Behind the Bar
A More Perfect Union: The Cocktail Menu Themed on the U.S. Constitution
"Drinks have to tell a story, otherwise you're just another face lost in the crowd," says Remy Canario, head bartender of Washington, D.C.'s Stanton & Greene. The bar is located in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood, mere blocks away from the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court, and so when Canario set out to create the story he wanted to tell, he looked to his surroundings.
The result was his inventive Constitutional Cocktails menu, a lineup of 10 original libations with each based on one of the amendments of the Bill of Rights, which are the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution. "The menu seems to really resonate with people," says Canario, including the regular Hill staffers who frequent the bar and others who reside in the neighborhood.
"I really believe in concept-driven creativity," he continues. "Starting with a concept makes it easier to not get lost." With his concept in mind, next came some serious hands-on research, including long hours in the nearby John Adams Building of the Library of Congress, where he combed through everything from historic recipes to old notes on White House dinners.
While, "the inspiration for each drink comes from its relevant amendment," Canario says that he also looked to pull in concepts from the history of American drinking and drinking preferences, while also focusing on American ingredients.
For instance, Canario created the Common Law for the Seventh Amendment. "The whole presence of common law is based on a precedent," Canario explains. So he opted to reform the precedent of a mundane order, the rum and coke, "making it a craft version of a very common order." The result was a dark rum old fashioned riff made with a cola reduction and wild cherry bark, a native U.S. ingredient popular in soda bars of the 1950s.
Canario somewhat ironically pulled from the gifts of the biblical three magi for the First Amendment's Freedom of Religion, an aromatic martini riff incorporating gin, myrrh bitters, frankincense oil and gold leaf. The aroma of frankincense is uniquely provided via a sticker affixed to the glass's edge. "The taste of essential oil is so awful, I struggled with this a lot," says Canario. "So it's something I'm proud of."
While flavor combinations or particular ingredients may originally seem wacky, the end goal of a drink for Canario is that its flavor works together so well, that it feels "inevitable" that it would was always going to work. "Drinks that feel complete that seem inevitable," says Canario. Something too good to not do, even if some creative leaps had to be taken to get there.
"I try to achieve a balance between the unknown and the familiar," says Canario. An example is the Safe & Sound, a nod to the Fourth Amendment guaranteeing security to people against search and seizure. The drink incorporates peanut-infused whiskey and raisins, building on the comfort or safety of a classic homey flavor combination such as peanut butter and jelly, along with molasses, Angostura, nutmeg and egg, delivered in the fashion of another American classic, the flip.
The Second Amendment's The Right to Bear Arms features the thematic Gunpowder Rye, black walnut liqueur and is complimented by Amontillado sherry, a mainstay of America's drinking history. (Photo: Remy Canario/Flickr)
The Second Amendment's The Right to Bear Arms includes Gunpowder Rye, which not only has an appropriate name, but is also distilled over open flame, a nod to old school production methods. The drink incorporates black walnut liqueur and is complimented by Amontillado sherry, a mainstay of America's drinking history.
The Tenth Amendment reserves powers not only to the states, but to the people. The corresponding drink is The People's Old Fashioned, a universally appealing combination of Woodford Reserve, maple syrup and mulling spice bitters.
Canario also showcases two historical recipes in addition to the 10 originals. The first is a clarified milk punch from Benjamin Franklin, dating back to a letter from 1762. "This guy clearly knew what he was doing," Canario jokes. The other is Martha Washington's Cherry Bounce, circa 1784 and supposedly a favorite of husband George.
In the future, new amendments may be chosen, or new cocktails may be created around the same amendments. Next spring, Canario plans to showcase an appropriate seasonal focus on agriculture. "I'll be exploring some of the crops that America was built on," he says. On a recent visit to the bar, he was experimenting with the creation of a "raw cotton tincture," trying to extract some of the crisp aromas of the cotton with initial thoughts of incorporating it into a drink with gin, lemon verbena and lime juice.
An evening spent enjoying an assortment of Canario's Constitutional Cocktails isn't just time spent drinking well, it also manages to be part history and social studies lesson wrapped into one, too.
"There's something idealistic about this whole project," says Canario. "To give people a way to experience what makes us as a country."