When I inaugurated the We Love Drinks feature back in September 2008, I really didn’t give it much thought to start with, honestly. We founding writers were tossing around feature ideas, and I said, “hey, what about drinks? I go out a fair amount.” That simple. It began mostly with bar reviews, with some coffee and tea thrown in for good measure.
But that slowly started to change when I realized there were people passionate about drinks culture in the city – not just nightlife and where to go to get wasted (not that I was writing about that! those days are over, darlings, good-bye jello shots!). It was a humbling experience to discover what a neophyte I was – when I got caught in the crossfire of a discussion on how to make your own bitters, for example, or the first time someone asked me whether I preferred green or yellow Chartreuse. Certainly the vast world of wine was still a mystery despite the wine barexplosion, and don’t even get me started about my beer ineptitude.
So why I am admitting this to you? Because these days I’m all about humility. I may be opinionated, but I’m still eager to learn and am constantly excited about the many different possibilities in our city of drinks. Respect for the taste and the balance of a proper cocktail, diving into the vast world of wine and beer, and most importantly understanding your own tolerance – that’s been my experience in 2009. Here are a few key moments that helped me on this continuing journey. Continue reading →
Jason Robey, New Heights. Photo courtesy of Pfau Communications.
We Love Drinks continues our series where we look behind the bar, profiling the many people – from mixologists to bartenders, sommeliers to publicans – who make your drinks experience happen.
Charred rosemary? Curried pumpkin seeds? Beet juice? Not to mention the bubbling pots behind the bar… what’s going on here?
You might think you were in some mad scientist’s laboratory, except that the guy torching a “lollipop” of tightly wound orange peel is actually extremely laid-back. This is Jason Robey, mixologist at New Heights, a native of southern Maryland back in DC by way of New York and North Carolina. His return is thanks to the recession, and that may be the best thing the economic downturn has done for our city. His drinks have just the proper blend of alcohol and aesthetics, with only as much flash as is absolutely necessary.
Jason strikes me as a perfectionist, but without any uptight vibe. His bar preparation set-up takes two hours. His infusions take anywhere from one to two weeks. There’s an evident amount of care and dedication that goes into the background work before your glass even hits the bar. Not afraid to experiment, Jason still manages to maintain a very practical style in what is after all a warm and inviting bar.
And like the best bartenders, he has a self-deprecating wit. I’m beginning to think that’s part of the job description. He was planning a cocktail riff on the classic Maryland crab boil the night I visited. It took a minute to realize he wasn’t actually joking. If anyone could pull that one off, it would be Jason.
“You know how I think of all these drinks?” he asks.
"Gin Flight, New Heights" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr
The first spirit I ever tasted was gin. It was that obligatory illicit shot from your parents’ liquor cabinet, the “hmm, what’s this all about?” experimentation. And – UGH – that first sip was enough to put me off “Mother’s Ruin” for life. For years afterwards the smell would provoke an instant reaction of, well, ick.
It’s unfortunate, really, as gin’s complexity is overlooked by many like me whose introduction was less than ideal. But this lady with a past (I love the old Hogarth engravings of depraved Gin Lane in the 1700’s) is beloved by mixologists and enjoying a revival.
Case in point – New Heights restaurant has turned their downstairs bar into a gin joint, complete with a “Gin Manifesto” menu and gin flights.
Wait, flights of gin? I just about fainted dead away when Rebecca first alerted us to this. In order to make it through a tasting without a PTSD attack, I needed back-up. It wasn’t hard to convince a gin-swilling friend – let’s call him Hogarth – to come along and help me get over the psychological trauma of my childhood sip, and enjoy a historic cocktail along the way.