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D.C.’s Mid-Atlantic obsessed restaurant, The Dabney, is serving a new cocktail that’s even more Maryland than the Orange Crush. (Don’t worry, Natty Boh is still safe from this superlative.) There, bar director Tyler Hudgens feeds off the energy in the kitchen where Chef Jeremiah Langhorne whips up dishes with America’s food history in mind. “You can tell the history of the world through alcohol,” Hudgens says. “It’s not always the most reliable because you have people drinking copious amounts of booze, but you get some of the best stories.”
Hudgens new tipple, “Waterman and Steamer Captains,” starring Maryland-made Lyon Sailors Reserve Bourbon-Barrel rum, takes Washingtonians back to the time of Prohibition on the Chesapeake Bay. “Most of us think of Prohibition as synonymous with backwoods stills and NASCAR-style races down unlit country roads,” Hudgens says. “Now picture those races over water.”
She explains that stills of rum were hidden across the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s thousands of tributaries, and various watermen and steamer captains would boat out to the rum line (then two or three miles off shore) and illegally bring the rum back into the U.S. via the Chesapeake Bay. Someone please produce a Netflix series about grizzly characters pulling up bottles from crab traps, stat!
Most of the rum haul wound up in Charm City. “Maryland never enforced prohibition, and Baltimore was a notoriously ‘wet’ city throughout the decade-long ban on alcohol,” Hudgens continues. While most associate whiskey, and more specifically moonshine, with the 1920s and the 1930s, rum was a popular distillate because it was easy to produce and accessible, thanks to the proximity to the Caribbean.
The drink ($13) also contains H&H Madeira Rainwater, a bold fortified wine most similar to port, that was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence, plus Sibona Amaro and a bay leaf garnish.
Hudgens is happy to talk history with anyone who sits down at her bar. “At first we were nervous about shoving too much information at people because we didn’t want to be pretentious blowhards with five minutes of talking points, but now people are like, ‘they’re doing cool stuff, we want to hear about it.’”
As for what’s next for The Dabney, Hudgens hints at a build-out of the basement that would feature a more casual, low-key atmosphere, where guests could pair charcuterie and oysters with aperitifs.
The Dabney, 122 Blagden Alley NW; (202) 450-1015; thedabney.com