Monday, June 13, 2011

The Perennial Tea at Tabard Inn

The 2011 RAMMY Awards nominations for cocktails are out so I thought I would check out the finalists. 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 then swept me to ChurchKey to put "Alewife" to the test. Next on the list was the "Perennial Tea" at Tabard Inn.

For those who are new to the District (or have been living under a rock), the Tabard Inn is quintessential DC. Since 1922 it has been serving guests and today it is both a 40-room boutique hotel and popular restaurant that offers one of the best DC experiences in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. As you walk in you revisit a forgotten time surrounded by dark wood, Victorian furniture and the nostalgia of classic Washington. Its secluded outdoor patio is a wonderful escape from the city buzz. During the winter it's a warm refuge from the cold with its crackling fireplaces and cozy corners.

Shortly after the Tabard Inn opened it became popular for tea parties by various women’s organizations, so the Perennial Tea is a cocktail that comes full circle. It consists of dandelion tea, Plymouth gin, French and Italian vermouths, Gran Classico Bitter, orange peel, a lemon wheel, and a sprig of rosemary. Amber-colored and served in a teacup it had a dainty appeal, definitely not the sexiest of cocktails but I liked the creativity.

The first thing I noticed was its intense aroma of forest with the piney rosemary and woody Gran Classico accompanied by the citrus, bringing me to memories of European Christmas markets. At first sip the intense Grand Classico Bitter asserted itself as the dominant flavor, tempered only slightly by the milder vermouths and lemon. Initially, I found the Perennial Tea to be a swath of complex flavors that had trouble fitting together. It was reminiscent of a Negroni with the addition of floral and citrus notes, but was off as the bitter Gran Classico accompanied by bitter dandelion tea finished with dry vermouth brought the flavors to a screeching halt on the palate.

As the ice melted and the cocktail "aged" the more nuanced flavors began to emerge. The sweet gin finally bobbed up from a bitter deep-sea dive accompanied by certain subtle, earthy notes of caramel. When the condensed flavors broke down it had a very warming appeal but still lacked a brightness to balance out the bitterness. Overall, it sought to challenge one's palate but may have gone too far in that the bitter components greatly overshadowed the other more delicate ingredients.

This cocktail seemed more appropriate as a seasonal drink rather than a “perennial” menu item - something to put on hold for when the Tabard Inn has its fireplaces aflame and St. Nick is making his list.

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