drams in dc: the gibson

[by john]

both washington dc and i matured since the last time i visited. in the next few posts, i'll tell how i tried to drink it under the table this month. (i lost.)

for my first drink in dc, i found the unmarked door of the gibson and ordered the stranger on the highway (rye, benedictine, maraschino, absinthe). the buyer's remorse was immediate - because i knew i'd like the new orleans style. and i did - it was delicious. but i didn't come to dc to stay within my comfort zone, so i asked next for something with sherry, an up-and-comer in the the cocktail world, and something i know nothing about.

i asked the bartender (not my original guy) for something with sherry, but he admitted that john (my original guy) was the one playing with it more, and that he'd be back in a bit, having run out to alexandria to pick up ginger essence from px. i thought this was a nice gesture, and when john returned already armed with a pack of ideas and questions, it was hard to contain my smile.

he made a variation on a bamboo (amontillado sherry [lustau], french vermouth, dashes of bitters and absinthe, flamed orange peel). its simplicity let the sherry show its true colors - which are weird. the amontillado starts off with a huge void of flavor, like it's prepping the tongue for the subtle warmth and dry strains of citrus which come later.

we got to talking about the fermentation process, tasting it alone, and then other varieties. apparently amontadillo is the temperamental stepchild compared to its fino and oloroso brothers - it's very dependent on the amount of yeast which forms in the barrels.

after some more back and forth, john remade the bamboo with sweet vermouth for me to try. his intuition was successful - the sweetness started immediately and held my tongue's interest across that would-be void until the dryness came through.


the pleasant bartender interaction was only heightened by the sexy, antiquated speakeasy atmosphere - candles, edison bulbs, dark wood, a leather-topped bar. the menu was fun to read (they sort of assign personalities to cocktails) and well composed, if long - my perpetual criticism, i guess.

however, i would have expected a tighter ship from an establishment of its reputation. the back bar was messy the entire night, a product of the bartenders' experiments on a slow sunday night. (the place must be making bank, because they were making up drinks with full pours of spirits, and only testing the result with a couple sips!) another bit of smugness showed through when the non-john bartender kept jumping the i-got-something-for-you gun: no sooner had i given a hint of what direction i might want to go with a drink, and he'd start collecting bottles without further input. i had to call him back each time so he didn't do something disastrous...like make a drink i'd already had.

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