You’ve poured two fingers’ worth of Green Hat Gin (made locally in D.C.’s Ivy City neighborhood) into a vintage tumbler purchased from Salt & Sundry (the home goods store founded in Union Market). Are you really going to mix it with a 99-cent bottle of tonic? “Distillers take such a long time perfecting something that is different from what’s on the market, and you never want to cover that up,” says Nicole Hassoun, bartender at Wisdom and founder of Chronic Tonic, a District-based line of artisanal tonics. “There are plenty of people making mixers locally that let craft liquors shine.” Build a better cocktail with these three D.C.-born mixers, all of which have debuted within the past three months.
$19, available at Glen’s Garden Market,Yes! Organic Market and www.elementshrub.com
Founder Charlie Berkinshaw likes to wait until people taste cocktails mixed with his shrubs before telling them that the No. 1 ingredient is vinegar. “I don’t want them to say, ‘Salad dressing? Why would I want to put salad dressing in a drink?’ ” Luckily, his flavors — like blueberry rosemary and chai pear — are so well-rounded that you’d never be put off. Shrubs, which originated in the 18th century when people mixed vinegar with fruit to preserve it, add complexity to a drink with few ingredients and are healthier than soda: A serving of Element Shrubs has less than 20 calories. Still hesitant? Try Berkinshaw’s simple lemon and basil flavor, which he calls the “gateway shrub.”
$10, available at the Mess Hall pop-up at Union Market and truetonics.com
You may be struck by Tory Pratt’s brightly hued tonic, which is a far cry from the crystal clear variety you see at grocery stores. The main difference is the addition of cinchona bark, a natural source of quinine, both a treatment for malaria and a key ingredient in tonic. To make the all-natural mixer, Pratt combines cinchona bark with water, turmeric, ginger, saffron, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, citric acid, citrus zest and lemon grass and heats the concoction for a few hours before straining. “I’m essentially making a really concentrated tea, and adding simple syrup made with cane sugar,” she says. “It harkens back to what tonic is supposed to be.”
$12-$15, available at Hill’s Kitchen and embittermentdc.com
Though most cocktail recipes call for just a drop or two of bitters, a quality product can make a difference. (Extracts are made in a similar manner, so it’d be like baking with a fancy vanilla extract over a cheapo one.) “We use ingredients like clove, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and fennel seed,” says Eric Kozlik, who launched Embitterment with his buddy Ethan Hall in September. Used as a medicinal cure-all in the Victorian era, bitters have a settling effect due to gentian root, a naturally bitter plant that lends Embitterment’s products their piquant flavors.
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