Welcome to mid-February, arguably one of the most dreary times of the year, no matter if you’re waking up to sunshine or slush. The holidays are over, the last long weekends have passed, and summertime feels like a distant memory. At least Dry January is over, right?
There are plenty of ways to kick back and cheer up during the winter months, but the team at Green Hat Gin would probably recommend a visit to their Washington DC distillery or at least a well-made cocktail at home. The distillery — named for the legendary and mysterious bootlegger that provided the city’s politicians with alcohol during Prohibition — both creates their own unique spirits and offers residents and tourists an inside look at the process at their location in Ivy City.
If you can’t make the trip, don’t worry. We’ve enlisted their help to get the inside scoop on crafting the perfect at-home bar cart, so you can lift your “spirits” anytime of the year.
Hi Tucker! Can you tell us more about Green Hat Gin?
Green Hat Gin was the first distillery to open in DC since Prohibition and really helped kick off the craft spirit scene here. Since 2011, we have been producing a wide range of gin expressions and have also experimented with a rye whiskey that we have available at the distillery. We make gins that appeal to both gin enthusiasts and people who don’t typically enjoy gin by dialing back the juniper to give the rest of our botanicals the space they need to make truly unique gins.
What’s the easiest gin-based cocktail to make at home?
Easiest no-effort gin-based cocktail is a Gin and Tonic, the name tells you all the ingredients and the order of importance of ingredients. For something that takes just a tiny bit more effort, the easiest gin-based cocktail and the most rewarding for the amount of effort is the Negroni. The recipe is just equal parts of Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and Bitter Aperitivo, stir it all together with ice to chill and dilute it and either drink it on the rocks or strain it and drink it up in a coupe glass with an orange twist for garnish. It is also really easy to batch up for entertaining purposes, just add .5 parts water by volume to pre-dilute it and refrigerate it before the event.
Building the perfect bar cart can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not a cocktail expert. What are the basics that every bar cart should have?
All of this comes down to personal preference, if you really only like gin or whiskey then don’t feel the need to stock your bar cart with a ton of other spirits. For set-up you can go in two directions, either stock your bar cart for entertaining purposes or stock your bar mainly for personal consumption.
If you are stocking for entertaining you’re going to want a broad range of spirits but you don’t need to have more than one of each spirit so you’re not breaking the bank. If you are stocking for personal use, buy products around what you like to drink.
Unsurprisingly, I am largely a gin drinker so my home bar cart is structured around making a wide array of gin cocktails and a few other bottles for when I feel like mixing it up.
If you are stocking for entertaining I would recommend having a bottle each of:
- Gin: I recommend a New American style gin with a lot of versatility such as our Citrus/Floral Gin that works just as well in a G&T as a Negroni
- Rum: I find myself going through more white rum while entertaining but you can also go for a spiced rum or a dark rum depending on what cocktails you prefer
- Whiskey(s): I find that a rye and a bourbon cover most cocktails I would make at home but if you want to stick to a single bottle you can just go for one. Our rye whiskey is on the sweeter side and works well in both classic bourbon and classic rye cocktails
- Tequila: you could also go for mezcal but it will mix differently and it is not always a one for one substitution
The only other things that I would say are must haves are a sweet and dry vermouth — I love Capitoline which is made locally — but those shouldn’t go on your bar cart, they should be refrigerated after opening.
With all of those bottles the range of cocktails is basically endless but to keep it simple with mixers I recommend having: soda water, tonic water, ginger beer, citrus (lemon, lime, and orange), aromatic and orange bitters, and homemade simple syrup (which should also be refrigerated.)
You’ll also need a Boston shaker with Hawthorne strainer, a jigger (I like a jigger with clear .25 oz measurements up to 2 oz to not need more than one jigger), a bar spoon (a mixing glass is nice but you can just build stirred cocktails in the glass at home to cut back on clean-up and cost), and a hand citrus juicer.
The biggest difference if you are stocking a bar cart largely for personal use is that rather than buying a little of everything, go deep on the specific spirits that you like. Based on my preference for gin and the cocktails I tend drink most often, here are my liquor recommendations for a gin focused bar cart while keeping the price in a similar range of our entertaining set-up.
Liquor: 2-3 types of gin such as our original Green Hat Gin and Citrus/Floral Gin (you can go for more but 2-3 while cover most cocktails, go for differing flavors particularly something on the more savory, earthy, and herbal side, something bright, citrusy and juniper forward, and then you can go for something unique for the last one depending on what you like such as a barrel aged gin or a gin with unique botanical blends), vermouth (sweet and dry again), and a few liqueurs.
Liqueurs are where it comes down to what cocktails you like, I generally recommend avoiding buying any bottle for a single cocktail unless you really love that cocktail. My ideal gin bar has: a bitter aperitivo (such as Capitoline Tiber or Campari for cocktails like Negronis or Americanos), Green Chartreuse (for Last Word and Bijou), and Maraschino Liqueur (for Last Word and Martinez). With those few ingredients you can craft a wide range of gin cocktails including those mentioned above and many more.
Mixers and bar tools are going to be the same regardless of which bar set up you are going for.
Is there any one step/trick that will guarantee a good home-made cocktail?
There isn’t any one trick that guarantees a good cocktail, but there are two things that can help a lot.
The first is measuring ingredients. People (myself included sometimes) always seem to eyeball measurements at home, which for a cocktail like a Negroni you can get pretty close to the correct ratio but most other times you’ll end up spending more time adjusting ingredients than it would have taken to just measure from the start. It also makes sure that you have consistency from cocktail to cocktail, and that you can make that same cocktail again in the future.
The second thing is to taste the ingredients, especially if you are making a cocktail for the first time. While not everything is meant to be drunk straight, trying an ingredient on its own lets you know what it is adding to the cocktail. You’ve got to learn the rules before you can start breaking them, so once you know what an ingredient is contributing to the final cocktail then you can start playing around a bit, start small by changing ratios or substituting an ingredient that adds the same qualities to a cocktail but with a different overall flavor.
What do you love about being part of the D.C. community?
It sounds cheesy but it is really just the people. The last two years have been incredibly hard for the industry as a whole and it has been amazing to see how people within the industry have banded together to support each other. Beyond industry people it has also been great to see the way that customers (and especially our regulars) have come out to support us (and other businesses) through all of the different COVID pivots and regulation changes.
Thanks Tucker! Green Hat Gin is open for bottle sales Thursdays and Fridays from 12-4 and their bar and gin garden are open on Saturdays 12-8 and Sundays 1-6. Stop by some time for a tasting flight, a cocktail, or a bottle to add to your home bar.
Photos by Rebekah Barlas