Fire and Spice-Cognac: a Distilled Wine

February 1, 2013

Some people, around this time of year, may have the idyllic vision of themselves sitting in a high back chair by a fire, a cashmere throw over their lap, snow falling outside, and a snifter of fine cognac in their hand. But what is cognac? And why do we sip it?

Cognac is distilled white wine made in Cognac, France. The wine is made from ugni blanc grapes. It is a thin and highly acidic wine, but when distilled, it is perfect for making brandy. This brandy is distilled again in the Cognac region and “cognac” is born. Just remember: Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac.

Cocktail of the Week, Pisco

November 6, 2012

Superfluous holidays such as Sweetest Day, National Grandparents Day and Boss’s Day are often referred to as “Hallmark Holidays,” because many believe they exist primarily for commercial reasons such as increasing the sales of greeting cards and not to truly appreciate significant people. There are other celebrations that seem downright silly, such as International Pancake Day (Feb. 21), National High Five Day (April 19) and Talk Like A Pirate Day (Sept. 19).

In the country of Peru, there is one holiday that may appear excessive at first, but is truly a celebration of national pride. This is National Pisco Day, which is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in July.

Pisco, which is considered a symbol of Peruvian nationality, is a type of grape brandy or Aguardiente, distilled from Muscat grapes. Pisco is produced and exported from both Peru and Chile, and both countries claim to be the original producers. It has become a fierce source of contention between the two nations. According to, the Spanish conquistadores brought grape vines to South America in order to make wine for their own consumption and export. Distilling Pisco was an easy way to use leftover grapes that were undesirable for wine making.

The patriotic spirit surrounding National Pisco Day is amplified because the holiday falls very close to Peruvian Independence Day, celebrated on July 28, often with a toast of pisco.

I was fortunate enough to be in Cusco, Peru, to take part in the festivities for both holidays. To kick off the merriment, I was given a shot of Pisco from Lizardo Valderrama Gilt, my host in whose home I was staying. The shot had a strong and powerful grape nose to it, but it went down surprisingly smooth. Its dominate flavor was grape with notes of earthiness, spice and tart fruit with a clean and bracing finish.

To further explore this spirit, I met up with my newly minted friends, Suzanne Harle and Sabrina for a few rounds of cocktailing. We started off with the most popular Pisco tipple, the Pisco Sour, a mixture of Pisco, lemon, bitters, a sweetener and an egg white. We headed to the Crown, a second-story restaurant with a gorgeous view of the Plaza Des Armas for their two-for-one happy hour. The egg white gives this cocktail a smooth, full body while tart lemon citrus flavor is a nice compliment to the woody pisco. So good that it is hard to detect the amount of alcohol in the drink. That may explain why we left the bar wearing balloon hats.
Our second stop was the upscale Limo, one the most highly-regarded restaurants in Cusco, which boasts a three-page menu of creative pisco cocktails. Just watching the scene behind the bar proved to be entertaining, with men squeezing, pureeing, muddling, and juicing fresh ingredients.

We sampled three concoctions, one forged from eucalyptus, another from lemongrass and one made with tumba fruit. The tumba is a relative of the maracuya fruit, which is commonly eaten in Peru. The eucalyptus had a cool soothing effect, while the lemongrass mixture was refreshing and uplifting. The tumba had an exotic tropical flavor similar to passion fruit but with a little more punch.

The evening continued with more flavorful cocktails, including a fresh strawberry concoction, one blended with Peru’s potent coco leaves and a South American version of the classic Negroni with pisco substituted for the gin. The evening was capped off with a night of salsa dancing to burn off all the excess alcohol.

If you cannot make it to Peru and would like to try pisco in Washington, I recommend whipping up a few Pisco sours at home. Most liquor store will carry at least one brand of Peruvian Pisco, such as Porton, or Macchu Pisco. This classic tipple is a great way to try this interesting and versatile liquor. If you would like to try something more exotic, Las Canteras in Adams Morgan has a full menu of delicious pisco cocktails.

The Pisco Sour

Place 4 cups ice cubes
1 cup pisco
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup white sugar
1 egg white
A dash of angostura bitters

Blend on high speed until finely pureed. Pour into two glasses and garnish with an additional dash of bitters.


When I was invited in mid-June to have lunch with the CEO of the renowned California winery, Silver Oak, I was all for it. He was in town for the Silver Oak Tower Tour and would be celebrating the winery’s 40th Anniversary with some customer events. The opportunity to taste David Duncan’s cult-status Cabernets along with some steaks from Morton’s is the stuff that red wine fans—and meat eaters—dream of. But, when the temperatures in D.C. began to rise and the appointed day’s temperature hit the high 90s, my resolve to tuck into steak and wine over lunch started to waiver.

