Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | June 29, 2009

Mixtape Arsonist

Last night I attended Mixtape Arsonist, a special cocktail session put on by Adam Bernbach. Adam had promised that he’d be doing a number of one-off events after he left Bar Pilar. Rather than a traditional Cocktail Session modeled from BP of a set menu for all guests, Mixtape Arsonist was omakase.  Adam said he had a general idea of six or more cocktails, with at least three lighter tastes and three full sized cocktails. Unfortunately I had a work obligation last night that prevented me from going through a longer sitting, so I asked Adam to keep it on the shorter side.

We started with a delicious light punch that included pisco, honeydew syrup, watermelon and sparkling wine (among other ingredients). I never think to myself, “Gee, I’d really like a nice glass of refreshing and tart punch!” But maybe I should change that. This stuff was great, especially coming in from a hot day in Washington DC.

Next up was a modified classic daiquiri. Instead of simple syrup, Adam made his one cane sugar syrup. And instead of using water to make the syrup, he used watermelon water. It gave the cocktail a slight hint of watermelon flavor to compliment the lime, cane, and rum tastes. The daiquiri and variations on it (the Papa Doble and Derek Brown’s Best Daiquiri Ever to name two in particular) have become one of my favorite cocktails in recent months. This new twist worked really well for me and definitely makes me want to try my making my own watermelon cane syrup.

The next two cocktails Adam made were DC classics. The first was a Bourbon Rickey, made with Willett and key lime juice. The Rickey is another drink that has recently made its way into my regular rotation, especially as weather has gotten hot here in the District. It’s simple, light, and refreshing – made with just a base spirit, lime juice, and club soda.

The second classic DC drink that Adam served was one I’d never heard of before, called the Hong Kong. I was familiar with a Hong Kong Cocktail made with gin, but this version is unique to DC and apparently recently rediscovered by Derek Brown in a turn of the century cocktail book. Here’s the recipe:

Hong Kong

2 parts scotch (Famous Grouse)
1 part dry vermouth (Dolin Dry)
1 part sweet vermouth (Dolin Rouge)
Barspoon of maraschino (Luxardo Maraschino)

Stir and serve in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed lemon peel.

This was a simply phenomenal cocktail. The scotch flavor was far less dominant than I expected. The cocktail actually had a surprisingly similar taste to a Martinez. I loved the flavor – sweet, boozey, clean and clear. It pretty much is exactly the sort of cocktail that I most like to drink.

The other thing that was great about this cocktail is it is one of the few I recall having at one of Adam’s sessions that I could walk home and make for myself. One of the upsides of going to an event with a bartender like Adam is that you can have drinks made with syrups, infusions and other rare ingredients that you can’t expect to normally have at home. That’s not to say that the ingredients are inaccessible to home bartenders, but merely that it takes more time. As I noted above, I could see myself making the watermelon cane syrup – there’s no reason why I can’t. But for the most part, these aren’t things that I have lying around, ready to hand to replicate drinks I’ve had at a cocktail session. The Hong Kong is a big break with that tradition and quite an enjoyable discovery for me.

The final drink of the omakase session was another scotch drink, made with tamarind syrup, tea, and club soda. It was a delicious, complex drink that remained surprisingly light. Characteristic throughout the session was the drinks were light, refreshing, somewhat boozy and lightly sweet.

I’m not sure how many events I’ve been to with Adam Bernbach bartending. Quite a few, to be sure. This session was probably the most enjoyable I can recall. Pretty much everything was accessible, interesting, and very much the sort of drinks that I like. I’m only sorry that I wasn’t able to have it be a longer omakase session, as I’m sure Adam had more great drinks in store. Nonetheless, I can’t complain, as it was just a truly memorable course of tastings all in all.

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