DC Bartenders Are Making Spirits Bright With Unexpected And Evocative Seasonal Flavors

By Kelly Magyarics | December 30, 2019 | Food & Drink

Punjab_Grill_GT_T_2VOPU.jpgCocktail gura Luca Giovannini at the Punjab Grill creates a fascinating, cardamom-laced twist on the classic gin and tonic.

Cocktail menus overflow with ingredients you expect this time of year, from cranberry and cinnamon to pomegranate and pear. But they can quickly become as ho-ho-humdrum as being gifted a pair of socks. These mixologists are festively decking your glass with exotic spice pods, a stuffing condiment and even the bracing whiff of a balsam fir. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, indeed.

The Gibson
Cocktail: The Day Goes ($18)

Holiday Ingredient: Pine
Details: “We see and smell pine often during the holiday season, but we rarely consume it,” says Creative Director Julia Ebell. “I wanted to entice some other senses with this drink.” She stirs slivovitz, an Eastern European plum brandy, with Italian vermouth Punt e Mes; she then adds the ginger-and cinnamon-tinged Czech spice liqueur Becherovka and Zirbenz Stone Pine liqueur, an Austrian spirit with jammy flavors and pine-needle sharpness. The sip is garnished with cinnamon. 2009 14th St. NW, 202.232.2156

Quadrant Bar & Lounge
Cocktail: Chestnuts Roasting in the Caribbean ($17)

Holiday Ingredient: Chestnut
Details: Chris Mendenhall believes bourbon and rum have a natural affinity to nuts. So, when the lead mixologist at the bar at the The Ritz-Carlton stumbled upon a chestnut syrup, he knew he had to use it in a libation. He shakes rum, lemon juice, cream, chocolate bitters and a chestnut-vanilla bean syrup, and serves it on the rocks with a port float on top. “The vanilla, chestnut and the port wine add a pop of color,” he says. “The flavors remind me a lot of my mother’s holidaycookies, and this cocktail brings back fond memories.” 1150 22nd St. NW, 202.835.0500

Punjab Grill
Cocktail: GT&T ($13)

Holiday Ingredient: Cardamom
Details: The gin and tonic was first introduced by the army of the British East India Company; cocktail consultant Luca Giovannini’s aromatic riff pairs so well with the northern India flavors of the gilded Penn Quarter hot spot. He flavors Bombay Sapphire gin with lemon grass, ginger root, mango and cardamom pods in a porthole infuser; it’s poured tableside and mixed with tonic crafted with turmeric and citrus. It’s garnished with star fruit and orange peel. “Cardamon is citrusy, minty, spicy and herbal all at the same time,” he says. “It’s highly fragrant, and the aroma almost reminds you of a pine tree.” 427 11th St. NW, 202.813.3004

Photography by: Greg Powers