Young and Hungry

Cocktail Guess: ‘Make me a tequila cocktail with no citrus or peel’

Location: Big Bear Cafe, 1700 1st St. NW
Bartender response: “You know almost everything has citrus in it, right?”
What we got: Tequila with cherry juice and ginger beer
How it tasted: Sharp, spicy and refreshing
Price: $7
Improv points (1-5): 3. Cherry is a stone fruit, not citrus. Our bartender earns a point for simply knowing the difference. Still, the cherry functions similarly, adding tartness and sweetness; add another point. And considering how limited the bar is at Big Bear, the concoction seems all the more innovative.

Location: El Centro D.F., 1819 14th St. NW
Bartender response: “I can do this. Just give me a minute.”
What we got: Muddled fresh strawberries and mint with agave, strawberry purée, and tequila blanco.
How it tasted: Fresh and not too sweet, sort of like a grown-up strawberry margarita.
Price: $10
Improv points (1-5): 4. Strawberry is also not citrus. Score 1 for El C. We also liked the agave as a natural alternative to simple syrup, and the fruity purée added body. Add another point for graciously using rail spirits instead of slipping in some super-pricey top-shelf tequila (the place has hundreds of them).

Location: Oyamel, 401 7th St. NW
Bartender response: “Tequila cocktails are usually citrusy or boozy. So, you want boozy?”
What we got: A Riviera, tequila anejo with Pernod bitters and Bénédictine
How it tasted: Like tequila. The bitters brought some smoke, but in no way tamped down the anejo.
Price: $14
Improv points (1-5): 1. The monasterial Bénédictine turns this shot-worthy hooch into easy sipping material. But we’re just two weeks into this column and bartenders we’ve challenged have already invoked its herbal essences twice. Either this is the liqueur of the moment, or we have to stop going out dressed like monks.

Logo by Brooke Hatfield

  • JHP

    Is the point of this column to dish silly snark on some of DC's best bartenders and cocktail bars? How is the bartender at Oyamel supposed to know that some other bartender in some other bar at some other time happened to make a cocktail with Bénédictine for this writer in response to a completely different custom cocktail request, and that somehow, because of that, said writer would then dish out the snark?

    The craft bartenders of DC deserve much more respect and much more useful feedback than "Cherry is a stone fruit, not citrus. Our bartender earns a point for simply knowing the difference" and "Strawberry is also not citrus. Score 1 for El C."

    It's too bad, too, that the authors chose this particular request as their vehicle for snark splatter. Non-sour tequila cocktails are a relatively new part of the cocktail consciousness, and one of my favorite. Many incorporate non-citrus fruits, as in a couple of the drinks cited above (see Charles H. Baker's _The Gentleman's Companion_ for an early example of this sort of thing called "Tequila por mi amante").

    Craft bartenders are also combining tequila with amari and sweet vermouths (both bianco and rosso styles). In many cocktails, an appropriate agave spirit (tequila or mezcal) works in much the same way aromatically as a malt whisky (peated, in the case of mezcal).

    I like the concept of reporting what DC's craft bartenders whip up in response to interesting requests. But using it for sarcasm drops the ball and wastes an interesting opportunity.

  • JHP

    Just to add one more thing...all three of those drinks sound delicious.

  • Alex Baca

    @JHP, the drink was delicious. But it was too funny—and, we felt, deserving of some snark—that only a week before, we had been served a liquor-and—Bénédictine drink in response to a different prompt. Bénédictine is a fantastic liqueur, as we noted, and clearly of the moment. We're having fun with it.

  • JHP

    That doesn't explain the "1" rating. Also, what are "Pernod bitters"? I know what Pernod is, and smoky, it ain't. So presumably, the drink had both Pernod and some kind of bitters. What kind?

    Also, which tequilas did each of these drinks use? Even within a single tequila classification, styles can run from earthy and mineral to fleshy and fruity to sweet and vanilla-heavy. Ginger beers also have a wide stylistic spectrum.

  • Mike

    Something tells me JHP is the bartender at Oyamel or an alcoholic

  • Kev29

    I'm not too fussed with the slights to Oyamel's bartenders because they've always seemed a bit douchey to me.

  • The Gusano

    What is the point of these columns? The main thing that jumps out to me after reading it the last two weeks is that the authors appear to be two liqour loving dingbats who know little about cocktails. This week you praise the barkeep at El Centro for giving you muddled (out-of-season) strawberries in a concoction that tasted like a "grown-up strawberry margarita"?!?! Impressive...

    Last week the authors ask some barkeeps to make "something classically old fashioned, but not a classic old fashioned" and remarked that a gin drink response "switched up the type of spirit" LOL. Helloooo, gin is a classic spirit and was consistent with the authors request. The classic old fashioned could contain any number of spirits (gin, brandy), bourbon is not exclusive to the drink. And know this about the Monte Carlo cocktail, it is a Manhattan variant (so you two basically got the same drink twice). And very much like the Manhattan, it is not the same drink without bitters

    Instead of ceasing going out dressed as monks the two authors should stop this embarrassment.

  • Jane

    I'm glad I'm not the only person who finds this a little condescending (and uninformed). If you are genuinely impressed that a bartender knows the difference between citrus and stone fruits, yo have no business judging anything.

    As another person mentioned, you gave a 1 to a drink because somebody else had made a similar drink sometime else. That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

  • 2ozCoupe

    I find the whole premise of this column confusing at best. You go in, ask one question, then harshly judge bartenders? Talking to a bartender ought to be a more than one question experience. If you don't answer more than one, you are going to get something safe, or not to your taste, or not able to meet your expectations. Bartenders are more like your priest or your doctor than your significant other: you need to be honest and open or it won't work. That being said, if your bartender asks you a follow-up question that you refuse to answer, it will be begrudgingly because he or she knows you won't be happy with anything that gets made.

    Glad you bloggers got an expense account to get some drinks, sorry about how you're using it. If the editors want to kick that my way, I promise not to resort to cheap snark.

  • LE

    I love this column. Bartenders should like the challenge. It has to get old doing the same drinks over and over. My only suggestion is that you try Restaurant Eve or Px. It would be interesting to see what Todd Thrasher and his staff could do (no, I am not affiliated in any way with either place of any of the Armstrongs' empire, just like good bars).

  • Christina in NOMA

    I agree with JHP. This "experiment" seems unnecessarily harsh and snarky. Why not show a little respect for someone who is gracious enough to create you something off-menu?

  • JHP

    @LE: I love the idea for the column. The format provides an innovative path from which to do some good reporting. Then uses that path as a pretense to dish irrelevant snark.

  • Randy

    Call me old fashioned, but give me a nice diabetes inducing margarita mix any day.