Sunday, June 5, 2011
"Alewife" at ChurchKey
The 2011 RAMMY Awards nominations for cocktails are out so I thought I would check out the finalists for the Mixology/Beverage Program. In no particular order I have set out to give them all a try. My first stop was at Bourbon Steak where I reviewed "Is He Sharpe?". The DC cocktail tide has now swept me to ChurchKey to put "Alewife" to the test.
I arrived mid-afternoon on a Saturday hoping the bar wouldn't be too crowded so I could chat with a bartender a bit. When I stepped in the entire room was thick with a bustling crowd and then it dawned on me that I had shown up during the weekend of SAVOR, DC's annual craft beer festival. ChurchKey is also well known for its vast collection of brews from across the nation and from afar. It's an impressive offering. For a bright Saturday, ChurchKey is dark, very dark. Its floor space is narrow and quite long and the only natural light comes in through a couple of floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over 14th Street. It's therefore not best suited for daytime ambiance but if you are looking for some good drinking, sports-watching and chatting, the time of day doesn't matter. The decor has an industrial feel with a simplicity that focuses on the bar and its offerings.
Though the bar was really crowded with eager beer drinkers, ChurchKey is one of the few bars in town I have been to that had enough staff to handle the heavy load. Rather than playing the cat-and-mouse game of getting the bartender's attention, as soon as I stepped up to the bar that was a few customers deep, my order was taken and while I waited a few more staff came by to see if I had been helped.
When the Alewife arrived the first thing I noticed was its lemon-yellow color topped with a frothy white head, a result of their use of egg whites, giving it the visual appeal of a beer befitting an establishment with an immense beer collection. According to Daniel Swartz of REVAMP the Alewife consists of a "blend of Gin, Becherovka Liqueur, lemon juice, rich honey syrup, and egg white, topped with sparkling wine and a tincture of coriander, black pepper, and citrus peel." The anise-heavy character of the Becherovka Liqueur, an herbal bitters from the Czech Republic, hit me first both in aroma and flavor. Its licorice/menthol bite had a dominating herbal tone, which was parted by a fresh undercurrent of lemon juice and sparkling wine allowing for a bright finish. The egg white gave it a luxurious texture. The anise flavor really overwhelmed the drink, but gave it a nice, bitter angle. The gin itself was entirely lost (others I asked for a second opinion agreed) and in my view wasn't even necessary. Alewife was like a Pastis on steroids wearing some bling. The honey played a necessary role in subduing the Becherovka and tied it to the other ingredients but may have added a bit too much sweetness, leaving a sticky residue in my mouth. Overall Alewife was a bold cocktail that thought outside of the box. Its ingredients danced in great sync with the leading role of the Becherovka, for which I have to give ChurchKey some major props. It's not your typical crowd-pleasing spirit. It's definitely for people open to exploring new avenues of cocktail medleys. Alewife did what a lot of cocktails don't - left a great memory.