As D.C. takes on the latest trend in cocktails, 12 local mixologists come together to show off their signature concoctions, inspired by artwork at the Corcoran Gallery
In my opinion, there are few things better than the crop of couture cocktails sprouting up around D.C. bars and restaurants by way of the mixology phenomenon. Gone are the days when you are banished to choosing between a $10 Rum and Coke or Screwdriver; local restaurants and bars are utilizing their talents to whip up imaginative cocktails using only the freshest ingredients and most unique flavors. If you have ever been to speakeasy PX in Old Town Alexandria, you may have noticed a list of ‘house rules’, my favorite being “If you want to stay in our good graces, don’t order a vodka tonic”. At the Passenger Bar in Mount Vernon Square, it isn’t uncommon to walk in and have a discussion about your tastes with one of the knowledgeable bartenders in order to receive a tailor made drink to your liking. As the mixology trend grabs hold in D.C., the Corcoran Gallery celebrated by fusing art and the art of the cocktail (and truly,what better lovechild could there be?) into a month long event called Artini.
Artini was a celebration that centered around 12 local D.C. mixologists who each derived inspiration for a signature cocktail from a piece of art in the Corcoran’s permanent collection. The final Artini event was held Saturday, March 27th, 2010 at the Corcoran Gallery. This is the second event I have attended at the Corcoran and it is a truly stunning event space. High-ceilings, marble staircases and of course the impressive art collection allow for an air of sophistication; however the space is small enough to feel cozy and social. Each mixologist had his or her own station with the ingredients of their signature cocktails on display. Admittedly, I wasn’t necessarily familiar with all of the ingredients listed (Who knew that basil infused gin existed? Has anyone else had absinthe laced cotton candy?), but the combination each catered to a certain set of taste buds; there were light, fruity drinks; thicker, richer drinks and everything in between.
My personal favorite came from Vannara Amnathvong’s of J&G Steakhouse. Her “Take on the Dark and Stormy” was inspired by Charles Daubigny’s, Sunset on the River. I am not crazy about ginger but the faint twinge of ginger beer was not at all overwhelming and the light carbonation the beer provided was crisp and refreshing; I kept imagining myself sipping it in the late afternoon on a humid summer day with thunderclouds rolling in the distance. I was, however, sorely outnumbered apparently, as the voters on Washingtonian’s poll overwhelmingly chose the cinnamon vodka infused “Number 9” from POV’s Justin Guthrie as their favorite cocktail.
I worried I might actually get too tipsy at the event (I am usually a one martini gal) but the drinks were so delicious, I truly sipped and savored each one, which seemed to be the point. This new mixology trend is simply a return to drinking with a purpose. Drinking should be something that is enjoyed and savored; not guzzled and choked down. While most people try to mask any taste of alcohol from their drinks (sweet white wine served from a box, beer that increasingly tastes like bad water, and both grammatical and culinary abominations such as the Apple-tini) However, a well made cocktail will showcase the spirits in it. The booze is the main show, and it is only enhanced, deepened and extended by the various other ingredients used. It grabs on to you and as you make your way through the drink, the flavors deepen, change, and continue to support the body of the drink. Spirits have been around for a long time and a well made cocktail pays the due respect to its base. Gin was first distilled in a relatively recognizable form in the 1600s and has been in the process of getting better ever since. That is something that should be celebrated, not buried under Tropicana orange juice.
As D.C. continues to forge its name as an “it” city and break down preconceived notions of ho-hum nightlife and a white bread culinary scene, we love to embrace ideas and events like Artini. By showcasing extremely talented locals who are taking a creative approach to their jobs, Artini shows us that the artistic side of D.C. not only exists, but is thriving. And of course, as they said in Mad Men: “Your whole generation, you drink for the wrong reasons. My generation, we drink because it’s good, because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar, because we deserve it. We drink because it’s what men do.” So come on, D.C.- unbutton your breakaway collar, sit back with a slow gin fizz … and enjoy.