DC’s favorite laboratory for the cocktailian sciences, Barmini is the epitome of innovation, style, and taste.
My failure to visit Barmini is a bit of a scarlet letter. I mean, I’ve visited hundreds of other bars including dozens in the DC area – but not one of the leading lights? For shame. So, with the change of seasons and a new year approaching, I decided to repent for my sin of omission and stop into the high temple of DC cocktails.
Jose Andres’ alcohol think-tank hardly needs more praise, but I’ll indulge anyway: if you’re looking for an attractive and fun place to upend your perceptions of what spirits/cocktails are capable of, Barmini is your spot. The impossibly innovative laboratory slash bar embraces its experimentation theme, with alluring Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions on the shelves and cleanly-appointed bartenders artfully juggling test tubes and shakers.
Barmini eschews the dark cocktail den aesthetic in favor of a sleek salon vibe, with a sophisticated minimalist bar from which you can gaze upon boozy alchemy in action. Service is responsive and friendly to the point that you want to hang out with your bartenders and servers after you’re done.
You can go through Barmini’s voluminous cocktail list a la carte or with a six-drink flight of half-cocktails (you also get some small intros and palette-cleansers). I’d recommend doing both, regularly. Overall, the drinks are a perfect marriage of avant garde presentation and surprisingly straight-forward, wonderful tastes. This surprised me a bit – I expected a barrage of alien tastes, but more often than not I got well-blended, familiar sensations that made perfect use of their constituent parts.
Our flight started with “Cross Eyed Mary” with aged rum, honey, lime, absinthe, and passion fruit. This was a great intro, with warm, rich oaky notes that speed up and rise with the sweetness of the lime and the tart foam. It sparks well at that the end. Then the “LN2 Caipirinha” with cachaca, lime, and LN24. This drink is so well-performed (look at that smoke!) that it threatens to obscure the taste which is special in its own right, a crisp limey right hook that chills you down slow.
Moving to the “Cedar and Agave” with tequila anejo, Benedictine, agave, orange bitters, bitters. This was fine and deep, although I didn’t love the strictness of the Benedictine paired with the sweet agave. But I liked it, and if you make me like anything with Benedictine in it, you’ve done a great job. Then a favored drink, the eye catching chameleon “Divine Wind” with chrysanthemum shochu, orange liqueur, butterfly pea, lime, and citrus singani. This was just perfectly layered, with an engaging citrus burn with a warmth and pop that I couldn’t quite place. But I loved how measured and tame that complexity was, with a smooth cut and flavor. Great and gorgeous stuff.
Then the “Floral Cloud” with gin, lemon, creme de violate, maraschino, and hibiscus cloud (!). Again, the spectacle risks overshadowing the taste, which is succinct and surprisingly earthy. Be nice and you might get some extra smoke from a passing bartender 🙂 From the clouds to the tropics with the “Carmen Miranda” with banana-cinnamon-nutmeg infused bourbon, angostura, and orange bitters. Loved this one, a buttery drink you can sink your teeth into and the perfect complement to a fall evening. Rich nutty wood and warm bourbon, split with some bitterness, pave the way for an engaging cocktail.
We went to space with the “Apollo” with honey vodka, lemon, bittersweet vermouth, elderflower, ginger. This was simplicity refined, nice and sugary with tones of citrus and herbs, an interlude to a nice quick cut of genuine ginger at the end. Then the “Dear Caitlin and Alexander” with old Tom gin, rose vermouth, lemon, juniper, and tonic. This is just a up-front, grassy cocktail with some citrus tint to it; relaxing and easy, use caution lifting the mammoth glass, as this cocktail tests the small-handed amongst us.
We then descended with “Missionary’s Downfall” with white rum, peach liqueur, mint, lime, honey, and pineapple. I loved the richness of this one, with Dixie softness hitting off of the cool, tropical organics. Away with the “Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat” with banana bourbon, cognac, soursop, pineapple, lemon, vanilla, angostura bitter, cinnamon and star anise smoke. This was a blast – I was tickled pink by that smokey aura off of the tiki currents.
We finished with my favorite, the “Veruca Salt” with peanut rum, pineapple, rice vinegar, and crumbled salted peanuts. This is just brilliance on ice – there is a conventional sensation up front, the normal delicious tiki-kick off of the rum and pineapple. But then everything changes. That delightful and comfortable peanut taste rushes in so well, synching with the rum/citrus. A masterpiece, and a glorious way to end my magical tour of Barmini. See you again soon!