The Jack Rose Project Part 2: The Saloon

Long the centerpiece of the DC spirits world, Jack Rose offers an impossibly classy scebe and over a dozen strong cocktails.

Ambiance: ****1/2

Decor: ****1/2

Service: ****

Cocktails: ****1/2

Overall Rating: 4.5

Pondering ways to celebrate the New Year, I thought a return trip to the famed DC bar Jack Rose might be a good option (read about my “Part 1” cocktail spree on Jack’s terrace from October).  The bar certainly doesn’t need more positive reviews, but, since I had such a wonderful time touring the dining saloon’s cocktail list, I’ll add to the chorus of love.  In terms of ambiance, Jack’s classic dark hues and veritable national registry of alcohol lend gravitas and an air of seriousness to any night out.  I love that vibe.  Reinforcing the “we’re here to drink with class” feel was the exceptional bar staff who were friendly, welcoming, but also the most efficient group of bartenders I’ve seen in a while.  It’s worth taking a minute here and there to study the behind-the-scenes military operation it takes to keep the bar humming.  Truly impressive.

Oh yes, the drinks — Jack’s impressive list of 15 cocktails is a great mix of daring, diverse, and eclectic ingredients that includes five standouts I especially enjoyed.  I was particularly impressed by several drinks that I loved even though I usually shudder at some of the ingredients.  I started off easy with “Miss Conginiality” (get it?) with Nolet gin, St. Germain, Housemade Lime Cordial, lime, and sparkling.  This was happily gin forward, displaying the floral notes of the Nolet while the lime and elderflower keep it cool and refreshing.  Nothing fancy, just a good gin cocktail to enjoy before dinner.  I kept it smooth with my first standout, the “Politely Assertive” with Aylesbury Duck vodka, Domaine de Canton, Housemade Apple Soda, and Burlesque Bitters.  Smooth and good, I loved how the apple soda clips off against all the other flavors, bringing out some fresh, easy-drinking tastes.  Just a beautiful cocktail.

On to “Late September” with Absolut Elyx Vodka, blackberry thyme syrup, sherry, lemon, and ginger beer.  This was an innocent easy and fruity sipper, the blackberry is definitely the dominant flavor but you pick up a little of the ginger beer zest as you go through.  Nice and simple.  Things got a bit more complicated with the “Spice Girl” with Jalapeno-infused beefeater gin, deep eddy vodka, lillet blanc, sherry, and hellfire bitters.  So good heat on this one especially up front and a rich, syrupy body.  The burn lasts for the entire drink in the back of your mouth, but overall it’s measured.  I also picked up on a great organic taste — I liked this one.

Enough of these gins and vodkas, let’s go whiskey; started the rye list with the “Redenbacher Way” with brown butter infused Wild Turkey bourbon, roasted corn syrup, and salt.  This delivered a very deep, heavy burn that goes on forever with a little sweet, herbal note at the end.  Wasn’t entirely my cup of tea but I respected its power….and my ability to finish it :). I headed out on the all-important “Third Date” with Dickel rye, date syrup, lemon, grapefruit bitters, and Mexican sprite.  I was excited about this one especially with the sprite — this standout was light and poppy with the lemon very pronounced.  The date syrup was also energizing, echoing well off of the rye.  I liked this one a lot, intriguing synthesis of classic “refreshing” ingredients and and “harsher” stronger influences.

My “Bold Plums N Harmony” came up next with Hibiki Harmony, spiced plum syrup (delivered in the knick of time) allspice, and lime.  Standout city here, smooth taste with a great rye and plum sweetness to it.  The flavor stretches into a nice aftertaste that I very much enjoyed.  Never had anything quite like it.  Then we had an “After Dinner Breakfast” with Glenmorangie Lasanta Scotch, Earl Grey Syrup, lemon, and tiki bitters.  A surprisingly wild, scotch kick off the front and a hint of the earl grey as you move into the taste, I thought this was very good.  Lemon heavy as well which does well with the scotch forward, power taste.  Good stuff.

We ended our rye party with the “Fat Harold” with Laphroaig Scotch, Barbadillo Palo Cortado Sherry, Pina Colado Shrub, lime, and Peychauds.  This was a little off to me, with a heavy licorice influence that I didn’t love.  I did like the overall lime and tequila sensation, though; overall, the Harold wasn’t that bad and gets bonus points for its complexity and uniqueness.  Then, I switched over to rum with the “Mass Ave” with Ron Zacapa 23yr rum, amaro, sherry, and Nux Alpina walnut liqueur.  This standout was superb even though I don’t usually like amaro and rum combos.  No matter, the rum and the sherry click so well and the walnut taste jumps in delightfully at the end.  A drink that rose above my expectations.

Things got fluffier with the “Riding Shotgun” with rum, spiced syrup, grenadine, lemon, black walnut bitters, and egg white.  Well-done, very measured, the Shotgun brings a subtle, rummy sweetness smoothed by the egg-white.  The grenadine and lemon lend a mellow sensation to the overall taste that I enjoyed.  Then it was south of the border time as we jumped to tequila with the “Chipilo Cup” with Cimarron tequila, Carpano Antica, aperol, coffee liqueur, hellfire bitters, and Angostura.  This was not a favorite of mine, I enjoyed the tequila burn but felt the coffee liqueur and aperol just don’t gel well, leading to a sort of muddled and abrasive taste.  There are certainly good aspects of the Cup, I did like the coffee taste in the background, but I felt  the overall sensation was too rich, too intense to really enjoy.

The “Code of Silence” came next with mezcal, Anchos Reyes Chile liqueur, oak-smoked maple syrup, and angostura bitters.  I was braced for a stringent and unpleasant taste here but the Code was pretty good, with the mezcal heat leveraged well.  It’s a complicated cocktail worthy of slow contemplation, I spent some time trying to tease out the maple syrup hints.  Nice.  Finally, we switched to Brandy and Cognac with “No Hands” with coffee-infused cognac, Valdespino Palo Cortado Sherry, Campari, and Cocchi di Torino.  This was a super, super standout – again, a drink I’m not inclined to like since I’m not a huge fan of Campari or Cocchi di Torino, but the combination here is wonderful.  The coffee taste, even throughout the drink, is magic and the bitterness is latent and helpfully in the background.  A complex combo of some powerful ingredients, this surprisingly drinkable mix carried the day with me.

Our finale was the silky “New Bugatti” with Coper and King Applebrandy, Carpano Antica, cream, and Angostura.  This relaxing looker is a great way to end an evening, soft and wintery with nice apple and cinnamon notes.  It’s actually included on the dessert menu, which is fitting – would go great with a chocolate treat, I think.  So ended a great time at Jack Rose, I look forward to heading back for some Dram and Grain time!

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