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Dram & Grain has a new address and is dressed to impress. The cocktail lab that has been pushing boundaries since it debuted in Jack Rose Dining Saloon‘sunderground cellar in 2014 is reopening inside The Imperial on the same block this week. The three-story Adams Morgan dining and drinking jewel has been years in the making.
While the setting is sleeker and the space more generous than the original 19-seat Dram & Grain, the team led by Andy Bixby is as inventive as ever. Consider the bar’s interpretation of a dirty martini. It isn’t vegetarian. “Pearls Before Swine” combines gin, tamaro, fino sherry, cucumber bitters, smoked cucumber pearls, and a few beads of ham fat.
The key ingredient is the tamaro because it speaks to how the Dram & Grain cocktail menu is set up. The word combines tamari, Japanese soy sauce, and amari, the Italian word for bitter herbal liqueurs, and refers to a base elixir that is cross-utilized in a handful of drinks.
Tamaro is made by blending three amari and then using the sous vide cooking method to infuse the alcohol with the flavors of red miso, barrel-aged soy sauce, ginger, lemongrass, and sesame. “We created something that works with a bitter background, but also adds a savory layer,” Bixby explains. “It allows us to get a little bit funkier.”
Created by Dram & Grain bartender and Imperial sommelier Morgan Kirchner, tamaro is also used in a tiki-style drink called “Put the Lime in the Koji-Nut.” It’s mixed with a white rum blend, nigori sake, toasted Coco Lopez, lime, and a togarishi tincture.
The rest of the menu, which will eventually showcase 20 cocktails, is arranged by these base potions and a slate of drinks that can be made using them. The other two are a baked citrus amaro and an anisette. Customers can choose to try a boilermaker of the base ingredients alongside their cocktails.
Bixby’s goals were to move away from cocktails that require a bartender to pick up 12 bottles or create a specialty syrup or soda that is only used in one drink and often goes to waste. “That ingredient might take a week and a half to make or might have crazy preparation costs and you’re using it for one cocktail that may or may not sell,” he explains.
He treats each base ingredient in a similar fashion to how bartenders have been using Aperol and Campari in an arsenal of cocktails for decades. “I’m not saying I have the hubris to think we’re going to beat out Aperol, but let’s look at this style, this side of the picture. The challenge I’m putting on bartenders is how we can create an ingredient that is utilizable across a plane.”
The cocktail menu also has a fourth section of drinks that are the bar’s hits from throughout the years. And cocktails aren’t the only thing to drink at Dram & Grain. Co-owner Bill Thomas spent the past 15 years amassing a collection of rare and vintage spirits, some of which will be available on a menu to sip neat, others the bar will break out for special events. One night the bar could try on a 1910’s theme and only pour spirits from that decade, for example. Be sure to ogle the bottles if you have a seat at the bar.
Dram & Grain will be open with a limited menu of cocktails ($13 to $20) and bar snacks from Thursday, Nov. 7 through Saturday, Nov. 9. The soft opening hours will be Thursday from 5 p.m. to midnight, Friday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. The bar will then close and ready for its grand opening on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Come January, Dram & Grain will introduce a tasting menu experience that will feature five cocktails paired with small bites. The price is still being determined.
See the opening cocktail menu below.
Dram & Grain, 2001 18th St. NW; imperialdc.com
Baked Citrus Amaro
“The bright orange & grapefruit sweetness of Contratto Aperitif is enhanced by the bitterness of Don Ciccio & Figli’s Cinque and the rich baking spice character of Fernet Vallet.”
Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Baked Citrus Amaro,Fortified Cinnamon Roll, Trinity Bitters, Acido, Amere Sauvage
Macallan 12yr, Baked Citrus Amaro, Partner’s Cherry Sweet Vermouth, Acidulated Orange Juice, Gomme
As the Jungle Bird Tai’s
Appleton 12yr, Sagamore Rye, Doctor Bird, Baked Citrus Amaro, Passionfruit,Toasted Pistachio Orgeat, Pineapple Citrus Caramel, Acido
“This savory take on a digestif pulls flavors from tamari, dark miso, shoyu, lemongrass & ginger to showcase a playful balance of bitter, sweet & umami.”
Pearls Before Swine
Bombay Sapphire Gin, Tamaro, Fino Sherry, Cucumber Bitters, Smoked Cucumber Pearls, Ham Fat
Grey Goose, Tamaro, Clarified Ginger Beer, Savory Happiness
Put the Lime in the Koji-Nut
Imperial White Rum Blend, Nigori Sake, Tamaro, Toasted Coco Lopez, Lime, Togarashi TIncture
“A blending of singular infusions including fennel, star anise, pine nuts, and almonds resulting in an approachable spirit for both those who shy away or who embrace the green fairy.”
Milk-washed Branca Menta, Anisette, White Cacao, Cream, Almond Pizzelle
Creole Spiced Rye, Cocchi Dopo Teatro, Benedictine, Anisette, House Barrel Aged Bitters
Anisette CP Fizz
Anisette, Lemon, Gomme, Egg White, Soda, Fennel Lemon Powder
D&G “Constant Classics”
“These cocktails answer the question, ‘what are you known for?’”
Stealing Tomatoes from the Garden of Eden
Absolut Elyx, Strawberry Toasted Mustard Seed Gomme, Fresh Tomato Water, White Port, Lime Juice, Himalayan Pink Sea Salt
Helado de Jerez
PX sherry, Belle Meade Sour Mash, Don Ciccio Carciofo, Don Ciccio Cinque, Vanilla Ice Cream Espuma
Bombay Sapphire, Nigori Jasmine Rice Syrup, Lemon Juice, Yuzu-Cocchi Espuma