Best Of: Drinks 2011

Photo courtesy of Jenn Larsen
Architectural Ice
courtesy of Jenn Larsen

Another year, another round for the bar. Before launching into the drinks team’s reminisces of 2011, forgive me for doing something I rarely do as a writer – get a little personal. Just imagine you’re a bartender, and I’m pouring out my sob story at last call.

I almost gave up on drinks writing in 2011. After three years, frankly, I was feeling a bit jaded, and then personal set-backs began piling up, cruel jokes galore, making it difficult to stay focused. So I took some trips, detoxed on coconut water, did the “what’s it all about?” cliche. But after my return I was sitting at American Ice Company, as Patrick Owens happily sparked flames off an orange peel and Black Sabbath blared for Metal Night, and it hit me: what the hell am I thinking? I love drinks, I love DC and especially I love these people whose passion it is to create something so ephemeral and magical as a cocktail. Thoughts of sabbatical left my head, and I was back.

Through it all, the fantastic drinks team of We Love DC held it together – Brittany, Fedward, Moses – and now we’re lucky to add Addison to our imbibing crew. Let’s take a look back at our authors’ thoughts on drinks in 2011. And cheers to the bartenders who fill our glasses with craft, care, and a little magic.

Photo courtesy of mosley.brian
DC Brau – The Public in a Tulip Glass – 08-28-11
courtesy of mosley.brian


This has been an amazing year for me – often nutty, sometimes inspiring, always amazing. I have had the opportunity to drink some amazing things, some frankly terrible things I never want to try again (see: the Easter Peep cocktail concoction I tried in April) and most of all have enjoyed some excellent company. It is a pleasure to say that it is hard to select a stand-out for bests of the year.

Having Matt Ficke at the Columbia Room make me a cocktail with Fernet Branca which I actually loved, in spite of being sure for years I could not stand the stuff, was pretty special. It was fascinating to meet Melanie da Trindade-Asher, the maker of Macchu Pisco, at Zengo in October and learn from one of the only young women ever to launch her own spirits brand and talk to her about her impressive success in spreading the gospel of Pisco in the US and Europe. I drank a lot of mescal this year, particularly after Oyamel’s tequila and mescal festival in March, and I loved just about every sip of it, particularly a mezcal Old Fashioned whipped up by Alexandra Bookless at The Passenger, set apart from the standard with grapefruit peel and mole bitters. While the aforementioned Peep drink may be both the silliest and ickiest cocktail I tried this year, the P.O.V. bar at the W Hotel is hard to beat for glamour and I have certainly been delighted by every opportunity I have had to dress up and take in that stunning view of the city – ideally with one of their Dark and Stormys in hand, rather than anything crayon-colored.

Some wonderful new things have come to town this year, including Jack Rose and Blackbyrd, DC Brau and I cannot wait for what 2012 will bring. Of course, at the end of the day, all the best drinks-related memories I have from this year will really be more about the people than what we were imbibing. Whether it was pickle backs at American Ice in August after a magical 9:30 Club show, drinking gin on an H Street stoop late into the early-summer night, or tasty beers at way too many leaving-DC parties, it has all been about loving the people with whom I shared this crazy year. I look forward to another.

Photo courtesy of Kevin H.
Friday Night at The Passenger
courtesy of Kevin H.


My highlight was pretty much the month of May.  I got to go on the town with Dale DeGroff, I used Dan Searing’s new book to make a punch for the Social Chair’s birthday party, and I was part of an epic Tiki Tuesday at the Passenger (beer in a pineapple!).  Outside May, another highlight for me was the Rickey Month party at Jack Rose, and of course, the Repeal Day Ball was a huge success, as it has been every year.  In general this has been a great year for me being welcomed into the cocktail community.  Many of the city’s craft bartenders now recognize me, know my preferences, and steer me towards new, exciting drinks they know I’ll like.  Or even put one of my drinks on the menu themselves!  I’d say it’s been a good year.

Photo courtesy of Fedward Potz
Blackbyrd Warehouse
courtesy of Fedward Potz


Crisis of libation faith aside, I did have a lot of fun in 2011 covering drinks, especially in the spring when I was lucky enough to judge ARTINI at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. It was an incredible night filled with volumes of talent, bartenders mixing up art-inspired cocktails while marble Greek goddesses looked over the columned hall.

I learned about sake while saying goodbye to one of our best photographers, Max Cook, and returned to the Columbia Room for elegant whimsy, perfectly poured by Katie Nelson.  There was an afternoon with the charming Jonathan Fain previewing the menu changes at Saint Ex and Bar Pilar, as the golden sun set over glass after glass. An introduction by Fedward to the simply fantastic drinks of Jeff Faile at Fiola, which resulted in several return visits to indulge in bitter Italian digestifs and one of my favorite drinks of 2011 – the Coventry (Redemption rye, Averna, and Maraschino liqueur, oh my).

As my neighborhood exploded seemingly overnight with activity, bars crowding up more than ever before, I retreated to comfort spots like Dodge City, perched with a cider on the back patio as laughing strangers became accomplices. Or the quirky salon at Rogue24, where a burning bison grass garnish in one of Derek Brown’s fanciful cocktails brought back to memories of nights filled with Balinese incense.

Two moments really stand out in my year of drinks, moments of strong community. When I interviewed Andy Duffy on the challenges and rewards of owning your own bar, there was a chance he wasn’t going to be able to keep Duffy’s open much longer. Three months later, Duffy’s is finally able to keep regular hours. Much love for a simple neighborhood pub. A day at the Maryland Renaissance Festival on the crazy Boomerang Bus filled with industry friends from my favorite bar The Passenger, readers and writers who instantly bonded on a wild ride back in time gave me so much joy. A sunny day filled with mead and good company. That’s what it’s all about.

Photo courtesy of Jenn Larsen
Mai Tai at Jack Rose’s Tiki bar
courtesy of Jenn Larsen


For me, 2011 meant one thing in particular in DC: a beer crafting revival in the District, with local brewery start-ups Chocolate City, DC Brau, Port City, launching or making headway in their nascent months.  And, kudos to the many local establishments that are pouring fresh local beverages from their taps or refrigerators!  My favorite new watering hole is undeniably the cathedral to all things whisky: Jack Rose Dining Saloon — thank you for enriching our neighborhood!

My personal Drinks highlights for 2011 include covering the SAVOR craft beer and food festival in June, and the “Vintage Crystal: A Taste of Wine & Jazz” festival in September, but also includes a shout-out to Brittany’s picks for DC Beer Week 2011 which provided an insightful tour guide to liven up my evenings that week as a spectator!  Looking forward to an amazing 2012, including the International Wine and Food Festival in DC — the first time in memory it won’t be over Presidents Day weekend!

Photo courtesy of Plantains & Kimchi
courtesy of Plantains & Kimchi


Favorite Drinks articles: William Couch’s profile of ChurchKey’s Nahem Simon, and Fedward’s recap of Garrett Peck’s talk about his book on Prohibition in DC.

Best: The bourbon/whiskey resurgence. Ok, so it has never really gone out of style, but I love that booze is back in a big way. There’s not much better than a good bourbon with a couple of ice cubes. Between Bourbon, Jack Rose, Mad Rose Tavern, Irish Whiskey (I’m sure I’m leaving some out here), it is good to see more places offering expanded liquor lines.

Second best: Finally having a stable enough life to become a regular at two local places.

Worst: Bailey’s. Dear god, Bailey’s. Ordering a bourbon on the rocks, and getting a Jack and Coke instead.

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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