The National Cherry Blossom Festival always creates huge fanfare here in Washington, D.C. For one, it’s a sign that spring has finally begun to poke its way through the harsh and depressing winter. Two, it’s downright beautiful, and three, cherry blossom themed cocktails start popping up all over town with interesting Japanese ingredients and names that symbolize the gift Japan gave the city in 1912. Find out where to find a bunch of them in a piece I wrote in the current issue of Capitol File.
To celebrate the season, I also made my first visit to the St. Regis Washington D.C., which is now serving the Yoshino 1935, a drink named after the type of cherry tree that decorates the Tidal Basin and the year the cherry blossom festival kicked off on a national scale (we’ll get to how to make it in a just a minute). The St. Regis’ director of beverage and mixology Orcun Turkay has begun hosting cocktail classes for 10 enthusiasts who get to make and imbibe drinks, take home a jigger and muddler, AND take notes in Thornwillow notebooks. I couldn’t make the first class, which centered on how to make pre-Prohibition cocktails, so Orcun’s team asked me to come in for a one-on-one with him. Or one-on-two, that is, because I brought my husband Jay.
I’ve always said that hotel bars are sadly overlooked around the world, though they are bastions of killer cocktail ingredients and wine lists steeped in history. There’s no need to recreate a speakeasy or old-timey feel that a lot of cocktail bars go for when you’re talking about traditional hotels like the St. Regis, Hay-Adams, the Jefferson or Ritz Paris, because they already have distinctive settings, stories and personalities. That’s not to mention that hotel bars are comfortable, quiet and regal places to have a dram (you can find the hipsters elsewhere; the White House is within view of the St. Regis’ front entrance).
The St. Regis opened its doors in the 1920s, and the Bar reflects that sentiment with an original, decorative multi-colored plaster ceiling, exquisite crystal and metal chandelier, gas fireplace, and seating areas arranged for conversation. Orcun, who is approachable, friendly and knowledgeable, started the evening with effervescence – a classic French 75. We sipped on it with a side of braised Berkshire pork belly flatbread with goat cheese, figs and prunes inspired by executive chef Sébastien Rondier’s childhood ritual of making fig jam with his grandmother (the food snacks are prepared by the St. Regis restaurant next door called Decanter). So far, so, so good…
Then we moved on to the Old Fashioned, or Old Fashion as the St. Regis calls it on the cocktail menu. Orcun uses ice from Favourite Ice Company, which is made from distilled water and is hand cut. With Rittenhouse Rye, bitters and simple syrup it is balanced, punchy and not too sweet. The addition of lemon makes it a little different and better than the standard muddled orange and cherry (which was not in the original recipe, Orcun emphasizes).
In between a mix of classic and signature cocktails, we tried a few new-to-us spirits like the white Rhum J.M., which was surprisingly salty/beachy/briny/maybe a tad grassy, and would go perfectly with oysters. We also got down on a classic Boulevardier that had been infused with natural charcoal for a smoky flavor, and the Last Word cocktail, which had been made with mezcal instead of gin (and it was much more dynamic).
Then, drumroll please…came the Yoshino 1935, which is as pretty as it is tasty. Using Yamazaki 12 Japanese whiskey, Cherry Heering liqueur (which gives it a rich ruby color), Dolin sweet vermouth, bitters, orange juice and egg white for froth, it’s light and airy. You can enjoy this one even if whiskey isn’t your drink of choice.
So go on, channel your inner luxury hotelier and make one yourself before the Cherry Blossom Festival is over on April 13! I’ve also included the recipe for delicious gourmet peanuts coated with bitters (now that’s a good bar snack, especially if you’re planning a party). Leave a comment to let me know how you like it. Better yet, tag me in your Instagram photo of your creation!
3/4 ounce Yamazaki 12
3/4 ounce Cherry Heering liqueur
3/4 ounce Dolin sweet vermouth
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
1 egg white
2 dashes Scrappy’s aromatic bitters (Angostura will work also)
2 brandied cherries for garnish
*Dry shake all ingredients except the bitters until they whip, in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for 15 seconds. Pour into a coupe glass and add bitters on top. Garnish with two brandied cherries.
Bitters & Spice Peanuts
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup fresh chopped rosemary
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup aromatic Angostura bitters
3 tablespoons sea salt
This is for a party size of four to five pounds roasted peanuts. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl separately from the peanuts. Roast the peanuts for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Immediately toss the roasted peanuts with the mixture, and let cool for 30 minutes.