Photo: courtesy of Dram & Grain

Dram & Grain Makes Happy Hour Debut

If the fictional high school chemistry teacher Walter White from AMC’s Breaking Bad put his talents toward making cocktails instead of methamphetamine, he’d be Andy Bixby. At a cocktail tasting hosted at Dram & Grain in Adams Morgan, Bixby threw around terms like “spherification” to describe how he trapped applewood-smoked cucumber juice in a bubble using calcium chloride. He often spoke of cocktail “molarity” to illustrate the balance of his craft beverages. Bigsby even gets dehydrators and pressure cookers involved when he’s experimenting with new tinctures, spirits and syrups for the cocktail menu. 

I nodded like I knew what he was talking about, recalling chemistry as my worst subject in high school. Had high school chemistry class been directed toward creating fun drinks using the periodic table of elements, maybe I would have paid more attention. 

Bixby is the creative director of beverage at Dram & Grain, the speakeasy-style bar that originated in the secluded basement of the Jack Rose Dining Saloon. He is joined by wine director and cocktail collaborator Morgan Kirchner. After a 15-month hiatus, Dram now lives in a much larger, but still intimate, candlelit space down the street under the team’s newest venture, The Imperial. The bar and restaurant opened in November at the corner of 18th street and Florida avenue. 

Dram & Grain is the bar to go to to find a cocktail you couldn’t possibly conceive of alone and have literally never had in your life. I’m not sure where else you could come across a drink that combines ingredients like miso, cucumber juice and ham fat “pearls.” Or what Bixby calls the “anti-Blood Mary,” a light and clean crowd favorite that includes toasted mustard seed and tomato water garnished with a strawberry salt-covered cherry tomato. 

The former umami-forward cocktail with ham fat beads is called Pearls Before Swine and was inspired by a dish Kirchner had in Copenhagen. 

“My background is in culinary arts so taking those things and putting them into a cocktail glass is like, my obsession,” Kirchner says. Its base is tamaro, one of the three house-made base ingredients. 

Tamaro pulls flavors from tamari, dark miso, shoyu, lemongrass and ginger. Base potions anisette and baked citrus amaro join tamaro in the foreground of Dram’s cocktail menu. “I wanted to show others the power of a quarter of an ounce,” Bixby explains. “I wanted to make the base the star of the show. Showcase the versatility of how that ingredient works.” 

In fact, the cocktail menu is organized by base ingredient, followed by the varying drinks that can be made using it. Currently, all three bases get their chance to shine in three different cocktails each. The menu is designed to show guests how tamaro’s complex flavor profile, for example, works just as well in a vodka-forward martini drink as it does in a tiki-inspired rum one.

Before you make a choice and order a drink, however, the Dram & Grain experience begins on arrival. Every guest is greeted with a “Welcome Punch of the Day.” The current iteration carbonated on draft is a blend of Jamaican rum, PX sherry, black walnut liqueur, red verjus and wine. The rotating draft cocktail serves as a little preview of what imaginative concoctions are to come.

Though such rare and intricate cocktails come at $13-$18 a pop (which isn’t so steep considering the time, science and trial-and-error Bixby and Kirchner put into them), these drinkable creations are about to get a lot more accessible: the bar just launched a happy hour for the very first time.   

Starting this week Monday through Friday between 5-7:30 p.m., you can snag one of those detailed, technical-forward out-of-the-box cocktails for $11.

Shareable snacks of note on the happy hour menu include Carroll’s Clam Dip with crème fraîche, horseradish and sea salt lavash and five other delectable dishes

Dram & Grain offers both reservation and open seating sections, and both tasting menu and a la carte options. The cocktail menu will change every couple of months but remain centered around the three house bases. Reservations can be made through Resy and there is a cozy 24-seat fireplace room available for private events. The bar is open Wednesday through Saturday starting at 5 p.m. For more information, click here.

Dram & Grain: 2001 18th St. NW, DC; 202-299-0334;

The Imperial Gin and Tonic // Photo: Rey Lopez

Behind The Bar with The Imperial’s Andy Bixby

Since its long-awaited opening in November, The Imperial in Adams Morgan has quickly become a destination for cocktail enthusiasts buzzing about the funky ingredients and collection of rare bottles and vintages. Bridging together multiple historic buildings, the highly anticipated three-level concept from Jack Rose owners Bill Thomas and Stephen King has become a multi-floor playground of sorts for beverage director Andy Bixby.

He’s able to let loose in the basement of The Imperial, where neighboring Jack Rose’s cocktail bar Dram & Grain has relocated to provide an outlet for offbeat and unconventional cocktails. The first floor focuses on a cocktail menu that pairs well with the raw bar, seafood and Mid-Atlantic menu offerings.

From building on and elevating base ingredients to presenting innovative cocktails with a new perspective, Bixby is constantly challenging his team to think about the next ingredient, the next recipe and the next concoction. We caught up with him to find out what first-time guests and repeat customers can look forward to at The Imperial this winter.

Andy Bixby // Photo: courtesy of Julep PR

On Tap: It’s been a long road to opening The Imperial. What are you most excited to share with guests now that you’re officially up and running?
Andy Bixby: I think it’s the full space. [Co-owner] Steve [King] has done a ton of work making sure the design is great. [Chef] Russell [Jones] has done an incredible job making sure the food is good. My hope is that I can help to complement and build upon that with cocktails I think are meant to be consumed with food. I’m excited for people to come out and try things that wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing they’d order, [and] to have people’s eyes opened up to new corners of the beverage world.

