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The National Archives’ new exhibition on booze, Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History, has teamed up with bartender Derek Brown for a series of events and cocktails at D.C. bars over the course of the year.
Brown—an owner of Shaw’s Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, and Southern Efficiency—has been named the exhibit’s “Chief Spirits Advisor.” He’ll be curating 10 seminars about cocktail history that will run until January. The first event, “American Drinking B.C. (Before the Cocktail),” takes place at the National Archives on May 16.
“If you have any curiosity at all about the history of cocktails in America, then the good news is that we’re going to cover absolutely everything,” says Brown. “We’re going to go in depth with the people who are responsible for excavating that history and the people who are at the forefront of making cocktails and bartending today.”
A total of 20 bars across the city are partnering with Brown and the Archives to produce new cocktails each month based around themes Brown has chosen.
“There’s going to be certain ingredients, certain inspirations present in each cocktail, but I’m not prescribing what the bars are going to be doing,” said Brown. “It’s not going to be the same cocktail everywhere. In some situations, we’ll see a strict interpretation of a historical drink, but you’ll also see people using that as an inspiration for a new cocktail.”
Spirited Republic itself was inspired by a high level of enthusiasm for What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?, an exhibition on the effect of government food policies which ran at the Archives from 2011 to 2012. José Andrés was Chief Culinary Advisor for that exhibit, which inspired his Penn Quarter pop-up for America Eats Tavern. The concept since become a permanent restaurant in Tysons Corner.
“We did food, and people really liked it, so we figured we had to do drink next,” says Bruce Bustard, the exhibit curator.
The exhibit draws on federal records, including legislation and patents, to tell the story of America’s drinking habits and perceptions of alcohol.
“I’m always surprised at how deep we can get, and how much we can really tell about America, just from using records about a specific topic,” says Bustard.
The exhibit will be on display through January 2016.