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09.24.10 by  

Warning: Alcohol Consumption Improves Judgment

The next time you’re in Washington DC, skip the White House tour and hit up the Gibson for the Jonathan Harris cocktail experience. There’s a whole lot more going on than meets the glass. Think history meets art meets science, set to Jimi Hendrix.

Left brain meets right brain when you spend time with Jonathan Harris, whose mind weaves seamlessly from music and art to politics and economics. The creative force behind Gibson’s three cocktail menus, Harris’ signature recipes come from a deep and varied well of inspiration, sharpened by a well-fueled intellect. When a guy with this much cerebral activity puts his attention your glass, you’ll remember the experience, guaranteed. In fact, we’d be willing to bet that sharing a drink with him is the only time you can actually raise your IQ points through alcohol consumption.

We love Jon Harris' attention to detail — everything in the glass has a reason for being. Photo credit: Sam Vasfi.

served raw: we’re obsessed with the cobblers on your menu …
Jon Harris: Cobblers are an ancient drink form popular in the late 19th century and prior thereto. The sherry cobbler, for example, was once a favorite drink in the U.S. I wanted to include them in our menu because, by nature, they are over the top. Basically, you put booze and some modifiers in a glass with crushed ice and garnish the hell out of it, I mean really go to town on it. Mint, fruits, flowers, whatever, all dusted with powdered sugar. It comes out looking so magnificent and decadent. People love seeing that and, although they can be a pain to make, bartenders enjoy making them because they get to demonstrate some artistic flair. Every bartender has a distinct garnishing style. My favorite cobbler that we’ve done came out looking like a wedding bouquet. We had a supply of chamomile flowers and chive blossoms that we put in a cobbler with St. Germain. It was gorgeous and the scent of the flowers and blossoms also complemented the flavor of the drink.

a new cocktailing trend you’re not into …
Not much into the return of tiki — I just can’t stomach the drinks: gargantuan size, lots of sugar and juice. I like cleanliness in my cocktails.

if we were invited to a Jon Harris party, what cocktails and bites are you serving?
Champagne cocktails, Spanish ham and Meadowcreek Appalachian cheese. I like the simple but elegant route.

drinks, cocktail techniques or bar experiences that you consider bartending blasphemy …
Not measuring and not tasting the drink before serving are sins. Also, a lot of bars and restaurants don’t put any thought into naming their cocktails. The name should tell a story. Typically, such drinks are also insipid. Not putting significant thought into what you’re creating is blasphemy.

we’d love to include a quintessential jon harris cocktail recipe …
The Green Gown was inspired by a line from the Jimi Hendrix song “Bold As Love.” “Queen Jealousy, Envy, waits behind him. Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground.” As such, the drink is a depiction of this personification of jealousy. The color of the drink is a faint green that shimmers in the candlelight like a woman’s gown. The ginger and the Laphroaig are the fire. Chartreuse represents the grassy ground. Fernet, which has a distinct rooty, vegetal flavor, plays the roll of the soil, but also calls to mind the bitterness associated with jealousy. It’s a multi-layered drink: First you smell the smoky Laphroaig, then you taste the herbal medley of the various liquors and finally, at the end, you feel the burn of the ginger at the back of the throat. So, it tastes like watching a pitch of grass start to smolder then burst into flames.

The Green Gown

A temptress in a glass a la Jon Harris.

  • 2 ounces Aalborg Akvavit
  • ¾ ounce Dolin Dry Vermouth
  • ¼ ounce Green Chartreuse
  • 2 dashes Fernet Branca
  • 6 drops ginger extract
  • Laphroaig 10 year scotch
  1. Chill a cocktail glass.
  2. Add first 5 ingredients to a mixing glass.
  3. Fill with ice and stir.
  4. Rinse glass with scotch and strain the drink into the glass.
  5. Garnish with a cherry.

if we want the full jon harris experience, what flight are you serving us?
1. The Green Gown — aquavit, dry vermouth, green chartreuse, fernet and ginger extract in a Laphroaig-rinsed cocktail glass — to wake up your palate.
2. The Dirty Pretty Lover — rye, homemade quince ratafia, ambrosia syrup and homemade saffron bitters and champagne. It’s somehow both heavenly and earthy, much like the relationship between you and your dirty pretty lover.
3. The Mynah — Yellow Chartreuse, Sloe Gin, lime juice, raspberry syrup and Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters. This is a good fun follow up. Aromatic and flighty. Tastes like watching the mynah bird flit around over rooftops in New Delhi while listening to Duke Ellington’s song about the Mynah from his Far East Suite.
4. The Mary Travelar — Highland Park 12 scotch, Averna Amaro, St. Germain, Peychaud’s, Angostura. A good one to end on, especially if sitting near a fireplace. Served with a burning cinnamon stick. It induces reflection.

Cobbler Cocktails

Mixologist Jon Harris revives this ancient drink with modern artistic flair. His cobbler menu at Gibson in Washington DC is off the hook.

  • 1 ½ to 2 ounces booze
  • ½ ounce sweetener — simple syrup, pineapple syrup, Cointreau, etc.
  • ½ ounce citrus
  • Optional bitters
  1. Shake and pour into a white wine glass, or just pour into the glass. Fill with finely crushed ice and a garnish to your heart’s content with fruits, flowers, herbs, etc.