Not every cocktail calls for a bartender to sear off two ounces of alligator tail meat from Eastern Market with four ounces of ghee (clarified butter) on medium high heat. “I’m looking for the flavor-intensifying ‘Maillard Reaction’ to occur, which helps to push the complexity of the meat as well as add some umami characteristics,” says Dram & Grain bartender Andy Bixby.
The Adams Morgan basement bar inside Jack Rose Dining Saloon is where you’ll find the “Gator Wrestlin’ & Paddle-Backs” cocktail come Wednesday when the new cocktail menu launches. It contains Green Chartreuse, alligator butter, Don Ciccio & Figli Carciofo, pineapple, tamarind, lime, and Cajun spices.
Crafting the $17 cocktail means incorporating four of the biggest trends in bartending today: Fat-washing, sous-vide, Chartreuse (a bitter French liqueur dating back to 1737), and the blurring of the lines between the kitchen and the bar. The “Maillard Reaction” Bixby mentioned is a chemical reaction between amino acids that’s responsible for why browned food tastes and smells so good.
After the alligator meat caramelizes, Bixby strains off the butter and combines it with about six ounces of Green Chartreuse in a blender to force the spirit and the fat to meld. The mixture is then transferred to a mason jar where it spends the night in the freezer allowing the fat to solidify.
The final step of the “fat-washing” process is to run the concoction through a fine mesh strainer to separate the butter solids from the Chartreuse. Only the rich flavor, not fatty solids, remain.
“I then take the alligator butter-washed Chartreuse and seal that in a vacuum bag with cayenne pepper, paprika, and a little bit of garlic and sous vide at 150 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour,” Bixby says.
The sous-vide technique is popular because it gives chefs (and bartenders) enhanced control. “Then I strain it through a fine mesh coffee filter a final time to remove all the spices,” Bixby continues.
The drink, which comes in a tin can and is garnished with a swamp-scape, tastes spicy and savory. The strongest flavor that comes through is the garlic, which Bixby says he’s going to temper. As is, no one will be smooching after sipping the cocktail. But it’s well balanced thanks to the lime, and the tamarind and pineapple add just enough of the tropics.
Surely something called “Gator Wrestlin’ & Paddle-Backs” has a story. There’s a 1970s cocktail called “The Swamp Water” that was one of the earliest Chartreuse cocktails to be popularized, according to Bixby, and it features only Chartreuse, pineapple, and lime juice.
That’s the jumping off point, but when Bixby attended a bartending conference in New Orleans he went on a (Chartreuse-sponsored) swamp boat tour that culminated in a boat captain wrestling a gator and coaxing it onto the boat, where the bartender could pet it and feed it marshmallows.
The swamp tour devolved into the wily group doing “paddlebacks” or sending shots of Chartreuse down an ore much like the college ice luge your mom told you to stay away from “because you’ll get Mono.”
Bixby says his overall goal with the drink is to help create a memory for his guests. It’s part of the seasonal rollout of new cocktails that celebrate cities well known for their drinks, including New Orleans, Tokyo, London, and Havana.
Dram & Grain, 2007 18th St. NW; (202) 607-1572; facebook.com/DramandGrain