So there was big news in the DC cocktail world recently – our very own Columbia Room, sort of DC’s de-facto flagship, won Best American Cocktail Bar at the Spirits Award last month! With DC’s sports teams failing in often spectacular fashion to bring home a title for over two decades, this is a welcome victory. Now, I’ve lazily boozed at the Punch Garden on several evenings and strolled into the Spirits Library before (although my memories of that are…hazy) but, to my everlasting shame, I’ve never peaked behind the door and visited the Tasting Room.
But when I heard Jackson Cannon, maestro of Boston’s newly-christened “Best Hotel Bar in America” The Hawthorne (which I enjoyed visiting two years ago) was in town to celebrate the Daiquiri, I knew it was time to end the drought. I’ve been drawn more and more to Daiquiris lately – their consistent, hard-hitting citrus taste is approachable and a reliable crowd pleaser. Plus, they’re ridiculously easy to mix up for thirsty party guests at a summer soiree.
Upon entry, the Tasting Room is everything you want it to be – intimate and elegant, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the splendid mosaic along the wall which celebrates spirits and our cocktail forefathers. Gorgeous through and through, the room drips with class and early 20th century Capitol charm, setting the tone for a sumptuous and joyous evening.
But an ornate mosaic does not a cocktail bar make – on to the drinks! Our first was the Hawthorne’s house Daiquiri with Bank 5 rum, lime, rich syrup, and Peychaud’s bitter. Nothing special here, just a gosh-darn solid Daiquiri with perfect balance and a crisp citrus break that follows perfectly on the rum burn. I could drink these all day. While sipping, we were treated to a roving lecture on the Daiquiri’s history, from its invention by the American engineer Jennings Cox in 1902 to its export to the Army Navy Club in 1909.
Our next drink was an ode to both DC and Daquiri history, the “Flower Pot Punch” with Bank 5 rum, agricole, lime, lemon, pineapple syrup, and grenadine. The drink was the brainchild of legendary DC bartender Dick Francis, who plied his trade in the 19th century at Hancock’s bar on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was definitely a little wilder and ragged around the edges than its stately ancestor, with an up-sugar taste and heavier citrus tang all around. I can see why this was such a hit – imagine the more sedate 19th century palate doused with this rush of tropical sugar!
It’s one thing to read or hear booze history, it’s another thing to drink it straight. For our next drink, we sampled a very old rum, a 1950 Bacardi Superior. Upon quaffing, I was surprised by the evenness of it – I suppose I was braced for some sort of ragged taste, as if age robs rum of its smoothness. But it was not so – the Bacardi was incredibly powerful but went down nice (just sip slowly, you’ll burn yourself if you’re not careful). The decades did nothing to dilute that hit and buzz, that’s for sure.
Our final exposition was a comparison of sorts, with a Daiquiri made with the 1950 Bacardi Superior and a modern variant for contrast. Mr. Cannon addressed those who might blanche at the idea of mixing aged (and expensive) rum into a cocktail – just do it, you deserve it! I was swayed by this argument. With sugar and lime, the Bacardi Superior Daiquiri was raw and extremely forward, just a riotous collision of strong rum and lighter citrus. Even a cocktail newbie could note the difference between this powerhouse and it’s more refined, smoother ancestor. It was a fun way to end a wonderful evening at the one-of-a-kind Tasting Room! Cannot wait to get back.