Cloaked in darkness, the Sovereign offers some truly powerful and Old World cocktails.
Overall Rating: 4
As an ultra-hip trendsetter, I viewed Fritz Hahn’s article on six hot new DC bars as a challenge and a borderline insult. I’d been to three on the list, but the idea that yours truly was behind the new bar curve is unacceptable. My first step in rectifying this situation was to head over to the The Sovereign, a Belgium-themed restaurant tucked away off of M Street in Georgetown. The restaurant is elegant and gorgeous, with low light, dark wood, and a beautiful bar furnished in Old Europe style. Kudos to the bar staff, who were lightning fast with the drink orders and waters. Also, if you don’t have reservations, I’d recommend getting there early, as the bar filled up in about 10 minutes.
Obviously the main attraction at The Sovereign is its arsenal of Belgian beers, but I went for the path less traveled and worked the cocktail list. A really cool aspect of the Sovereign’s list is its focus on Genever, a traditional liquor from the Netherlands and Belgium and an ancestor of the standard gin most Americans are familiar with. All six of the Sovereign’s cocktails use Genever (although you can swap in London gin, vodka, or rye for a few of them) so this was more of an exploration of that Dutch spirit rather than my standard cocktail tasting. As a student and lover of the gin family tree I liked them all, but some of them might not necessarily appeal to the common palette.
We started with “The Hunger’s Gift” with Boomsma oude (old) genever, sugar, absinthe, Peychauds, and alpine bitters. Oude genever is one of the two variants of genever (old and young) which means it was distilled using an older technique and contains more malt wine and sugar than its younger cousin. So this was a jarring and unforgiving celebration of genever, the other ingredients mere enables of the strong, floral taste. There’s a kiss of sweetness from the sugar and the alpine bitters add a hint of grass, but this is genever through and through – and the liquor is excellent here, ultra herbal and punchy. Next up was my favorite of the evening, the “John Collins” with Jonge (young) genever, lemon, sugar, and club soda. The addition of the genever gives an interesting floral complexity to this simple drink, and the lemon is particularly strong and good here. Fresh and deep, a good drink.
Next up was “The Fall of Man” with Bols genever, dolin blanc, Benedictine, and orange bitters. Knowing the power of its ingredients, this drink was exactly what I thought it would be: a sweetened genever taste with a syrupy, savory punch from the Benedictine. That hit might throw some people off, but if you love genever, this is a good staging of it. The beautiful “Gypsy Girl” was next with Jonge genever, St. Germain, lime, and absinthe. I was expecting a more relaxed taste here with the St. Germain but boy was I wrong. I think the absinthe overwhelms here, adding a powerful licorice cut that might knock some people out. I did like the interplay with the genever and the lime lends a nice background pop, but this one is a challenge.
Then I had the “Lucretia” with Diep 9 genever with creme de violette and lemon. This was surprisingly powerful but softened a tad by the creme de violette. I enjoyed it, I liked the genever with the velvety hue. Good stuff. The finale was the “Return of the Prodigal Son” with oude genever, boomsma cloister bitters, and cocchi vermouth. Again, powerful, strong genever and cocchi overtones lightened a bit by the ice. This took some time to drink and its a slow sipper because it’s just so pungent. But a good experiment. And a rewarding way to conclude a genever-night at The Sovereign. I’ll be back for the beer!