OT: The food menu is taking more of a role than at sister restaurant and bar Jack Rose. How does the beverage program play into the menu?
AB: I was very excited to take on this program as a sister program to Jack Rose because this allows me to flesh out more of my creativity. It’s always been about the food on this first floor. The beverages were always meant to help elevate and bolster that food program. The Cham-boo! is one of our cocktails featured on the main floor because it is the perfect pairing with the majority of our food. In essence, [it’s] a classic cocktail called the Bamboo. We’re taking that concept, force carbonating the whole thing and turning it into an emulation of how you drink champagne. But [it’s] actually just an elevated form of this cocktail.

The Imperial Gin and Tonic
Bombay Sapphire
House dehydrated grapefruit tonic
Clarified lemon & grapefruit
Juniper salt
Saline & CO2
Garnished with fresh grapefruit, thyme, tarragon & juniper berries

OT: A lot of the focus surrounding The Imperial’s opening has been centered on the rare bottles, vintages and unconventional cocktail ingredients. Talk to me more about the varied selection.
AB: [Bill Thomas] spent the last two years really scouring to curate vintage spirits. The oldest thing we have is a bottle-and-a-half of cognac bottled in 1854. We have turn-of-the-1900s madeira, ports and sherries. We also have 1960s Galliano Amaretto. As far as the real fun ingredients, that’s where the basement comes in. Right now, we have three base ingredients on the menu: a citrus amaro, a tamaro (three different amari blended together and sous-vide with tamari, shoyu, miso, mirin, lemongrass, ginger, sesame seeds [and] dehydrated lime), and an anisette. We can constantly rotate the menu while we keep [those] ingredients and start making new ingredients. The goal is that we can still always produce these drinks, or at least very close facsimiles of them, by the time people start to fall in love with them and want to keep coming back.

OT: The reception has been overwhelmingly positive so far, with lines out the door before the bar is even open. What do you think is behind this buzz and what does that say about the cocktail culture in DC?
AB: The cocktail culture in the city has changed drastically. I’ve been bartending now for almost 11 years and I’ve noticed a significant change in how people are going out and wanting to imbibe. Guests want to be educated [and] learn more. I’ve always focused on bartender-to-guest interaction because I want to make sure that if you have questions, you can have that outlet – somebody that can talk you through with confidence and understanding of what’s going on in the beverage. I think that’s [been] a huge change over the last couple of years.

OT: If you had to select one drink from the menu that you’d recommend to guests, which would you go with?
AB: I think the Cham-boo! is an incredible cocktail that helps bridge [the gap between] people that love cocktails but also those that don’t necessarily want to think about cocktails as much. Our Imperial Gin and Tonic [is] our cornerstone drink to what I want the program to be. It is a Spanish-style gin and tonic served with Bombay Sapphire, our house dehydrated grapefruit tonic and a little bit of juniper salt. The tonic itself has clarified lemon and grapefruit. [It’s] fully carbonated [and] we serve it in a large balloon glass with a grapefruit wheel, thyme and tarragon bunched together [with] juniper berries. I think it’s an aesthetically beautiful cocktail. It’s simple in concept, but we are giving you a gin and tonic that is wildly different from any gin and tonic you’ve had before.

The Imperial: 2001 18th St. NW, DC;

Photo: Deb Lindsay

Crafty Cocktails

It’s not always what’s on the inside that counts, and these craft cocktails are living proof. Whether it be ornately etched glassware, literary inspiration or food accompanying the rims of the glass, these drinks provide something both enjoyable and tasty to imbibers.B

Photo: courtesy of Dirty Habit

Black Oleander at Dirty Habit

The Ingredients: Tanqueray Gin, Bols Genever, acai, blackberry, fromager ash, citrus earl grey foam
The Design: Flowers, foam and fun color – this summer creation from Dirty Habit’s Drew Hairston is a triple threat of delicate design elements rolled into one refreshing drink. Plus, the intricate etching on the glass provide a perfect home to all of its refreshing ingredients. 555 8th St. NW, DC;

Photo: courtesy of Truxton Inn

The BFG at Truxton inn

The Ingredients: Infused Brooklyn gin, cucumber, mint, peppercorn, Q tonic
The Design: Inspired by Roahd Dahl’s book of the same name about a big friendly giant, this drink is served in a goblet that gives you a full view of the peppercorn, herbs and citrus that color this literary cocktail. Plus, you can customize the liquor to mixer ratio by adding your desired amount of Q tonic. 251 Florida Ave. NW, DC;

Photo: courtesy of The Mirror

Classic Daiquiri at The Mirror

The Ingredients: Light rum, fresh lime juice, simple syrup
The Design: Jeff Coles, The Mirror’s co-owner and head barkeep, explains that this classic cocktail is served in a sherbet glass, providing an example of Bohemian crystal from the Checz Republic. The delicate glass adds a twist of elegance to any drinking experience with a style of etching called Queen’s Lace and a beautiful gold rim. 1314 K St. NW, DC;

Photo: courtesy of Bourbon Steak

Fireside Chat at Bourbon Steak

The Ingredients: High West Campfire, English Breakfast Tea, walnut bitters
The Design: This smoky cocktail combination is both indulgent and refreshing, but what really sets it apart is the delivery – expect the drink to be hand-delivered to you tableside in a custom barrel. 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC;

Photo: Deb Lindsay

Bloody Mary + Bloody Maria at El Bebe

The Ingredients: Three Olives vodka (Bloody Mary), Jose Cuervo Especial silver (Bloody Maria), house made bloody mary mix, fresh lime juice, Bebe spicy rim
The Design: El Bebe is launching two variants of the boozy breakfast classic to accompany their new brunch program. While one features tequila and the other vodka, both are served in tall, embossed glasses and flanked by none other than a mini quesadilla. 99 M St. SE, DC, Ste. 120