dc cocktail week

Behind the Bar: Celebrate DC Cocktail Week

Sponsored by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), DC Cocktail Week is coming up Nov. 16 – 22 and that means sweet deals on cocktails for locals. Dozens of DC area bars and restaurants will offer specially priced cocktails and food pairings, and this is your chance to try something new. In preparation for this cool event, we caught up with a few participating bars to get their take. For a full list of participating bars visit www.dccocktailweek.com.

Dane Nakamura of Range

On Tap: What is Range going to be offering for DC Cocktail Week?
Dane Nakamura: The bite that we are going to be doing is bone marrow. So we roast off bone marrow in our wood oven and then it’s served with some pickled vegetables, a golden raisin relish in a housemade pretzel bun. So you are essentially going to get two canoes of bone marrow. Our cocktail is going to be a sage-infused mezcal with a cranberry shrub.  It starts off with some housemade cranberry vinegar, then we add a housemade cranberry syrup that we use with our sodas. We mix them together to make the shrub.

OT: How did you come up with the bite and cocktail combination?
DN: It was a cocktail I had already been thinking about and Chef and I just sat down and collaborated on what we wanted to do. The bar program here, I’d say maybe 65 percent of it, is done in the kitchen first and foremost, so there is always a lot of collaboration happening between the kitchen and the bar based on what produce is going to be available.

OT: Most think of wine pairings with food, how do cocktail pairings differ?
DM: Cocktails work a lot better than wine in a lot of situations because they can evolve constantly and you can adjust the ethanol content to balance what food you choose to make. Whereas wine will hit this kind of threshold when it comes to being able to balance out fattiness, with cocktails, one of the main components of ethanol is the fact that it can balance out fat. So, you can keep on adjusting what you are going to be doing with your cocktail, based off of what your dish is going to be.

OT: Complexity or simplicity with pairing?
DM: I’d say everything is complex in a way, but really, it’s trying to break things down to simple components that are well made and mixing them together to get a complex end result. So even though the bone marrow doesn’t seem to be a very complex dish, there is a lot going on considering that they had to make their own pickles, they had to make their own golden raisin relish. What goes into the cocktail? It’s the same thing. So, we’re making our own syrups, we’re making our own vinegars, we’re doing all those things, so that we can try to highlight the taste of mezcal, highlight the taste of pork.

OT: What are some guidelines for pairing cocktails and food?
DM: With my cocktail pairings and what I like to do is I like to contrast generally, because it’s really going to be one singular dish altogether.

Range: 5335 Wisconsin Ave. NW #201, DC; 202-803-8020; www.voltrange.com

Millian Palma of Jardenea at The Melrose Georgetown Hotel

On Tap: Can you describe how you came up with your cocktail and food pairing?
Millian Palma: The pairing we are offering is a Dr. Brown Plymouth Gibson paired with six Barren Island Raw Oysters with a Pomegranate Shallot Mignonette and Cured Lemon Peel. Dr. Brown is a regular at the bar, so we named it after him, and it is your typical gin martini. We use Plymouth gin, with lots of botanicals and lots of herbs, lemon peels and all those goodies, and a little bit of dry vermouth. Chef and I work closely on cocktails and the menu, and so we thought that was a really great pairing of flavors.

OT: How has the relationship between the bar and kitchen evolved?
MP: In the past, the kitchen and the front of the house had always been separated. But since the rise of craft cocktails in the city, the kitchen and front of house has been getting closer and closer, and that is a tremendous help for both. For example, I spend half of my time in the kitchen. We are seasonally driven, so the first thing I do, when we change the menu, is I see what we are using, what is in season. We go through a whole list of what chef is using in his dishes, so I look at using those ingredients in my drinks as well.

OT: What are you looking forward to with Jardenea’s participation in DC Cocktail Week?
MP: First of all, I’m excited about putting my menu out there and bringing people into the bar. And to show our guests that not only can wine be paired with food, but cocktails too, and explain how and why it works.

OT: Do you find that your patrons are pretty adventurous with cocktails?
MP: Yes and that is what I like about this place. I love working with infusions. We have a bacon infused old fashioned garnished with a piece of bacon dipped in chocolate and people just love it. I think if you make it and its good, people will try it.

OT: Anything you are doing for the fall/winter season that is not yet on the menu or flavors you are experimenting with?
MP: What is not on the menu right now, because it takes about three to four weeks, are barrel aged cocktails. Stay tuned because we have a barrel aged Manhattan and a barrel aged Negroni coming soon.

OT: What foods would you pair with each of those cocktails?
MP: For the Manhattan, your base alcohol is bourbon, so that has a pretty strong base, very complex, so I would go for something like steak, filet mignon, or something a little richer, like a New York Strip with a good marbling. The Negroni has a sweetness to it, so if you have foie gras on the list, I would definitely go for that.

Jardenea: 2430 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-955-6400; www.melrosehoteldc.com

Robert Robinson of Beacon Bar & Grill

On Tap: Describe the cocktail and pairing you are offering at Beacon Bar & Grill.
Robert Robinson: For that week we are going to focus on shrimp and grits, but we are going to revise the traditional dish. Not only are we going to have andouille sausage, we are going to add a chorizo, to give it a little more Mexican spice, a creamy cheese like pepper jack or cheddar and tiger gulf shrimp. You will have your smokiness and your spiciness all-in-one and a little bit of cream in the grits.

OT: What cocktail will you be offering with this bite?
RR: I took an old classic cocktail, the Sazerac, and did a little spin to it. So I’m calling it the BB&G Sazerac, but essentially it’s a Mexican Sazerac. We’re already doing a southern/south of the border kind of theme, so instead of rye, we’re using reposado tequila, bitters and simple syrup. It’s simple, but creative. It touches on the smokiness in the food pairing, what better way to do that then with tequila itself.

OT: When people are looking at cocktails, any rules to follow with pairing?
RR: Contrast is definitely important. How you smell the notes and, if it’s heavy, light, smoky, whether it’s a bourbon, whiskey, or even with vodkas or gins, look for the actual flavors and berries. You mix and match and find out what works best. And sometimes it’s okay to think outside the box.

OT: Do you find that people are getting more adventurous with cocktails?
RR: It depends on what kind of mood they are in. Lately, it’s been more beer and wine, but last November we went through a whole slew of cocktails and people wanting to come in and try different drinks. For example, last year during cocktail week, we had a cocktail with egg white and people LOVED that and they were coming back specifically for it. So as it gets colder people want more of your bourbons and your scotches. In November and December, I feel like it gets more boozy.

OT: What is your favorite drink and food pairing?
RR: You can give me a nice rye Manhattan and some hush puppies. And of course if I do a dirty martini, I’ll pair that with some guacamole.

OT: What are you looking forward to by participating in DC Cocktail Week?
RR: I want people to try the cocktail with the food, not just the cocktail by itself because, I feel like you’re going to miss out on some of the hidden gems, especially the spiciness of it all. So I tell everybody, do the cocktail and the appetizer and then if you like the cocktail that much go back and get it again. But this is made in a way that it complements every part of it, so you won’t feel like you’re missing something.

Beacon Bar & Grill: 1615 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC; 202-872-1126; www.bbgwdc.com


Alex Thompson

Alex is a fan of all things food and sports, as well as a writer. By day she is a nonprofit communications manager, and by night she is searching the District for the best cocktails, whiskey selection and cuisine. Check out her blog at hellofoodgirl.com and follow her on twitter at @sportsfoodalex.