When I arrived at the restaurant and was shown to the table, I was immediately confused by the series of glasses at each of our place settings. I quickly assumed that David and I were going to be doing a vertical tasting of his cabs. Vertical tastings are when several vintages of the same wine are tasted in succession. But I soon learned, and happily so, that we would not be just tasting cabs. David explained that we would be tasting wines from Silver Oaks’ California sister winery, Twomey Cellars. Twomey is named after his father’s family and produces wines other than California cabs at separate vineyards and wineries.

We order a Caesar salad to split, tuna tartar and shrimp cocktail. Having both succumbed to the heat outside, we opted out of having heavy steaks.

The first wine we started with was the Sauvignon Blanc. I loved hearing the story behind the only white wine in Twomey’s portfolio. Apparently, all the women in the family told the men who made the wine that they were tired of always drinking red wine and the next new wine introduced better be a white. Well, apparently the men behind Twomey are smart and quickly came up with this offering.

I was so surprised by this wine. I expected it to be mundane coming from a Cabernet maker, but it was full of citrus fruit flavors that burst in the mouth. It was vibrant yet comforting. The comfort comes from “typicality” like Karen McNeil talks about in The Wine Bible. This wine has the typicality of a California Sauvignon Blanc and that is comforting. It also has the complexity that I know is there when I taste a wine because it makes me say “Hmm…” It compelled me to take another sip, and another and another. It went beautifully with my shrimp cocktail.

We then moved on to the 2007 Twomey Merlot. First off, I noticed the dark berry color of this wine. It looked like a jewel in the glass. It was very food friendly and it went perfectly with tuna tartar. Expressing classic dark berry and cooked dark berry flavors, it did not disappoint as a Napa merlot. It showed complexity but not too much tannin.

Next on the tasting list was the 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. This wine was austere with definite floral notes. If you enjoy classic French style pinot noir, this is your wine. The wine is aged in French barrels, which helps this pinot achieve most of its character. Of all the wines, it seemed out of place in Twomey’s line up though. All the other wines were fruit forward and this was not.

After the pinot noir we moved on to the Big Boys— Silver Oak cabernets!

The 2007 Silver Oak Anderson Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was poured. Upon tasting this wine one understands the reason for its cult following. It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in barrel and then bottle for a total of 15 to 16 months. It is amazingly food-friendly and luscious. It reminded me of berry cobbler.

Last on our tasting tour was the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This vintage is 90% Cabernet
Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot round out the cabernet sauvignon and give the wine suppleness and finesse. Luscious black fruits and chocolates flavors characterize this wine. The 2007 Napa Valley Silver Oak Cabernet is a California Cab lover’s Cab.

If you are one of the many fans of Silver Oak that have enjoyed the wines over its forty year legacy, you will be pleased to know that the beautiful quality and lush flavors continue as the winery’s hallmarks with the 2007s. And you will be happy to know that the 2008 will be released early next month. If it is too hot to drink cabs, try some of their sister winery Twomey’s offerings. There is something for everyone and who knows, you might get in on the ground floor of another cult following.

Trending Now: Rosé!

When the weather gets warm my taste for red wine changes (although I am sipping a beautiful La Linda Malbec in this first week of June, as I write this), the wine that satisfies the need for fruit and complexity is Rosé aka “Blush,” “Rosato” in Italy, or “Rosado” in Spain.

What is Rosé

Rosé is a wine style. It is made from the same red wine grapes that make the red wines like zinfandel, pinot noir, syrah, and grenache. The only major difference in rosé vs. red wine is that the grape skins have not had long contact with the juice in the wine making process. Yes, white zinfandel comes from a red wine grape-zinfandel. Thus, rosé can range from very dry, off-dry or sweet.

How do you figure out what style Rosé is for you?

Try them all. But here’s a little tip: try rosé from those regions and red wine grapes you already know and like. If you prefer a particular red wine like Grenache or Syrah, try rosés from Europe made from these grapes. These rosés are a treat for those who like dry or off-dry reds. If you don’t like dry wines, try U. S. based rosés made from grapes produced in the U.S. like pinot noir, zinfandel and merlot. Oh, and terminology: should you use “blush” or “rosé”? They mean the same thing. Leave it to your personal preference. Enjoy!

What to try from area restaurant wine lists?

If are you looking for a wine to bridge the gap between red and white this summer, try some of these found on area wine lists:

Heidi Schrock “Biscaya”. Austria. 2011. This is a beautiful jewel-colored sustainable rosé. It danced and glittered in the glass recently at Ripple in Cleveland Park. It is off-dry and complex. Pair with shrimp, tilapia, chicken piccata or goat cheese at home.

