You can smell this cocktail coming. The “Ramp is the Ruse” at Bresca gets its arresting onion odor from house-made white balsamic ramp vinegar and the pickled ramp that garnishes the glass also containing seaweed-infused pisco, Cocchi Americano, and fino sherry.
It’s one of two onion cocktails in D.C. that require an open mind and a willingness to live with offensive breath until you can get your hands on some Listerine.
Bresca’s version utilizes the BMW of bulbs. “These are beautiful hand-foraged ramps—something very valuable—and we wanted to cross-utilize this ingredient between the bar and the kitchen,” says Chef Ryan Ratino. “We are committed to reducing our waste.”
There’s no fooling anyone that the drink contains onions. It smells like onion grass freshly pulled from the earth, and if you don’t finish it before your food comes, it can be a bit distracting. The cocktail’s name, “The Ramp is the Ruse,” has a historical context.
“It’s a throw to the thought that historically, the Gibson may have come about so that teetotalers, who had to attend parties during prohibition, could look like they were drinking martinis,” Ratino explains. “The onion, however, signaled to the bartender that they were drinking water.” A Gibson is a classic martini variation that combines gin and dry vermouth garnished with a cocktail onion.
Since the drink is a $14 commitment, Ratino says he’s trained his staff to make sure customers are aware of the abnormal flavor profile of the drink.
On the other side of the city, Beuchert’s Saloon recently rolled out an onion drink. The “Big Bird’s Address” is made with scallion-infused ginger liqueur, bourbon, lemon juice, and toasted sesame seed honey orgeat. It has the flavor profile of poke.
Here, the strong sesame flavor punches back at the onion element. Bar Director MacKenzie Conway makes the orgeat by toasting white sesame seeds and soaking them in water overnight. Then he blends them and puts them over heat adding honey, vanilla, orange blossom water, and Xanthan gum.
Once MacKenzie knew sesame was going to be the star, he consulted The Flavor Bible, a book that chefs and bartenders swear by for gleaning complimentary flavor combinations. Conway settled on scallions and ginger. “So the question of how to utilize them in a fun yet simple way was answered by simply macerating [the scallions] in the fresh ginger liqueur,” Conway says. “We think it produced a savory cocktail thats intriguing and pleasing to our guests.”
Both Ratino and Conway say they’re embracing the culinary cocktail trend of bars and kitchens sharing ingredients. Cocktail onions are nothing new, but are onion cocktails the next big thing?
“We haven’t found an indication that indicates that onion cocktails are in,” Ratino says. “We are not paying much attention to the trends. We’re mostly having fun with amazing ingredients.”
There are other drinks on the 14th Street NW restaurant’s cocktail menu that enlist veggies as ingredients, like the “Rock the Cash Bak” with bourbon, lime, carrot, and cashew orgeat. “The aim of the bar program is to make cocktails that taste amazing and that pair well with our dishes without overpowering them.”
Bresca, 1906 14th St. NW; (202) 518-7926; brescadc.com
Beuchert’s Saloon, 623 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.; (202) 733-1384; beuchertssaloon.com