“In general, gin and vermouth is more refreshing in summer months,” said Nick Farrell, a six-year veteran behind the bar, who works at the Iron Gate Restaurant in Dupont Circle. “Cocktails with shrubs in general are great summer drinks as well.”
He added that if clear spirits seem more refreshing, it’s more than just a feeling: it’s the process behind the liquor.
“Clear spirits don’t undergo the oak aging that brown spirits typically undergo,” said Farrell. Oak aging imparts flavors like nutmeg, clove and cinnamon which are associated with the winter. It also imparts tannins, a bitter organic substance, which “can have the opposite effect of acids in cocktails, giving the impression of drying the mouth out as opposed to making it water, creating the perception that the drink is less thirst quenching.”
Farrell said that shrubs are made by tossing fruit with sugar and allowing the mix to sit in a fridge. The sugar extracts juice from the fruit, creating a syrup. By combining that syrup with vinegar, they effectively preserve the fruit and give “it a sharp, acidic kick.” Iron Gate uses the locally made Lindera Farms Honey Vinegar for this process.
Vermouth, a red or white flavored wine with aromatic herbs, which generally comes from France or Italy, and shrubs, are used in one of Farrell’s recommendations on the Iron Gate’s menu.
“But is it organic?” is a cocktail made from a local gin and vermouth, Green Hat and Capitoline, respectively, with strawberry shrubs, making it perfect for the hot summer months. It’ll be a featured cocktail at Iron Gate this summer.
The different herbs and roots give vermouth a “mouth-watering component” making it an aperitif, or a drink that prepares one for a meal.
“Summer is definitely about fresh,” said Michael Barton, a bartender from the Jack Rose Dining Saloon on 18th Street NW. “There’s always a turning point when the weather gets warm and you notice your shaking arm is getting more use than it has been in the past couple of a months.”
For vodka drinkers, Barton said Jack Rose’s Rhu-Barbarella is being brought out this summer. It’s made from Ketel One Vodka, Yellow Chartreuse (a French liqueur), rhubarb juice, lemon, grapefruit and strawberries.
But just because it’s summer, that doesn’t mean the browns are off the shelf. Jack Rose is also offering Sound and Fury, made from Stonewall American Rum, the house’s strawberry bitter, Giffard Banane du Brasil, cream of coconut, Suze (a French brand of bitters) and lime.
For more discerning palates,, Barton recommends the BPD from Jack Rose’s, Dram and Grain bar located in its whiskey cellar. The drink is made from Plymouth gin, house-made bell pepper tonic and lime.
“It’s one of those [drinks] that is a little advanced,” said Barton, “You don’t sell it to a first-time gin drinker.”
Alternatively, for those who want to keep it simple, Farrell said, “vermouth and soda can be a great thirst quencher.”