Behind the Bar: September 2016
September 3, 2016 @ 12:00am
September marks the return of Bourbon Heritage Month, the perfect time to imbibe the popular spirit at bourbon bars around the city. On Tap got the inside scoop on what’s new in the local bourbon scene, and details about some of the best bourbon cocktails to try this month.
Head Bartender, Bourbon Steak
On Tap: What sets bourbon apart from other popular spirits?
Torrence Swain: The subtle to extreme nuances from one bourbon to the next based on mash bill, the different barrels that are used for aging, the philosophy behind the distillation, the history and the tradition. The family history is tied directly to what’s in that bottle – generations of building a brand.
OT: Why does bourbon remain at the forefront of DC’s spirits scene?
TS: Our drink culture is evolving, and our palates are expanded and asking for more because of where the food culture is moving. Our chefs are asking us to be very adventurous, and the cocktail culture is following suit. What’s more American and what’s more tied to our traditions as Americans than bourbon?
OT: What bourbon cocktails will Bourbon Steak offer this fall?
TS: We’re pushing to do a lot more collaborations with our local distilleries, so you’ll see a few signature barrels from One Eight Distilling, [including] a house Manhattan with a One Eight specialty barrel. Not only are we going to be releasing a fall cocktail menu, we’ll be celebrating Bourbon Heritage Month as well with special cocktails.
OT: What bourbon on the menu do you consider a must-have?
TS: Bulleit – I touch that bottle more than I touch any other bottle. We also owe a lot to our purveyors that provide us with rare bourbons like Van Winkle and things from the Sazerac Company like [W.L.] Weller.
OT: What offering on the drink menu can’t be found anywhere else in the city?
TS: Our collaborations with the distilleries. You can’t go anywhere else to get them, and they’re not sold in stores. You literally have to come see us to have them.
Bourbon Steak: Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC;www.bourbonsteakdc.com
Wisconsin Avenue Jones
Angel’s Envy bourbon
Smacked mint leaves
A copious amount of Angostura bitters
Chris von Rinteln, or JVR at work
Bar Manager, Smoke & Barrel
On Tap: What’s new at Smoke & Barrel this fall?
JVR: Fall means the year’s release of the Pappy Van Winkle line (and the younger Van Winkle expressions). It’s never certain what we’ll get, but so long as my favorite 12-year stays in stock, I’ll be happy.
OT: If a bourbon newbie walks up to the bar, what do you recommend?
JVR: Typically, I’ll ask the guest questions: What have you had that you’ve liked? Are you into richer flavors, smoky things, fruit, etc.? But if I’m recommending blind, I’d go with a bourbon like Elijah Craig or Elmer T. Lee – something that showcases traditional bourbon flavors to provide a base for exploration.
OT: Walk me through a few noteworthy bourbon-focused cocktails on the menu.
JVR: We’ve had the Gold Rush on the menu for some time now – basically a honeyed bourbon sour – that’s just too simple and tasty to take off yet. I’ve always had a thing for our Lion’s Paw, which is a shortcut shrub version of the old Lion’s Tail cocktail.
OT: How often do you switch up the menu?
JVR: We make changes roughly every three months. I also try to keep an eye out for really good local and craft distillates. Small distillers are putting out better whiskey all the time now.
OT: Which dishes do you think best complement your bourbon offerings?
JVR: Our basic BBQ sauces are Kansas City-style sweet, spiced and rich – so that makes for a very natural bourbon pairing. The curveball here would be our fried pickles or the bar-b-cubano. American oak, which must be used to age bourbon, throws off a lot of dill flavor. It makes bourbon a great partner with pickles.
Smoke & Barrel: 2471 18th St. NW, DC; www.smokeandbarreldc.com
House sweet vermouth
Orange peel garnish
Lead Bartender, The Next Whisky Bar
On Tap: What brought you to The Watergate Hotel’s brand new whiskey bar?
Ashok Tamang: My love of a good whiskey, adventure and the chance to work with such talent were reasons that brought me to The Watergate Hotel. The Next Whisky Bar is a place where travelers from around the globe come to taste their favorite whiskeys, and it’s my pleasure to serve them.
OT: What role do you play in selecting the spirits served at the bar?
AT: We’ve been able to present a bar unique to DC that has a little something for everyone. From Maker’s Mark to Pappy Van Winkle, Johnnie Walker Black to an extremely rare Macallan M series, Jim Beam Rye to WhistlePig Old World Rye, I think we are one of the most diverse whiskey bars in the country.
OT: Walk me through your bourbon selection.
AT: We offer a wide range of bourbon at The Next Whisky Bar from Angel’s Envy, Hillrock Solera, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark to extremely rare selections including the Pappy Van Winkle collection – 10, 12, 15 and 23 years old.
OT: What are a few of your favorite bourbons on the menu?
AT: I personally like John J. Bowman or Woodford Reserve on our hand-hewn ice. If it’s for a special occasion, I would pick one of our favorite Pappy Van Winkles, 23 years old. To me, this is heaven in a cup.
OT: Will the bar do anything special to celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month?
AT: We feature a “soup of the day,” which is literally just whiskey in a glass. We learn about and taste a different whiskey every day of the week, and then feature this for the same price daily. In September, look for all bourbons and some special offerings.
Angel’s Envy bourbon