Forward-thinking venues know that guests expect more these days than off-the-shelf wines and spirits. These D.C. spots are raising the bar by heading to distilleries and wineries to select single barrels of spirits and create proprietary wine and Bourbon blends, putting their own stamp on beverage programs and custom labels on bottles! The result? An imbibing experience that’s as unique as the interior design and the culinary philosophy.
Rebellion / Civil Cigar Bar
The teams from both spots (the former a Southern-inspired bar on 18th street with an amazing whiskey selection, the latter a swanky lounge and cigar bar in Chevy Chase Pavilion) are no strangers to offering up proprietary whiskey on their menus. They’ve selected single barrels at FEW Spirits, Four Roses and WhistlePig, and blended a custom barrel at Angel’s Envy. Their latest venture is decidedly more involved, but also infinitely more personalized. The crew, including Rebellion owner Brian Westlye, chef Travis Weiss and beverage director William Scott Jackson, along with Civil owner Matt Krimm, headed to Maker’s Mark Distillery in October to take part in a custom blending session and make their own barrel of Bourbon. The premise is this: all Bourbon must legally be matured in charred white American oak barrels, but it can be finished (i.e. shortly matured) in other kinds of wood. The group began by tasting Bourbon finished with five different kinds of wood staves--ranging in flavor from honey to spice to bitter chocolate. Then, using five different colored and engraved wooden disks (similar to poker chips), each of which represented one variety of stave and 10% of the final blend, they went about mixing, matching and blind tasting until they created a Bourbon they liked. (For the record, the winning spirit is balanced, with a little heat on the mid-palate and a sweetness that’s coaxed out when a little water is added.) The team threaded the staves on a metal ring, placed them in the barrel, sealed it shut, and filled it with their unique recipe. Right now, it’s in one of Maker’s Mark rickhouses, where it’ll finish for nine weeks before being bottled and shipped, with delivery expected in early March, and timed with two launch events. The two bars will share 240 bottles, and guests will be able to sip it neat, on the rocks or with water for $10 an ounce, or mix it into cocktails. The best part? Their recipe belongs to them, and ordering future barrels of their house Bourbon is easy and seamless. “This is something unique, and an opportunity to see the effects of wood on Bourbon,” says Rebellion beverage director William Scott Jackson. “It’s a fascinating process.”