Dram & Grain: Magical!

I am spellbound as I listen to Andy Bixby, Creative Director of Beverage at Dram & Grain, describe the alchemy involved in creating one of his drinks. The cocktail bar is thrumming, and I must strain to hear what he’s saying, I hang on every word. Bixby’s concoctions combine wizardry and science, and there should be no illusions about the process. He is creating multi-layered, technique-driven cocktails that are intoxicating in every way.

Dram & Grain is a craft cocktail bar in Adams Morgan from the owners of Jack Rose Dining Saloon. Originally operating in the basement of Jack Rose, it recently reopened in the candle-lit basement of the group’s newest venture, The Imperial. Dram & Grain has a reputation to uphold, having been named one of the country’s best bars by Food & Wine, Thrillist, CNN, Travel + Leisure, Esquire, the Washington Post, and Washingtonian. In its new home, Bixby and his team have more room to experiment. Those accolades are bound to keep on coming.

The bulk of the drink menu at Dram & Grain is divided into three sections, each featuring a selection of cocktails with a featured elixir at its base. Baked Citrus Amaro is a little fruity, a touch bitter, with a hint of baking spice. Tamaro- a blend of tamari and amaro- brings umami into a trio of cocktails with intriguing names like “Pearls Before Swine” and “Put the Lime in the Koji-Nut.” Anisette is a blend of infusions including fennel, star anise, pine nuts, and almonds.

Once these base mixtures have been brewed, the real magic commences. Ingredients in your drink may have been in a pressure cooker or a sous vide machine for hours before they ever see a cocktail shaker. And chances are good that an element or two will have been fermented, marinated, pickled, or baked. You’ll find a drink with a topping of vanilla ice cream espuma and another with strawberry salt-dusted cherry tomatoes. Don’t look for all the details on the menu. In fact, if you’re not a well-informed cocktail enthusiast you will need some assistance in deciphering what’s what. Bixby, or someone on the team, will be happy to divulge the tricks of the trade.  

As the Jungle Bird Tai’s is a tiki drink that packs a punch. The description is a blend of Santa Teresa 1796, Safamare Rye, Doctor Bird, Baked Citrus Amaro, Passionfruit, Toasted Pistachio, Pineapple Citrus Caramel, and Acido.  It’s a lot to digest, but take a sip and any misgivings you have will disappear.

Dram & Grain As the Jungle Bird Tai's
As the Jungle Bird Tai’s

If you’re an adventure seeker don’t miss Pearls Before Swine. This spirited drink incorporates the funky tamaro with Bombay Sapphire, Fino Sherry, and cucumber bitters. At the bottom of the glass awaits a surprise- delicate and cool smoked cucumber pearls that burst as they hit your tongue. What about the swine?  It’s a few drops of ham fat, added for flavor.

Dram & Grain Pearls Before Swine
Pearls Before Swine

The licorice essence of anisette may not appeal to everyone, but somehow even detractors cite the Cavalletta as a Dram & Grain favorite. The drink pairs the anisette potion with milk-washed Branca Menta fernet, White Cacao, and cream. Perched atop the glass is an almond pizzelle, which means that you can eat and drink with this one cocktail.

It’s easy to get distracted and focus solely on the indulgent cocktails, but the food here is from Imperial chef Russell Jones, and it should not be overlooked.  The seafood-heavy menu takes its inspiration from the Mid-Atlantic and adds in touches of the south of France.

Seafood towers are an excellent way to go. They are available in Petite, Grand and Imperial. Go for the Imperial if you can. It comes with Oysters Rockefeller, clams casino, smoked mussels, and jumbo shrimp cocktail ($158). Each tower is accompanied by Old Bay fried saltine crackers and housemade hot sauce. Green tomatillo mignonette, classic mignonette, and cocktail sauce are at the ready for dipping. 

Dram & Grain Imperial Seafood Tower
Imperial Seafood Tower

Crispy kale and cauliflower is embellished with curry yogurt, tamarind and date puree. If you love Rasika’s spinach chaat, you will sigh contentedly at this dish. Scale up the elegance factor with foie gras mousse with pomegranate pickled gooseberries or uni topped Carolina gold rice, clam juice and mirin. 

Don’t skip the caramelized onion tart with fried cipollini and remoulade. It’s the salty, crispy, savory temptation that you can’t resist.

Dram & Grain caramelized onion tart
Caramelized Onion Tart

A just launched weekday happy hour (5 pm to 7:30 pm) features alluring $7 seaside-inspired snacks and $11 craft cocktails. Options include Carroll’s Clam Dip, Cassoulet Hummus with marrowfat beans and bacon lardon, fried Castelvetrano olives, and mushroom tempura. Cocktails showcase Bixby’s creativity. This includes a riff on a dirty martini and the tantalizing Allicin Chains with a float of Ardbeg 10 yr scotch, atop Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch, ginger syrup, fermented garlic honey, house made Tamaro, and fresh lemon.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all at Dram & Grain, something else appears. You can’t help but wonder about the sleight of hand that makes it all possible. A visit to Dram & Grain makes for one enchanting evening.

Dram & Grain, 2007 18th Street NW, Washington, DC

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