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A Toast To Independence


Now we're stepping out of the kitchen and over to the bar. If you're thirsty after your Independence Day dessert, then maybe you can chase down that slice of cherry pie with a cocktail.

For the latest in our Summer Sipping series, we're giving you a taste of some cocktails to try when you're celebrating this Fourth of July or anytime this summer, for that matter.

We've caught up with cocktail historian Derek Brown. He oversees the bar program at the hot new bar here in Washington D.C., the Gibson. Welcome to the program, or better yet, thank you for welcoming us.

Mr. DEREK BROWN (Drink Historian, Gibson Lounge): My pleasure to be here, Michel, thank you.

MARTIN: Now before we jump into the cocktails, explain the concept of this bar. I think it's known here as a secret bar.

Mr. BROWN: It is. Basically what happens at the Gibson is that we want a more genteel bar. We want a place where people can really sit down and enjoy a cocktail, that they don't feel kind of rushed or hurried, that they're getting something that's very crafted. It's really just about the experience of enjoying each other's company, and the cocktail is an excuse to do that.

MARTIN: Well, let's think about some cocktails that we might enjoy on this Fourth of July weekend, and I'm not much of a drinker, so I've brought some help with me to have a sip, executive producer Marie Nelson. She's funny. We didn't have any trouble getting volunteers for this assignment for some reason today.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah, tough job, guys.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So why don't you start with - how about a classic gin Rickey? That's something I've heard about.

Mr. BROWN: Well, not only do I have a lot of pride obviously in the United States but also civic pride in Washington, D.C., and this cocktail was invented in D.C. in 1883 by a guy named George Williamson after Colonel Joe Rickey, was a Democratic lobbyist at the time, and it was originally made with bourbon, but the more popular incarnation was a gin Rickey, and that became extremely famous.

One good reason for that is it's really refreshing. This is the closest thing to air conditioning in a glass.

MARTIN: And we need that here in Washington, D.C. All right, well let's have a little bit.

Mr. BROWN: Well, I'm going to make one. I'm going to start with one whole lime. Now, the limes that they originally made them with were a little smaller, and I'm going to do - this is a very easy drink to make too. I'm just going to squeeze it directly into the glass.

Now, the next thing I'm going to do is I'm going to measure out Old Tom gin. Old Tom gin is sort of a unique style of gin.

MARTIN: Okay, how much of that are we going to put in there?

Mr. BROWN: I'm going to put two ounces of it. So that can be a little strong, but this one is not meant to be drank quickly. It's meant to be savored and enjoyed over a long period of time.

So the next thing that we're going to do is we're going to put a couple of ice cubes in there, and originally it was just one large lump of ice. So I'm just going to put a couple in there. I don't need too much, and then I'm going to add lastly some soda water to it.

So this drink is remarkably easy to make, and when you have it, you'll see. Especially if it's a hot day, this is extremely refreshing. Right now I'm just stirring it a couple times. You can hear it fizzing and bubbling. I've got taste it, make sure it's good, and then I'm going to pass it on for you to try.

MARTIN: All right, okay, cheers.

Mr. BROWN: And this is the kind of drink if you like gin and tonics too, that it's pretty good.

MARTIN: Okay. A little too grown up for me. Here.

Ms. MARIE NELSON (Executive Producer): I'm the gin and tonic drinker. In the punch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Do you love it?

Ms. NELSON: I love it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay, well, go on ahead.

Ms. NELSON: We'll just hold this down on this end.

MARTIN: Yeah, you just keep it down there. Okay, well, speaking of that, let's switch gears, and what if you're out with a bunch of friends, but you don't drink alcohol for whatever reason, and you don't want to be lame, and you're kind of tired of just the sparkling water with a little twist of lime. Do you have a recommendation?

Mr. BROWN: Yeah, I think it's very important to have non-alcoholic drinks behind bars, and I'd urge bartenders who are not very creative with that to think of it as a way to be more creative in a sense, that if you're mixing things, you know, just start mixing them without the alcohol and try how it works, different juices, different ingredients that you can make in-house.

We make something called orgeat syrup, which I think works out really well in a cocktail called orgeat lemonade. It's also pretty simple. The orgeat syrup is a little complicated to make. We make it in-house, but what I recommend to consumers is maybe just start by buying it. There's a couple brands that are available commercially that are easy to get. It's almond syrup, it's flavored with a little rose water, and I'm going to squeeze about one lemon into here, but you could measure it out as well. About an ounce of lemon juice is what we're looking for.

So it's two-to-one orgeat syrup to lemon juice. Next I'm just going to take a little bit of powdered sugar and put it in there.

MARTIN: My favorite.

Mr. BROWN: This one is going to come out pretty tart, but you can imagine if you wanted something that was sweeter, just put more sugar. So next I'm going to grab some ice here. So I'm going to shake this one, and I recommend shaking it vigorously.

(Soundbite of cocktail shaker)

MARTIN: Now you're showing off, Derek.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROWN: So I'm going to strain this into the glass.

(Soundbite of liquid pouring)

Mr. BROWN: Then I'm going to add crushed ice. Now, the next thing I'm going to do is I'm going to actually clap the mint. There's a little mint sprig here, which is, on its own, aromatic, but when you clap it, it breaks the cell walls, and it becomes even more aromatic.

MARTIN: What do you - clap it?

(Soundbite of clapping)

Mr. BROWN: Like that, and actually I can smell it even more intensely than I did before. I'm going to put that on top there, and them I'm going to put a little more powdered sugar on top.

MARTIN: I think I can handle this one. All right, here it is. I do smell it, it smells - I didn't realize that little bit of clapping brings the scent and the flavor of the mint out.

All right, Miss Gin and Tonic.

Ms. NELSON: Something tells me you're going to be monopolizing this one.

MARTIN: Oh my goodness.

Mr. BROWN: It's pretty good.

MARTIN: This is so good. This is so yummy.

Mr. BROWN: I think it's - the main difference is it's all those fresh ingredients that go into it.

MARTIN: Well, because I was well-raised, I am going to share. Want some?

Ms. NELSON: It's beautiful. The orgeat just really does something different to the lemon. It's, like, totally different from what I expected. Yummy.

Mr. BROWN: Now this one, we can also add some liquor to as well, but I don't recommend it because you see how fast it goes down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROWN: That's a recipe for danger.

MARTIN: Now, is the mint just kind of an added sensual experience? You don't really taste it. Is it just because you smell it as you're drinking it? It just kind of makes it another part of the experience?

Mr. BROWN: Yeah, there's a couple important things to making a cocktail. First of all, it has to look good. You drink first with your eyes. Then it has to smell good because that's the next sense that you encounter, and then it has to taste good. All of those are really important to a cocktail, and some people might think it's all about the way it tastes, but that's not true. I think it's the whole experience of the drink.

MARTIN: So Derek, there are some of these classic drinks that you've shared with us, and a new one that you've introduced us to, but is there a binding(ph) secret to making a great, refreshing cocktail?

Mr. BROWN: I think that the best thing you can do is use the freshest possible ingredients. They make an absolute difference. You can smell it. You know, it's intense, the aromatics of fresh citrus versus a sour mix that you buy store-bought. Avoid pre-mixes where you can. It takes a little extra effort, but it's well worth it.

MARTIN: Derek Brown is a cocktail historian. He oversees the bar program at the Gibson. It's a hot new bar here in Washington, D.C. And thank you so much for speaking with us today, and Happy Fourth.

Mr. BROWN: My pleasure to be here. Thank you, and Happy Fourth of July. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.