21 November 2017
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Drinking for Foodies

Early demographics show that readers of this blog:

  • Have eaten foie gras
  • Prefer their pizza not come from a microwave or Big Slice if they are not inebriated
  • Can recognize Bobby Flay and possibly all of his significant sous-chefs by sight
  • Generally do not order steak well done with ketchup
  • Know the difference between truffles and trifles
  • Wondered which truffle I was talking about

However, many might be unsure of how to savor drinks in the same way as they savor a great meal. It is generally easy to find a great meal. It seems every major media outlet has a list of the Top 20 in a given city. We can follow professional critics, our friends, our parents, our coworkers, and even the Food Network to learn about food. We learn to describe it from these resources. We try and learn to cook at home. We’ve been eating all our lives, we know what we like, and have learned to eat well with a lot of help and experience.

We had three bars at my college, the worst of which was the only one that I could get into at 19. When I realized they didn’t have Sambuca or Drambuie behind the bar (what Dad drank), I did what everyone else did – ordered a Miller Lite. When I actually was 21, I continued to follow the crowd with light beers, rail and coke, and even the occasional vodka and tonic when I was feeling sophisticated. When I went off to work, the Miller Lite became Amstel and the rails at least got names, because that is what my new workaday crowd drank. I couldn’t tell the difference, and never even thought about it. If you are anything like me, you spent a lot of years drinking poorly. In this blog, I hope to help you find that drinking can be just as interesting and tasty (and yes, we will still enjoy the other benefits) as great food.

There are many great bars in the area whose mission is craft-bartending, which takes the best parts of our slow food movement, and applies them to drinks. A great place to start is to visit any of the great bartenders that are part of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild: http://www.dccraftbartendersguild.org/members.html. These people will serve as far better guides to the world of drinking than our fraternity brothers and sisters, older siblings, or career mentors ever did. Try telling them a flavor or food that you like as a guide, and see what they come up with. If you don’t mind spending, the two best for my money are the reservation-recommended PX (in Alexandria) and The Columbia Room (Convention Center area). The bars at these two are set up to give you access to the bartenders so that they can get to know you and help you find drinks that fit you and your tastes. Now that is refreshing.

To start the new year off with some simple drinks to try at home or sitting at a bar (well before close), see below. All are classic drinks that you can order without feeling like you just fell off the set of the movie Sex in the City or Roadhouse. Sadly, this will not work if the bar has a TV at every seat, waitresses in orange pants, or an Irish name but no real Irish beers.

If you normally drink a Captain and Ginger:

Moscow Mule
This one is a great vehicle to add booze to very flavorful ginger beers. Better bars will have Blenheim, Barritt, Reed’s, Goslings or something else that you can find only at Whole Foods. These all make an interesting Moscow Mule. Combine 1.5 oz of your favorite vodka and 4 to 5 ounces of ginger beer in a glass filled to the brim with ice. Garnish with a lime wedge. Extra credit if you, or they, put it in a copper mug.

If you normally have a Cosmopolitan, ask for a Champagne Cocktail:

Champagne Cocktail
Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne flute and add three to five dashes of bitters (preferably Angostura), fill slowly with Champagne. Garnish with a lemon peel.

If you normally drink Rum and Coke or Bourbon and Coke:

Old Fashioned
Add a teaspoon of sugar, two dashes of Angostura bitters, a splash of water (or club soda) and an orange wedge, and mash with a spoon or muddler in a short and sturdy glass. Add two ounces of some interesting bourbon or even aged rum (inquire of price first – these can get pricey), ice, and additional water/club soda to taste. Garnish with an orange and cherry if they are not neon red. After a while, you might decide that you prefer just drinking the spirits on their own with a big hunk of ice or neat, but this is a great way to soften any brown spirit you want to try.

If you normally have a Vodka and Tonic or a Vodka and Soda:

My favorite summer drink. The portions may be modified to your tastes, but start with this. Combine 1 oz each of Campari, Gin, and Sweet Vermouth in a short and sturdy glass over ice. Don’t overthink the gin or the red vermouth – try a number of different styles. Stir vigorously. Garnish with a lemon peel or orange peel. If they light the orange peel on fire before adding, you are in a good place. Watch this video if you want to do that at home; it is easy.

If you normally drink Red Bull and Vodka:

Don’t. Seriously, any of the choices above would be better. If you like the spiciness and the kick in the pants it gives you, try a Moscow Mule and chase with a second.

Enjoy trying some new drinks!

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