Wine & Spirits: Josh Berner Q&A

The mixologist at Ripple dishes on fatwashing, wine promotions and citrus-y holiday sips.

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mixes up one of his innovative creations at Cleveland Park’s Ripple. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Parker)

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to sit down with Josh Berner to taste through and chat about his drinks program at Ripple. I was especially intrigued by his innovative use of fatwashing. For those unfamiliar with this bar technique, it typically involves adding rendered duck or bacon fat to a spirit, mingling the two together for a time, and then freezing the bottle to skim off the fat. The solids are gone but the flavor remains. This technique has been around for several years, but what’s interesting at Ripple is that Berner is moving beyond the typical animal fats, using ingredients like sesame oil and olive oil. I love his United Colors of Basilton, which combines olive oil-washed vodka with white wine, Green Chartreuse and purple basil; the oil lends a smooth texture and a hint of flavor to the savory sip. I asked Berner what’s shaking right now, and what he has planned in the coming months, behind the stick at Ripple:

Washington Life: What trends, techniques and/or ingredients excite you behind the bar right now?
Josh Berner
: I love bitters and I’m happy to see more and more popping up in cocktails—especially ones like Amaro, Chinato and Quinquina. Fernet Branca is the trendy thing for bartenders to drink these days, so it’s inevitable that type of bitter flavor ends up in cocktails, too.

WL: You are doing a lot of cool stuff with fat-washing, beyond the typical bacon/animal fats. Talk a bit about the inspiration for using ingredients like sesame oil and olive oil in infusions. What do they add to the texture of a cocktail, and with what ingredients do they readily mix?
JB
: Fat-washing isn’t a new technique. It has been around for four or five years, but everything I’ve seen has been with animal fats. As far as I can tell, few, if any, other bartenders are fat-washing with vegetable fats. Years ago, I had the idea for a cocktail that tasted like a Caprese Salad, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. Even my mentor wasn’t sure how to get olive oil into a drink without it separating. It took me awhile, but I finally it figured out. The oils not only give a nice flavor to a drink, but add a kind of rich creaminess to the texture as well.

WL: Your ongoing cocktail classes are popular with newbies and budding home cocktailians alike. What has surprised you the most so far about the attendees? What classes do you have planned for the future?
JB
: I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m so impressed with how (excuse the pun) thirsty for knowledge the people who attend my classes are. Every time, I get a lot of good questions, and I’ve had to think about cocktails in new ways. It’s been a learning experience for me too. In January, I plan on talking about sparkling cocktails. Then in February, I’ll be teaching a class on date-night cocktails, the perfect gift for that man in your life who likes to drink the classics.

[Ripple’s next cocktail class is Saturday, December 8, from 3:30 to 5 PM. The theme is holiday cocktails, and guests will taste three of Berner’s ideas, including Gingerbread Punch, the Sidecar and Eat The Lemon, along with enjoying bar snacks. The cost is $45, all inclusive; reserve by emailing josh@rippledc.com, or calling 202.244.7995.]

WL: Ripple’s current Fall of Rhône wine promotion features the lower acid, fuller-bodied whites and reds from France’s Rhone region. What are a few of your favorites on the list right now, and with which of Chef Cox’s dishes do you like to pair them?
JB
: I really like the Domaine Gramenon “les Laurentides” Côtes du Rhône,which is 100% Grenache and biodynamic, alongside the spiced leg of venison with salted beet stems, apple tahini, crispy ham, and cumin yogurt. I also enjoy Donkey & Goat Roussanne, a very fun wine that is made in the style of a red wine (known as an orange wine) with extended skin contact which makes the richer and more orange color, paired with the Nantucket Bay scallop ceviche with juniper vinegar, malted celeriac, grated turnip, and spruce.

[In their Fall of Rhône promotion, Ripple is currently offering about 17 whites and reds from France’s Rhône Valley, available by the glass or bottle.]

Berner will be offering the Obama Slamma around Inauguration. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Parker)

WL: What type of kitchen/bar collaboration do you have with Chef?
JB
: Normally when I’m working, I’m the expert, but I spend a ton of time at Ripple making syrups, purees, bitters, reductions, etc. Consequently, I get hours and hours in Logan’s kitchen where he is the expert, and I try to make the most of that opportunity. Logan is absolutely great about helping me think through flavor profiles to come up with clever and unique combinations. He’s also been so generous about teaching me new techniques, so I feel comfortable making sous vide ingredients, for instance, and some molecular gastronomy. Plus his food is so good, it has inspired some of my cocktails. The Chili Manteca y Dulce was straight up inspired by the bacon roasted pecans that are a staple on the Ripple menu.

WL: What’s next for you? What do you plan on adding to the menu in the coming months?
JB: I’m constantly finding new flavors and new people that inspire me to make drinks. Next month, I’m making a cocktail for the inauguration. It’s a twist on that cliche of a drink: the Alabama Slammer. I’m calling it the Slamma, mixing ingredients that come from Chicago and Hawaii, the same places as the President. It’s Lion’s Pride Organic Spelt Whiskey, macadamia nut orgeat, house-made Peachcello, lemon juice and orange-Campari air. I’m also going to work on a second iteration of my house-made Amaro. My first try last year turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself. I’d like to try to improve the recipe, but it takes months of maceration and then needs time to rest, so we won’t know how it turns out until sometime next summer

WL: Can you share the recipe for one of your cocktails currently on the list that would be good for home bartenders to make and serve at a holiday cocktail party?
JB: Eat the Lemon is a great drink for holiday parties. First of all, it’s a sparkling cocktail, and anything bubbly is good at a party. I also like it, because it’s simple, and although it has winter flavor, it’s not heavy like eggnog or mulled wine.

Eat the Lemon
Recipe Courtesy of Josh Berner, Bar Manager, Ripple, Washington, D.C.
The candied lemon peel is a sweet-tart treat at the end of the drink; the lemon-infused simple syrup that results from making them can be used in other cocktails.

1 ounce Charbay Meyer Lemon Vodka (or another citrus vodka of your choice)
½ ounce Crème de Menthe (Berner uses Tempus Fugit)
Few dashes peach bitters
Sparkling wine
Candied lemon peel, for garnish

Add vodka, crème de menthe and peach bitters to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled Champagne flute, and garnish with the candied lemon peel.

For the candied lemon peel:
Slice an unpeeled lemon into very thin wheels (a mandoline works best). Simmer the lemon slices in 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar for about a half hour, until the fruit is translucent. Remove the lemon slices from the syrup, put them on a tray and let them cool in the refrigerator.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter @kmagyarics.

 

 

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