Drink City is written by Beau Finley. This post originally appeared on DC Focused.
Part-time bug geek, former entomologist, and current bartender Tania Morgan is the creator of a number of delicious cocktails at both Church & State and Wisdom. Her great taste and charm make her the subject of this month’s Drink City. Drink City is a series of snapshots of people in the D.C. area who are invested in D.C.’s drinking culture.
What brought you to D.C.?
My husband and I both finished grad school in California in 2008. He got a post-doc in D.C., and I ended up deciding I didn’t want to work in a lab any more. I was lucky enough to come here when the cocktail scene was really starting and found a new passion.
How long have you been bartending in the city?
I’ve been bartending for a little over four years. I started at Fruitbat on H Street as a server and barback, and eventually became a bartender there. When Fruitbat changed over to Atlas Arcade, I moved upstairs to Church & State and also started bartending at Wisdom. I’m currently bartending at both Church & State and Wisdom. Between the two bars, I get to play with a variety of cool techniques and flavors. Church exclusively carries American made spirits and we make a lot of infusions, syrups and vermouths. Wisdom has this amazing vermouth and liqueur selection that I’m still learning about even after being there for years. Between the two, my cocktail geek tendencies get to run wild.
The interest in classic cocktails and craft beer has exploded in D.C. over the past few years – what sorts of trends have you noticed lately?
The biggest trend that I’ve noticed lately is customers being more educated about cocktails. I might wonder why I’ve been getting a rash of orders for New York sours, then realize it’s because Esquire featured a write up on them a week ago. More people are reading [David] Wondrich or Imbibe and coming in to the bar wanting to try out new things. This definitely wasn’t the case when I first started. It’s kind of exciting to have this knowledgeable customer base because it forces you to step up your game.
What sorts of trends would you like to see in D.C. in the coming years?
Vermouth needs to get more love! It’s one of those supporting players that people don’t realize is fantastic on its own. I’ve had so many customers who are shocked when they try vermouth by itself and they really like it. I would love to walk into more bars and see a good vermouth selection.
In this country, we’re used to thinking of vermouth in terms of cocktails. Europeans have been drinking it chilled or on ice for forever. I usually recommend people try a vermouth on the rocks, sometimes with a twist of orange or lemon. Make sure you’re drinking a fresh bottle, since vermouth goes bad after a month or so.
Lately I’ve been enjoying Americano style vermouths. The name Americano has nothing to do with America, but is actually derived from the Italian word for bitter. Americano vermouths have a more pronounced bitter flavor, which can be refreshing in the heat. This summer I’ve been drinking a lot of Contratto Americano Rosso on the rocks with a twist of lemon.
At home, I almost always have a bottle of Dolin Blanc and Carpano Antica for cocktails, and I enjoy making my own vermouths as well. Once you get the botanicals you need, making vermouth at home is a fairly simple process. There are recipes online, and you can tweak and experiment endlessly.
Do you have a favorite drink to make right now? Why is this your current favorite drink?
With the weather turning hot and muggy, I’ve been into doing variations on sours. My current favorite is Bluecoat gin, lemon juice, St. Elder elderflower liqueur and a liqueur called Iris from Oregon. It’s light, tart and floral. The Iris liqueur is what makes the drink work. It’s earthy and floral all at once. Working at Church & State has given me an appreciation for American made liqueurs, and Iris is one of those hidden gems that I love to use.
All images © Beau Finley. You can see more of his work on his flickr page. If you or someone you know would like to be a part of this series, you can contact him: beaufinley at google’s email service.