Matello Rosé Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, OR. 2011. This wine has Jolly Rancher’s watermelon candy aroma, but it doesn’t taste like candy. It has wonderful strawberry flavors but it is an off-dry rosé with the only hint of sugar coming from the well pronounced pinot noir fruit. A beautiful, sustainable, wine with nice acidity at the finish. Available at Ripple in Cleveland Park. Pair with vegetarian dishes and grilled summer vegetables.

Baudry-Dutour Cuvee Marie Justine Chinon, France 2010. Cabernet Franc’s rosé has a pink-tawny peach color. Notice the slight herbal flavors that add to its allure. Slight sweetness and wonderful balance. Goes well with oysters. Pair with shrimp salad, white fleshed fish, and mushrooms at home.

Charles & Charles Rose, Columbia Valley, Wash. 2011. A Syrah- based Rosé blended with shiraz. The wine maker’s tasting notes suggest aromas of watermelon, grass, wet stones and citrus. Available on the wine list at Poste Brasserie in Penn Quarter. Pair with fish and chips and pork loin at home.

Jean-Maurice Raffeault Chinon Loir Valley, France, 2011. According to Vinoteca on 11th Street, NW’s wine list, this pale blush Cabernet Franc rose is “tart, funky” with under-ripe raspberry flavors. Well, I didn’t find it funky, but it was spunky with a wonderful minerality. Pair with cheeseburgers.

Dom. de la Courtade ‘L’alycastyre’, Côtes de Provence, France, 2011. This richly colored French rosé is an good example of how refreshing European-style rosés can be. It is made of grenache, tibouren and mourvèdre. Notice the strawberry flavors. It is refreshing as a cool drink of water. On the list at Vinoteca Wine Bar on 11th Street, N.W. Pair with grilled chicken and red snapper at home.

At home, chill and serve your rosé between 40 and 48 degrees, and you will seeing through rosé-colored glasses all summer long. Cheers! ?

Cocktail Of The WeekSeptember 19, 2012

September 20, 2012

Travelers have flocked to Latin America for years as a means of escape. As you head south of the border, the climate heats up, the beaches become more tropical and the party starts a little earlier in the day. In places like Rio de Janeiro, Costa Rica and much of Mexico, the clock always seems to read 5 o?clock.

Many Latin American countries produce their own native liquors, which are as varied as their people. These drinks are a source of pride and nationality. Mexico?s tequila is probably the most well known. In Brazil, the most popular cocktail is the caipirinha, which is forged from cachaca. And anyone who reads my column should be familiar with pisco, after my posts from my Peruvian summer.

Before Peru, I had the luxury of stopping for two weeks in Colombia. The most popular drink there is aguardiente. This local spirit is a somewhat sweet elixir made from sugarcane and flavored with anise. Aguardient is not aged, so it boasts a strong and robust flavor. Aguardiente literally means firewater in Spanish; the name combines the Spanish words for ?water? (agua) and ?fiery? (ardiente).

Arriving in Medellin in June was a delight in itself. When I left D.C. earlier in the day, it was 104 degrees and humid. Medellin, perched in the Andes, is known as the city of everlasting spring due to its pleasant year-round climate, which averages in the mid 70s. Humidity is low, and fresh air rushes in from the surrounding jungle-filled mountains. In addition to its near-perfect weather, Medellin boasts a vibrant art scene, where Fernando Botero is a native. The city also has a thriving nightlife.
Many of the fashionable bars and clubs are located around Lleras Park in the tiny Poblado neighborhood. I quickly find the locals have a very relaxed partying style. While the open-air watering holes that ring the park are filled with partygoers, so is the park itself. Folks gather together on the benches and ledges to enjoy each other?s company while sipping on a tipple. Open containers laws do not apply here.

It is here I get my first taste of the local firewater. As I?m enjoying a beer on a park bench, my seatmates Carla and Roberto eagerly offer me a taste of their aguardiente. The flavor is strong and torrid. It burns and makes me grimace. I am happy to have my beer to chase it. In defense of the aguardiente industry, I don?t believe my first taste was of the highest quality. It came packaged in a box.

I soon realized that aguardiente was a common thread between the people of Medellin, affectionately called paisas. During my visit, I sampled aguardiente in small bars, people?s homes, trendy restaurants and my favorite hangout, Periodista Park. The flavor, after I had the chance to taste some of higher quality brands, grew on me. The same way the licorice taste of ouzo grows on you in Greece.

