Wine & Spirits: The Cocktail Contenders

by WL Author

Try drinks from the five RAMMY-nominated restaurants for a chance to sip your way to the awards. 

By Kelly A. Magyarics

Try the Giallo cocktail at RAMMY-nominated Churchkey. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Garrison)

Cocktails, fried chicken and doughnuts. As I tweeted Monday while on my way to the reception at GBD showcasing this year’s RAMMY-nominated beverage programs, I can’t think of a better combination. Bartenders from four of the five contenders were on hand to mix up drinks that both highlighted their strengths behind the bar, and used products from this year’s awards’ sponsors. And the kitchen team at GBD kept bringing out their addictive fried deliciousness, in the form of chicken tenders, whole pieces, gizzards and (my favorite) chicken bao buns, as well as sides (love the cole slaw), and some sticky sweet doughnuts to top off the event.

This year’s five nominees for “Beverage / Mixology Program of the Year” are Birch & Barley / ChurchKey, Bourbon Steak, EatGoodFood (the team behind Restaurant Eve, TNT, The Majestic, PX, Eamonn’s, Virtue Feed & Grain and Society Fair), Rasika and Room 11.

Duane Sylvestre of Bourbon Steak was stationed right by the front door, offering liquid refreshment in the form of a drink he and fellow mixologist Jamie MacBain dubbed Yard Style. Made with Makers 46 Bourbon, lemon, ginger, pineapple and mint, and served over a mound of crushed ice, this tipple was my overwhelming favorite of the evening. So much so that I returned for a second one before the reception was over—judging from the fact that Sylvestre ran out of ingredients, I wasn’t the only one who was a fan of this sip.

The Monsoon, from Rasika, has hints of spice and wood notes. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Garrison)

Rasika served up a riff on the Dark and Stormy called The Monsoon. Sommelier Paul Ruttimann told me that the base for the drink, Bacardi OakHeart Rum, is like a drier Captain Morgan’s, and besides spice, it also picks up some wood notes from the oak barrels. Rasika’s version of the classic adds Domaine de Canton, Green Chartreuse, ginger syrup and lime. I really liked how the herbal element of the Chartreuse played off the gingery kick from the Canton.

Beer-centric restaurants Birch & Barley and ChurchKey served up not one, but two tipples to showcase their drinks program—a cocktail and a locally brewed saison. The Giallo mixes Plymouth Gin with Strega (an Italian saffron-based liqueur), a housemade shrub and Meyer lemon juice, topped with Campari. The Vespula Mysticus Saison is a collaboration between the company’s upcoming Bluejacket Brewery, and Mystic Brewing Company from Massachusetts. Beer Director Greg Engert told me that rather than enjoying the two beverages as you would with “a shot and then a beer”, the Saison is meant to be sipped first. I really loved the brew—it was bright and citrus-y, yet complex. The cocktail has several of my fave bar ingredients (Plymouth Gin and Campari), but unfortunately it suffered from dilution from setting on the bar too long. It would definitely be worth it to go back and sample it again at the restaurant, though.

To highlight Room 11’s expanded new focus on pastries, coffee and bitter spirits, bartenders created a modern version of the White Russian. They’re Nihilists uses Ciroc Vodka, Bittermen’s New Orleans Coffee Liqueur, chocolate milk, housemade coffee bitters and sea salt. The Bittermen’s also contains chicory, which lends the drink an enticing extra shot of bitterness. This cocktail really is a more serious version of an after dinner drink, and I kept finding myself returning for another sip.

They’re Nihilists is Room 11’s version of a White Russian, and was the editor’s favorite beverage of the evening. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Garrison)

Not able to make the reception on Monday, Todd Thrasher has created The Sweetest Thing (named for the U2 song,) with Russian Standard Vodka, mint syrup and ginger beer; you can sample the drink at Thrasher’s TNT Bar in Arlington.

From now until June 20, anyone who purchases a RAMMY cocktail from any of the five nominated spots will be eligible to win two tickets to the gala on June 23–just upload a picture of each of the drinks to the RAMMY’s Facebook page ( A winner will be chosen at random on June 20.

The 31st annual RAMMY Gala will be held on Sunday, June 23, 2013 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. This year’s theme is “Restaurants in Bloom,” and will honor the outstanding chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers, bartenders and industry professionals in the Washington, D.C. food scene. Tickets are $225 for RAMW members and $300 for non-members, and may be purchased online, by email or by calling 202.331.5990.

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 Twitter @kmagyarics.


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