In October I visited Alexandria’s Captain Gregory’s and had one of my favorite cocktail experiences of the year. So when I heard the Captain’s bartender Sam Brooks was throwing a pop-up event at Church and State on H Street, I jumped at the chance to visit. The intriguing theme for the evening was the pairing of American spirits with foreign, i.e. exotic ingredients. Just like the cocktail list at Captain Gregory’s, this menu was liquid artistry, each drink a rich combination of distinct and new flavors. The setting was cool was well – above the old school Atlas Arcade, Church and State has the trappings of a once proud church gone by, religious etchings and faint memories of the divine cohabitating with booze. Their home cocktail list looks very fun as well, so I see a return trip on the horizon.
Now that’s a scene! Alright, on to the drinks. I started with “Lost at Sea” with rum, hibiscus, tangerine, lime, ceylon cinnamon, and Thai Bird’s Eye chili. This was a beautiful, one-two punch that starts sweet and herbal with the tangerine and lime then transitions into the perfect level of heat off of the chili and cinnamon. Just an expertly synchronized drink with a one-of-a-kind flow of flavors. Awesome. Then I sipped “My America” with rye, Moroccan medjool dates, cardamon, galangal, mace. Sam was nice enough to educate me as to what galangal and mace actually are (a ginger-ish root and a spice, respectively) and I was lucky enough to taste their minty, menthol scent at the back end of the drink. This is another stellar mix, with the rye rising in the front leading to a nice, herbal taste tinged with sweetness off of the dates. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted rye so well-bridled before; you get the burn for an instant, but then the other ingredients smooth it out perfectly. Superb.
Our middle drink, “A Better Life” brought bourbon infused with Taiwanese basil and lemongrass, lemon, rose, and egg white. This drink was easy livin’ and exceptionally relaxed with a good, very subtle hint of basil throughout. I got a little flavor of rose and the lemon in the background. Good stuff. Next up was “For Ayse” with vermouth infused with Turkish coffee (!), apple brandy, absinthe, and cedar smoke. This was spectacular and daring – I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a more interesting ingredient in a cocktail as the Turkish coffee employed here. As I wrote in my notes, the flavor was “f’n awesome,” which means really good. After the coffee burn, the dominant taste is the cedar smoke, which lends the cocktail a unique and strong earthiness. F’n awesome, indeed.
All good things must end, and my evening concluded with the “Forest Flight” made of gin, cranberry liqueur, cardamom bitters, and egg white. This was the simplest drink of the evening, a good mix of the cranberry and cardamom tastes leveled out by the softness of the egg white. The gin is fairly subdued. Nice!