Tiger Fork's featured "TCM" cocktails involve ingredients used to fight fatigue and boost the immune system, as well as a concoction containing reputed aphrodisiacs. "One of my fears going into this was adverse effects" of mixing herbs with each other as well as alcohol, Fletcher says, but he's been reassured after repeated consultations and tests. "It took weeks" of talking to the Chinese medicine specialist "to figure out what we were going to use," Fletcher explains. "He did the 'Don't do this, use less of this, use more of that.'" The specialist also steered Fletcher to a New York company that sells "organic-certified" plants, barks and ingredients.
Fletcher's final drink list goes beyond medicinal cocktails, however, to include a handful of classic drinks, some of which are well-known in the U.S., such as the Raffles Bar Gin Sling, and some others that might only be familiar to those who have visited Hong Kong, such as the Tai Tam Toddy.
The TCM cocktails may not all cure what ails you — the drink recipes have not been evaluated by the FDA — but they'll make you feel good.
Nathan Road ($14)
"There's a Chinese saying that 'All good medicine is bitter,'" Fletcher says. "I can tell you from research that's pretty accurate." Covering up the medicinal flavors in the seeds, barks and leaves used in the traditional medicines was the most difficult part of coming up with recipes. Nathan's Road was a little easier, since most of its base ingredients are flowers. The detoxifying cocktail actually tastes more like an herbal tea, and is made with mullein flower, English violets, rhodiola, hibiscus and purple basil — the latter of which is also used as a garnish — in addition to bourbon, plum wine and lemon. It's very floral on the nose, but finishes slightly bitter and vegetal.
8 O'Clock Light Show ($14)
The name of this rum cocktail comes from Hong Kong's famous nightly 8 p.m. "Symphony of Light" show, which involves lasers, searchlights and flashing lights on more than 40 buildings on the harbor. "This drink is about energy," Tiger Fork co-owner Greg Algie explains. He's not kidding. The traditional ingredients include kola nut, the caffeine-rich tree nut that gives cola its name; guarana seed, frequently found in energy drinks; ginseng, which boosts energy levels; and astragalus, which is said to fight fatigue. ("It's not like Red Bull," Fletcher swears. "This is all natural.") The combination of yuzu and mandarin orange gives the cocktail a bright, fruity flavor, accentuated with the smoldering stick of cinnamon sitting on the glass. While there's also cinnamon in the stimulating syrup, Fletcher says, the garnish "looks good, it makes the bar smell delightful."
Happy Happy ($14)
Telling people that a cocktail is an aphrodisiac is probably the easiest way to get them to order it. And when Fletcher has been getting friends together to taste cocktails in progress, the Happy Happy "has been the most popular," he says with a grin. The base of this drink is baijiu, a clear Chinese grain spirit that falls somewhere between moonshine and vodka. Tiger Fork's version uses HKB, a Hong Kong baijiu "made for the express purpose of introducing baijiu to people who aren't familiar with it." The spirit has a funky, cooked pineapple flavor on its own. Fletcher adds a sour cherry soda made with Sichuan peppercorns — yes, they're an aphrodisiac — and a syrup that contains saffron, cardamom, pomegranate, passionflower and other spices.
Tai Tam Toddy ($9)
When Algie and his team went to Hong Kong to do research for Tiger Fork, they found themselves drinking plenty of boiled Coke and lemon, a popular cold remedy that has crossed over to become a local favorite. (Yes, it's essentially warmed-up Coca-Cola with ginger and lemon.) To make the Tai Tam Toddy, Fletcher boils Coca-Cola down to form a concentrate, and then rehydrates it into a syrup, which is then mixed with Greenhook's Old Tom Gin, a New York gin heavy on citrusy spice, and several slices of lemon. Served warm in a double-walled metal vessel that resembles a heavy cocktail shaker, the drink tastes like a smooth, comforting Southern sweet tea, albeit one served at a different temperature.
Tiger Fork, 922 N St. NW (rear).