Five super summer sippers for the season.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
When I started making a list of my favorite summer beverages, I noticed that many of them began with the letter “S.” Coincidence? Maybe. Either way, Washington bars and restaurants have lots of options to quench your thirst in June, July and August.
Sherry is complex and multi-layered, but because it’s technically a wine, it’s much lower in alcohol than any spirit, making it perfect for summer’s heat. Spain’s fortified wine export reigns supreme at Mockingbird Hill, the new bar in Shaw that opened (of course) on May 26, World Sherry Day. Run by Derek Brown of Columbia Room and The Passenger, and his wife Chantal Tseng (former long-standing bartender at The Tabard Inn, and Sherry and tea aficionado), their new undertaking boasts 50 bottles of Sherry, in styles from light and dry Fino to unctuous and rich PX. Newbies will be happy to find that Brown and head bartender Tseng (who have several trips to Jerez under their belt, the region in Spain where Sherry is produced) are well-versed in the stuff and quick to assist the curious. In warm weather, try a dry Fino or Manzanilla, which Tseng calls “her spirit drink,” likening the flavors to the “stuff of dreams”: fresh apples, chamomile, lemongrass, lemon zest and seaspray. Iced tea lovers should order the PX Sweet Tea, with Pedro Xemenez Sherry, iced tea, fruit in season and mint, served over ice. “It’s simple yet complex because the ingredients have so much to offer already,” she says.
Suds (with a Wine Slant)
The lime, grapefruit, minerals and acid of a crisp, well-chilled Sauvignon Blanc is a no-brainer during the summer months. But hey, sometimes a frosty mug of beer works just as well. Fortunately, now you don’t have to choose. Last week, new restaurant The Red Hen tapped its first keg of “Sailing the Seas of Lees,” a limited release draft beer made in partnership with DC Brau Brewing Company and Virginia’s Linden Vineyards. Sebastian Zutant, Red Hen co-owner and beverage director, collaborated with friends Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock of DC Brau on this farmhouse ale, aged for six weeks in oak barrels provided by Linden Vineyards’ winemaker Jim Law. What’s especially interesting is that the beer was aged over Law’s Sauvignon Blanc lees, the dead yeast cells left after fermentation, which add body, complexity and flavor. The end product is a juicy, citrus-forward Saison with a minerality like a cider or dry white wine. I tried it during a recent dinner at Red Hen, and it was flat-out tangy and delicious. You can get “Sailing the Seas of Lees” for $7 per glass at The Red Hen until all eight sixtels of it are gone. If you miss it, the restaurant and brewery are already planning another one as part of an ongoing collaborative relationship with Linden.
Different house-made versions of tonic infused with botanicals, herbs and spices make a G&T (or V&T or Tequila & Tonic) infinitely more fun and decidedly more quaffable in the summer. José Andrés’ modern Mexican restaurant Oyamel recently underwent a design revamp which includes a festive new bar. The wrap-around bar features white acrylic countertops, booth seating around the space, and sheer delicate screens projecting dream-like sequences. What better place to enjoy one of the effervescent elixirs on the “José Loves Tonic!” menu. The Mexicana combines Death’s Door Gin, St. Germain and Q-Tonic, topped with cilantro, epazota, orange peel and micro-marigolds. The Jamaica mixes Gran Centenario Rosangel hibiscus-infused Reposado Tequila with a house-made hibiscus and ginger tonic, garnished with orange and mint. The Naranja infuses Tequila with ginger and 30 spices, topped with a house-made sour orange and epazote tonic, served over lime ice. Ahhhh … I needed that.
There is perhaps no better example of a wine so highly influenced by its terroir than Santorini’s signature varietal. Grown on the iconic Greek island in soil that’s primarily volcanic ash from the cataclysmic eruption that happened around 3,600 years ago during the time of the Minoan civilization, Assyrtiko also picks up a tangy saltiness from the surrounding sea breezes. The resulting white wine is full-bodied yet bone dry, with mouthwatering acidity, overt minerality and an enticing line of salinity. In short, the perfect wine for raw oysters or a clambake. (I can wax poetically about this wine all day. Full disclosure: I had the opportunity to visit last summer, and it was a most magical place. The wine also paired deliciously with the acidity in dishes made with the island’s local tomatoes.) But had I never gone, this is still my kind of wine. But where to find it? Mike Isabella’s upcoming Greek restaurant Kapnos will have a wine list chock full of options from Greece, including Assyrtiko. If you are seeking it out in your local wine store, look for producers Gavalas and Sigalas.
Mix a beer with a soft drink, lemonade, ginger beer or ale or apple juice, and you get the thirst-quenching, goes-down-way-too-easily beverage the Shandy. Shandies work well in summer because their icy cold refreshment is meant to be drunk, rather than sipped. (FYI: In Britain, where Shandies are super popular, “lemonade” refers to a Sprite-like soda, not the lemon, sugar, water concoction we make across the pond.) You can pretty much ask for this anywhere that serves both beer and decent soft drinks (I’m partial to fizzy lemonade or ginger beer). Whisky bar Jack Rose Dining Saloon also has a great one right now, albeit higher in proof since it includes Bourbon (yum). The Bardstown Shandy pairs Heaven Hill Bourbon with pilsner, lemon and rosemary ginger syrup.