Whistling Dixie at Southern Efficiency

 A friendly, minimalist bar, Southern Efficiency offers up some adventurous cocktails and simple charm.

Ambiance: ****

Decor: *****

Service: ****

Cocktails: ****

Overall Rating: 4.25

I met Derek Brown months ago when he was doing a pop up at PX in Old Town Alexandria.  The drinks were imaginative and he was very gracious, and that was that.  Later, I mentioned to a cocktail savvy friend that I had met him and they literally grabbed my shoulders with excitement “You met Derek Brown!?”  Obviously, my brush with liquor celebrity hadn’t made much of an impact on me, but this was prior to my falling in love with the cocktail world.  Now, having read more about him including the Imbibe Bartender of the Year article, I’d be a lot more gaga!

So, on a lazy Sunday, I decided to head over to Southern Efficiency, one of Mr. Brown’s bars.  I’d been there once before for the Kentucky Derby.  The small-ish bar was packed at the time with girls in big hats, so drinks were hard to come by – I concentrated on various mint juleps, so I didn’t experience the range of what SE offered.

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But nothing stood in the way this time.  The bar was clear and my mouth was watering.  As a quick aside, I love the minimalist design of the place: communicates the idea that we’re all here to focus on what’s important: alcohol.

I wanted to start light so I went with the “Syllabub Fizz.”  It was a good opening drink – easy, not shallow though, balanced, not overly sweet.  Even light drinks like this have some special, complex heft to them at Southern Efficiency.

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Then I started delving into the harder stuff.  The “Don’t Write Mine Yet” brings Green Hat Spring/Summer Gin, blanc vermouth, Strega, and Elderflower vinegar together in a very satisfying drink.  Cold, unique, and with an almost honeyish open, this one was very full and complex.  Definitely took you to a different place than most gin-based summer sippers, I thought.  Plus it looked real pretty.

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Looking for a harder challenge, I went with “The Cross City Cocktail” featuring white corn whiskey, Bonal, orange amer, xocolatl mole and hopped grapefruit bitters.  I was hesitant when I ordered this, I’m not a huge corn whiskey person and don’t like grapefruit flavors.  I was rewarded for overcoming my fears, however, as the drink is really perfectly balanced; no one flavor dominates and you get a nice, measured flavor echo as the drink goes down.

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Emboldened, I leapt into “Better Red Than Dead” which uses my favorite rye Catoctin Creek, Cheerwine shrub, Cynar, soda, and smoky cherry.  The rye is powerful and leads into a nice smoky conclusion.  I also liked how the soda brought out the cheerwine flavor.  This was a decent drink but didn’t necessarily stand out.

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I loved “Stewarts Orange Cream” (w/ginavit) soda as a kid, so the idea of dousing it with my favorite spirit was just too much.  Super smooth, easy to drink, and the gin mixes right in.  I could see myself downing several of these on a hot Friday evening.

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My trip to SE would not be complete without an old fashioned – in this case, the “Efficient Old Fashioned” with bourbon, honey, Madeira, and bitters.  I’m intrigued by the idea of Madeira and honey together, and this was a great payoff.  I like Old Fashioneds but this took it to a whole new level, lending a bit of a bounce to the usual smoke and burn.  It also looks beautiful, behold:

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It was a relaxing self-guided cocktail seminar at Southern Efficiency.  The bare-bone surroundings helped me focus on the flavors and admire the artistry behind many of the drinks.  I’d really like to head back there with a friend or two to discuss and mull over some of the more complex combinations.  Next time!

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