By Tim Ebner, photography by Jennifer Chase
To truly understand the mind-set of bartender Christine Kim, you not only need to get behind the bar at U Street’s Service Bar—you also need to get behind a curtain, literally. Doing so leads to a doorway, down a few steps and into an enormous prep kitchen.
That’s where the magic happens. On a given weekday, her staff is working tirelessly to slice, dice, juice and blend the fresh ingredients that form the foundation of so-called “hyper-seasonal” cocktails.
“Hyper” is also a good word to describe the pace at which Kim moves behind the bar, stirring up refreshing and well-balanced drinks—like the apple brandy “Calling It a Day” cocktail that makes us want to do just that.
“After a long day of work, this is the drink that will give you something to look forward to,” Kim says.
The cocktail’s flavors—citrus, spice and a simple syrup infused with roasted apples and pears—when combined with Laird’s Applejack, Lustau Fino sherry and sparkling wine or Champagne, help you ease into early autumn from lingering summer-like weather.
At the peak of Service Bar’s Friday happy hour traffic, patrons also seem to be calling it a day with a cocktail or two that Kim makes on demand. Customers swarming the bar are fixated on getting their fruit-and-veggie-fix drinks that the menu delivers.
Working at “our bar calls for a lot of culinary techniques, which kind of opens the door to a menu filled with seasonal cocktails,” Kim says. “In summer, we had drinks with kale, fresh kumquat, rhubarb—thank god for our prep team because they do so much for us behind the curtain.”
I take a sip of Kim’s “Calling It a Day” and immediately spot the subtle flavors of roasted apple and pear, imparted from her tricked-out simple syrup, which, she says, is also easy enough to make at home.
Simply roast your pears and apples on a baking sheet until tender, then reduce them in a pot of hot water with sugar and fall spices such as cinnamon and cloves.
“You want to get the mixture to a syrupy consistency,” Kim says, adding that the byproduct should taste something like “a cooled-down version of apple pie.”
To tease out the sweet-tart crispness of fall, Kim adds Laird’s Applejack. This strong apple-flavored spirit dates back to America’s colonial days and is actually the oldest distilled spirit in the United States, predating whiskey or bourbon.
But, Kim says, you could also stick to the hyperlocal theme by using Chapmans Apple Brandy, distilled by Republic Restoratives in Ivy City.
“For us, apple brandy has so many applications, and it’s perfect for cocktails,” Kim says. “Unlike bourbon, it’s slightly more mellow and soft, which I think just lends itself well to so many different styles of drinks.”
After mixing the syrup with apple brandy and Fino sherry, Kim muddles a few fresh slices of pear or apple in the bottom of a julep glass—“cobbler-style”—and tops the glass with crushed ice before giving the entire drink a stir. For an effervescent pop, she tops off the drink with a splash of sparkling wine.
As an omen of the drink’s fruit-forward flavor, Kim takes the garnishes over the top, too, adding a dehydrated slices of apples, limes and lemons. Dehydrated fruit may sound like a chore, but it requires little more than a baking sheet and the low-and-slow heat of an oven. The delicate garnishes also preserve the flavors of seasons past, says Kim, if stored correctly. She suggests doing so in an airtight container at room-temperature. Keep the garnishes handy in the bar to spruce up your seasonal drinks well through winter.
Kim shared with us her recipes for making the simple syrup, cocktail and dehydrated fruit garnishes.
Calling It a Day
1 to 2 slices of pear or apple
1½ ounces Laird’s Applejack
¼ ounce Lustau Fino sherry
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce baked apple and pear syrup (recipe below)
Champagne or sparkling wine
Dehydrated fruit to garnish (instructions below)
Making baked apple and pear simple syrup
In an oven at 375–400°F), roast pears and apples, cut into quarter slices. Remove from oven when soft and slightly burned on the skin (usually about half-hour to an hour). Bring a pot of water to a boil, then allow it to simmer on low heat. Add in the roasted fruit to steep and reduce for at least 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, add equal parts sugar to the remaining water (for instance, 1 cup water to 1 cup sugar) and fall spices as desired—cinnamon, cloves, etc. Strain the mix and store the simple syrup in a refrigerator.
To mix ‘Calling It a Day’
In a julep glass, muddle 1 or 2 slices of pear and/or thinly sliced apple. Add crushed ice and pour over the applejack, sherry, lemon juice and baked apple and pear syrup. With a swizzle stick, mix the ingredients together or toss the drink thoroughly between two glasses. Finish off the drink with a splash of champagne or sparkling wine and garnish with dehydrated fruit slices.
Creating dehydrated fruit garnishes
Slice any fruit thinly—limes, lemons, pears, or apples work best—and lay flat on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Set oven to 130–160°F and bake fruit slices until extremely dry and shriveled. Patience is required. Depending on the thickness of the fruit, the process to dehydrate could take several hours, sometimes as long as 12 hours.