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Performance Art Cocktails at the New Dram & Grain

[Photos: Dram & Grain]

A smile breaks across the face of Trevor Frye when he begins to describe The Flip. It's a traditional cocktail that is coming soon to the menu at Dram & Grain, a new limited-seating, reservation-only bar, in the basement of Jack Rose.

The reason he's smiling: the drink is stirred with a red-hot, cast iron poker that's about two feet long. The drink is part performance (a blow torch will be used to heat the poker) and part tradition (it's the same technique used since the late-1600s). When the poker is heated, it's dipped into a mix of dark ale, rum, sugar, molasses, and some spices which then turns the drink into a frothy cocktail.

The Flip will be on the menu in March. It's all part of Frye's plan to bring changes to the menu each month, so that no two visits are exactly the same. Along with his partner Nick Lowe, the duo is building a cocktail program that includes long forgotten classics, as well as new and inventive collaborations.

Dram & Grain is only open on Saturdays and resembles other D.C. "speakeasies" that require an advance reservation. In order to book a table or bar seat, patrons must text or call 202-607-1572. There is a two drink minimum and the space seats 60 guests throughout the course of a night. Reservations are taken in 90 minute increments. So far, spots have been filling up fast — most reservations are filled through mid-March, Frye says.

Look for drinks with unique twists, including a few with a housemade spirit that's impossible to buy. The Mother In Law, a classic New Orleans cocktail, uses an orange-flavored French aperitif, Amer Picon. It's not available for sale in the United States, so instead Frye and Lowe figured out a ten week process that allows them to create their own Dram & Grain brand of the spirit.

Another cocktail created by Lowe is the Hoppin Chihuahua. It's a tequila drink with egg white, grapefruit, lemon, and a hop-flavored syrup. It gives the drink a twinge of beer flavor. To finish it off, Lowe floats a sugar candied hop in the center of the foamy drink.

Another early-favorite, the Ode to Omaha, was conceived by Frye after a visit to a buddy's bar in Omaha, Nebraska. The drink funnels hickory smoke into a glass jar filled with Thomas Tew rum, blackberry cinnamon syrup, and Jerry Thomas bitters. The entire process resembles something out of a science experiment. When the drink is served, the smoke and liquor arrive corked inside a glass orb. The fun part is opening and pouring the drink into a whiskey glass with a single ice cube. The fire and ice combo has a smoky bite that lingers on your tongue, and the smoky aftertaste lasts through the final sip.

Prices at Dram & Grain range from $13-$17 per drink. The good news is that most drinks come with a sidecar pour, allowing customers to refresh a cocktail when it nears empty.

Probably one of the biggest surprises: there's a vodka drink on the menu. While the bar is a prolific source for whiskeys, especially those from pre-Prohibition days, Lowe says they wanted to offer something for everyone. The vodka cocktail has a pretty tongue-in-cheek name, it's called "Training Wheels" and combines Aylesbury Duck Vodka with blood orange, ginger, and honey.

A final detail that whiskey nerds will appreciate: the bar serves whiskey on-tap. It wasn't easy or cheap to build, but Frye says the tap lines makes it easier to pour whiskey flights or one-off tastes by the glass. And, they have bragging rights too: it's the only tap system of its kind in D.C.
—Tim Ebner
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Jack Rose Dining Saloon

2007 18th Street Northwest, , DC 20009 (202) 588-7388 Visit Website