Aguardiente is generally served straight up neat in a glass. But when I ventured to Cartagena on Colombia?s Caribbean coast, where rum is the preferred beverage, I noticed that it was also used in cocktails.

The most interesting one I indulged in was a variation on the mojito with aguardientes substituted for rum. While at first the idea of anise mixed with lime and mint sounded a bit odd, I must admit that the combination came off as multilayered, refreshing surprise. Somehow the spicy anise balanced itself with the mint, while the lime provided a pleasing tart background.

The most popular brand in Colombia is Aguardiente Antioque?o, which has won several international awards. If you?d like to experience aguardiente for yourself, the most readily available brand in the Washington area is Cristal. Try it straight up, first but if the taste is a little too overwhelming, mix it in a mojito.

*Aguardiente Mojito*

2 oz. aguardiente
8 fresh mint leaves
1/2 lime in wedges
2 tablespoons simple syrup or sugar
Club Soda
Crushed Ice
Sprig of fresh mint

Muddle mint leaves and lime in a glass. Add simple syrup or sugar; top with ice. Add aguardiente; top with club soda. Stir. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Cocktail of the Week: The Vieux Carre

September 13, 2012

The French Quarter of New Orleans conjures up visions of raucous partying, 24-hour fun and all-out craziness. While this can be a great way for the 20-something crowd to blow off some steam, those looking for a more sophisticated and tasteful drinking experience will have to veer a few blocks away from Bourbon Street.

Unlike Washington D.C., New Orleans wears its quirkiness like a badge of honor. A classy bar does not necessarily mean stuffy or uptight. One of my favorite Crescent City spots to grab a drink is the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone.

Tucked away on the corner of Royal and Iberville on the edge of the quarter, the Hotel Monteleone is steeped in history. It has been a preferred haunt of many distinguished southern writers including Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Truman Capote used to brag that he was born at Hotel Monteleone, but the truth of the matter was that Capote’s mother had stayed at the hotel during her pregnancy and was transported to the hospital by hotel staff for the birth.
The Carousel Bar itself is an attraction. The circular 25-seat bar is actually a rotating carousel, which makes a complete revolution approximately every 15 minutes. While I will admit that I’ve felt the room spin after one too many cocktails, I assure you that one drink, alcoholic or not, will do the same for you here.

The carnival-like motif reminds visitors that despite the Monte Leone’s lofty setting and noteworthy past, they’re still in New Orleans, a destination that is able to combine history and fun with a shot of jazz and spice shaken up and served in a martini glass.

Literary beasts aside, this bar has it earned a spot in the cocktail hall of fame. According to the Hotel Monteleone 1938, during the height of the Great Depression, head bartender Walter Bergeron introduced the Vieux Carré Cocktail at the Swan Bar, which was the original bar on site before the Carousel bar was built. The name Vieux Carre translates to “Old Square” the official name of the neighborhood known as the French quarter.

The Vieux Carre is a mixture of rye whiskey, brandy, vermouth and Benedictine and bitters. Its formula closely resembles two other legendary New Orleans tipples, the Sazerac, (which was declared the official cocktail of New Orleans by the state senate in 2008) and the La Louisiana. All three feature homegrown Peychaud bitters as a staple ingredient.

According to the Hotel Monteleone, “It was created as a tribute to the different ethnic groups of the city: The Benedictine and cognac to the French influence, the Sazerac rye as a tribute to the American influence, the sweet vermouth to the Italian, and the bitters as a tribute to the Caribbean. Prohibition had been lifted only a few years earlier as a way of stimulating commerce.”

The rye whiskey combines splendidly with the sweeter ingredients, like the cognac, Benedictine and vermouth, while the addition of two types of bitters, give it a nice spice.

For me, a visit to the Big Easy is not complete without stop here. The bar serves as great meeting spot for locals as well as tourists. During my most recent visit in April, I was flanked on by a group of young professionals enjoying an after-office drink once one side and a professional native drinker on the other. For people watching, the bar has a magnificent big-window view of Royal Street. Because the bar rotates, you’re guaranteed a window seat every quarter hour. The Vieux Carre
Recipe courtesy of the
Hotel Monteleone

¼ oz. Benedictine
¼ oz. Cognac
½ oz. Sazerac Rye
¼ oz. Sweet Vermouth
3 Drops Angostura Bitters
3 Drops Peychaud Bitters
Lemon Twist

Place ingredients over ice in an eight-ounce rocks glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
[gallery ids="100949,130372" nav="thumbs"]

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, 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, 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 or

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

**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 half the rim of your cocktail glass. Mix four ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake.Strain intoglass.