Wine & Spirits: Liquid RAMMY Winners

by WL Author

D.C.’s annual culinary awards gala not only celebrates the best in food, but wine and beverages too. And lucky guests got to sample all the luscious libations.

The VirGINia is for Lovers Cocktail created by Gina Chersevani and team was just one of the cocktails to sample at the RAMMYs Sunday night. Photo credit Kelly Magyarics.

Washington restaurant insiders gathered Sunday night at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in D.C. for the RAMMY Awards. The annual gala, held by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), celebrates outstanding achievements in the Metro D.C. restaurant and bar scene. (For the complete list of winners, check out the RAMW website.)

Mixologists from the five restaurants nominated for “Best Beverage/Mixology Program” were on hand at beverage stations for guests to sample their nominated libations. Spanish small plates hotspot Estadio took home top honors for its beverage program headed by Adam Bernbach. (I have long been a huge fan of Bernbach’s creative drinks, from his housemade riffs on tonic, to the refreshing frozen Slushitos, and his innovative use of Sherry in cocktails.) His aromatic Día de Descanso cocktail (the name means “Day of Rest’) in Spanish, mixes the green and black tea botanicals in Beefeater 24 Gin with a housemade saffron and grapefruit syrup, lime and sparkling wine, garnished with lime and mint. Since this drink combined so many of my favorite cocktail ingredients, it was a can’t miss sip in my mind–mouth watering, balanced and multi-layered. Accepting the RAMMY award, Bernbach cited the synergy of the team at Estadio as the key to the success of their beverage program, including chef Haidar Karoum, wine director Max Kuller and general manager (and fellow mixologist) Justin Guthrie. He shared a variation of the recipe with me:

Día de Descanso / Haidar’s Day Off
Courtesy of Adam Bernbach, Bar Manager of Estadio and Proof
1 oz. Beefeater 24 gin
1/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. saffron syrup (see Note)
Sparkling wine
Soda water
Orange twist, for garnish
Combine gin, lime and saffron syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake vigorously to chill, and double strain into a chilled Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice. Top with equal parts sparkling wine and soda water, and garnish with an orange twist.
Note: For the Saffron syrup, boil 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, and add a few saffron threads. Steep to taste. Strain out solids and store syrup in the refrigerator.

Greg Engert created a light and refreshing beer-tail for the event. Photo credit Kelly Magyarics.

ChurchKey / Birch & Barley beer director Greg Engert created a fun hop-tail for the event. His Farmhouse Punch used Russian Standard vodka, lemon, grapefruit and peppercorn syrup, served in an absinthe-rinsed glass, topped with Belgian-style Pale Ale Rayon Vert, and garnished with fresh tarragon. The drink was crisp and light, with a touch of appealing bitterness and great aromatics from the fresh herb topper…it was my go-to sip at the end of the evening when everyone hit the dance floor.

Todd Thrasher of EatGoodFood Group ladled out punch bowl cocktail 42 and Cloudy. This 12 ingredient drink mixed Cruzan White Rum, honey vodka, passionfruit vodka, Sazerac rye, Brandy, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, sencha green tea, water, passion fruit juice, fresh lemon juice, Luxardo cherries, topped with Champagne. A laundry list of ingredients that take time to prep, for sure. But as with all punches, the already-tasty and complex creation only gained flavor as it was stirred and served all evening.
Dan Searing of Room 11 also presented a punch. Conquistador Punch was a blend of Sauva Hornitos Tequila, Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce, lime and clementine juices clementine zest syrup and fresh clementines, served over a large ice block. Summery and citrus-y, the drink also picked up attractive hints of cocoa and cinnamon from the sweet Sherry.

Finally, mixologist Duane Sylvestre of Bourbon Steak created The Huntress. This drink used Red Stag Bourbon, a Jim Beam sweet cherry-flavored Bourbon, as well as cold black tea, housemade sarsaparilla syrup and lemon, served in an absinthe-rinsed glass and garnished with a lemon twist.
RAMMY nominees for Best Wine Program” were Adour, Cork Wine Bar, Dino, Marcel’s and Plume. Neighborhood wine bar Cork, owned by Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts, took home the prize for its user friendly wine program. Gross seemed genuinely surprised by the win, and pointed out that a few short years ago, she and Pitts knew nothing of the restaurant business. Being recognized by her peers was a definitely honor, she said.

The third beverage-related RAMMY was for the Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene.” Nominees were The Hamilton, Hill Country Barbecue Market, Mad Fox Brewing Company and Marvin, but Fourteenth Street Corridor lounge Black Jack (located on the second floor above Pearl Dive Oyster Palace), took home the prize. The swanky lounge’s setting, which evokes turn-of-the-century circus with a touch of vaudeville, no doubt brings in guests; the masterful mixology of brothers Ari and Micah Wilder keeps them on their stools.

Guests at the reception prior to the award presentation were treated not only to the nominated cocktails, but to a selection of wines from Chile, and a Chilean Pisco cocktail

Rachel Sergi of Jack Rose mixed up a Pisco Punch with rose, Campari and bitters for the pre-RAMMY Awards reception. Photo credit Kelly Magyarics.

from Rachel Sergi of Jack Rose Dining Saloon–the potently pretty in pink cocktail uses dried rose petals, Campari and Burlesque Bitters. At the dinner reception following the awards, we could sample wines from Australia, Spain and Virginia (locally, Barboursville, Boxwood,  Tarara and Veritas were represented.) I was also digging the VirGINia is for Lovers cocktail created by Gina Chersevani, Stu Ellis and Michael Saccone, which had a healthy dose of locally distilled Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin along with rose water and creme de violette.

I am proud to have been covering D.C.’s beverage scene for about six years, for publications both national and regional. To watch it grow over this time period has been thrilling, and I continue to be impressed with the talent and drinks that are coming out of our fair city. Congratulations and cheers to all nominees and winners! I can’t wait to see what upcoming surprises you have in the shaker, on the wine rack and in the taps.

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

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