said to bring wealth and luck (plus the spice of the ginger beer gives this cocktail an Asian twist).

If none of these tipples tickles your fancy, you can still toast the Year of the Monkey by garnishing your drinks with tiny plastic cocktail monkeys — miniature versions of the characters from your childhood game, Barrel of Monkeys. Vanity Fair last year declared the plastic cocktail monkey the “new cocktail umbrella.” [gallery ids="117186,117180" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Month: The Bob Marley

February 18, 2016

Aaaahhhhh! I let out a deep sigh as I leaned back in the cushy, raised lounge chair which served as a barstool at One-Eyed Jack’s, the newest bar-restaurant in Moalboal, a lazy beach town on the west side of Cebu island in the Philippines. I spent the entire day diving, watched a vibrant sunset and now I was eager to enjoy an evening cocktail.

Before I had the chance to talk to a bartender, my eyes were immediately drawn upwards to the drink list scratched onto chalkboards above the bar. Being a spirits writer, my eyes are always on the lookout for a cocktail menu, but this seemed a little too easy to spot. As it turns out, it was. After meeting the owner, Wayne Bruey, I discovered that the menu was specifically positioned to be in direct eye contact with customers lazing about on the comfy chairs. This is my kind of bar, I decided.

While many of the selections were geared towards the “party hardy” crowd, I found a few gems. I quickly found out that the positioning of the recliners and overhead menu was not the only visual trick in this joint. Colorful layered drinks appeared to be their specialty.

Take for example, the reggae-inspired Bob Marley, a tricolored offering that mimicked the hues of the Rastafarian flag. I watched as bartender Jocel Dionaldo carefully layered this creation with red, orange then green. After sipping one of these tipples, it was easy to determine that the red came from grenadine and the yellow was fresh fruit juice. But the green had me perplexed. I detected notes of candied orange and an oaky vanilla vibe, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. The flavor didn’t match any green liqueurs that I was familiar with, plus this drink packed a kick, so I ascertained there was some type of hard liquor.

I soon learned that the jungle-green layer was created from the mahogany color of barrel-aged rum blended with bright blue curacao. Being a rum lover, I was intrigued by the local Philippine rum, Tanduay. Their 5-year dark offering had the typical dark sugary and mature flavor, but it finished with slightly nutty and smoky notes.

Another visual trick was the Shark Bite. On an island catering to divers and famous for its population of whale and thresher sharks, a shark bite may be the last thing a visitor wants to experience, but at Jack’s it was a pleasurable experience.

This drink had an added bit of showmanship. It was forged by inverting a shot glass of vibrant grenadine in a tumbler, then filling the glass to the brim with ocean-blue curacao. For the performance, Wayne carefully removed the inverted shot glass, allowing the grenadine to mingle with the curacao, creating the illusion of blood seeping into the sea.

The other peculiar drink that caught my taste buds was the Duck Fart. I never got a good explanation for the name, but it featured a layered combination of Kahlua, Baileys Irish Cream and Jack Daniels. It had a sweet coffee shop smell but with lingering scents of a whiskey bar. Truly an international effort (Mexico, Ireland and USA), this concoction started off with a strong bourbon smack that was followed by the mellow notes of the coffee and cream liqueurs.

During my weeklong holiday, I managed to make it through the cocktail list, all the while enjoying the local brew, San Miguel. With live music and tasty American comfort food, like chilidogs, tacos and massive plates of fish and chips, One-Eyed Jack’s offers a bit of home for a westerner living (or vacationing) in the Philippines. Wayne hails from Austin, Texas, and he compared the people of Cebu with his crowd from Texas. “Like Austin,” he said, “The locals here love to sing and have fun and enjoy life.” And I certainly found a lot to enjoy at this rustic seashore spot.

The Bob Marley

1 part grenadine (Stirrings or homemade preferred)

1 part orange juice

1 part aged rum (I prefer Flor de Cana) mixed with blue curacao to form a green color

1. Pour the grenadine into the bottom of a narrow liqueur glass.
2. Using a spoon, gently touch the bottom layer and slowly pour the juice over to form the next layer.
3. Repeat the second step using the rum-curacao mixture.

If done correctly, this will form a layered cocktail.
[gallery ids="102383,123360,123365" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Month: Toasting National Margarita Day, Feb. 22

Cinco de Mayo, trips to Mexico, summer, the beach, winter, spring and fall … these are all good occasions to drink a margarita. Obviously, I really don’t need a reason to imbibe one of my favorite (when prepared correctly) cocktails.

There’s something irresistible about the agave tang of good tequila — combined with the tartness of fresh lime, balanced out with a hint of sweetness and finished with the salty smack from the salted rim of my glass.

For those who may be a bit hesitant to sip this classic tipple in the dead of winter, I’m offering an justification that cannot be questioned: Feb. 22 is National Margarita Day.

The margarita — a mixture of tequila, lime and orange liqueur — is an uncomplicated drink. While countless varieties abound (think frozen, flavored and fruited), the basic recipe is an enduring masterwork that continues to stand the test of time.

Mystery surrounds the birth of the margarita and speculation has swirled about its inventor. Perhaps the most credible story is that Carlos “Danny” Herrera invented it at his Tijuana-area restaurant, Rancho La Gloria, around 1938, for one of his customers: part-time actress and showgirl Marjorie King, who was allergic to all hard alcohol other than tequila. He combined the elements of a traditional tequila shot — salt and lime — and turned them into a delightful drink.

When Hererra died in 1992 in San Diego, the Associated Press referred to him as the man “known locally as the man who topped a tequila concoction with salt and called it a Margarita.”

Speaking of showbiz, one story claims the drink was named after actress Rita Hayworth, whose real name was Margarita Cansino, in the 1930s, before she adopted her screen name. As a teenager, she worked as a dancer at the Foreign Club in Tijuana. Another tale alleges that it was invented in honor of singer Peggy (Margaret) Lee in Galveston, Texas.

Another credible contender, according to Smithsonian magazine, is Margarita Sames, a Dallas socialite who claimed she whipped up the drink for friends at her Acapulco vacation home. Among her well-connected guests was Nicky Hilton (Conrad, Jr.), who got the drink added to the bar menu at his dad’s hotel chain.

Whatever story is true, we do know from the oral history of people who drank margaritas that the cocktail was concocted sometime in the 1930s.

The frozen margarita was invented in 1971 when Mexican-American restaurateur Mariano Martinez converted a soft-serve ice cream unit into a frozen margarita machine at his restaurant in Dallas. The original machine is part of the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Rumors aside, National Margarita Day is a superb reason to treat yourself to the perfect combination of sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

Being a cocktail town, D.C. has no shortage of places to celebrate on Feb. 22. Zagat, the food bible, recommends El Chucho in Columbia Heights and José Andrés’s Oyamel Cocina Mexicana in Penn Quarter. Yelp reviewers ranked Tico DC in the U Street corridor as having the number-one margarita, with Georgetown’s El Centro D.F., coming in at number four. Eater DC gives props to Aqua 301 near the Navy Yard.

If you prefer to mix your own, the key thing to remember is that the margarita is a simple drink. There’s no need to get fussy. Just be sure to use fresh lime juice and good liquor.

The Margarita

Recipe from the International Bartenders Association

1.5 ounces Tequila
I enjoy a bold flavor, so I use reposado tequila. If you prefer a milder taste, use silver. Only use 100 percent agave tequila. I like La Certeza or Cazadores.
1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce orange liqueur
I’m fond of Solerno blood orange liqueur, but Cointreau is also a great choice.

Pour the tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur into a shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with crusted salt (optional).