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In this episode of Local Flight, EJ Apaga of Blackjack shows Shawn where to find a tart summer treat and how artisan syrups are made all within the Washington DC area.

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Transcript

- I'm Shawn Thomas, and this is Local Flight. Join me as we travel across the country to discover extraordinary bartenders and purveyors. We'll share their stories as they work together to create innovative cocktails using unique local ingredients. In this episode of Local Flight, we're beating the heat with something bittersweet. Washington D.C. is going through a food and drink revolution, with new restaurants and bars opening every day. Ahead of that curve has been Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, and its frequently-packed sister bar Black Jack, where E.J. Arpaga has made an art of crafting cocktails for big crowds without sacrificing quality. - [Shawn] Hey there. - Hey, what's going on, Shawn? - E.J., nice to meet you, dude. - Yeah, welcome to Black Jack. - Thanks for having me, man, this aesthetic is great. It almost looks like a bar stage. It's great, man. - It's fun, it's more like a 1920s, 1930s-style. - For sure. What's the bar culture like here at Black Jack? - Well, at Black Jack, it's a little bit different than most of your cocktail bars. What we do is high-volume, high-efficiency, speedy bartending, even with proper technique and concentrated on craft. - I see. - [E.J.] That's our focus here. - So you're like a high volume, but with the same craft consistency that you'd get at another type of bar, where they stir a drink for 10 minutes. - Exactly. - Very cool. Well, I'd love to try one of those drinks. - Absolutely. So what we do here, when I first started, we decided we would mess with the Long Island iced tea. - Ah. - Great. - Lot of negative connotations in the bartending world with Long Island iced tea. - Exactly, so we decided that we were going to change out all the ingredients and go with a bunch of French aperitifs and Italian amaros and see what would happen. So this is gonna be called a Black Jack iced tea, and we're gonna start with both lemon and lime. And we fresh-squeeze everything here. For the most part people enjoy watching and knowing that it is fresh lemon and fresh lime juice. You can pour it out of a bottle, but that doesn't, you know. - [Shawn] Not the same effect. - Not the same effect. A little bit of simple syrup there. And then what I'm gonna do for you is an oldschool technique that I learned when I was a very young bartender, that not a lot of people use any more because it seems a little inconsistent. - [Shawn] Okay. - But uh, it's called a four-pour. We're gonna take four bottles and we're gonna pour them in all at once. Because this is a fast bar, we need to do things quickly. So I have a dry vermouth, I have a sweet vermouth, I have a French aperitif, and I have an Italian amaro, and it's all gonna go in the glass like this. - [Shawn] Four pour. - And then we're gonna pour an ounce of... - [Shawn] Orange cognac. - [E.J.] Orange cognac on top. - [Shawn] Yum yum. - Fill that with ice. We get that on top. Small shake. Just to get everything together, doesn't need to cool off too much. And there, we're just gonna pour that right in, top with a little soda water. - [Shawn] Look at that. - And you got our Black Jack iced tea. - [Shawn] It looks like iced tea. - [E.J.] Yeah, garnish it with a nice lemon wheel. And here you go. - [Shawn] Thank you, E.J., cheers. - [E.J.] You're very welcome, Shawn, enjoy. - Mmm. That's great, man. Quick, complex. I get the menthol from that Italian amaro. Mmm. Kind of a dual bittersweetness from those two red vermouths that you used. - Yeah, yeah, yeah. - And a little bit more dryness from that white vermouth. That's great, man. That's exactly what I want from an aperitif, you know? This is very, very delicious. So this is my first time here in Washington D.C., and I was hoping we could make a cocktail. That really kind of captures what this place is all about. - All right. - Now for me, I obviously have associations that are with our nation's history, the politics here, and I'd love to incorporate that. But I'm hoping we can make a cocktail that not only pays homage to the history but gives a nod to the artisanal producers, the seasonal locality, what's being produced here. What do you think? - I have a friend of a friend that I know has a pick-your-own fruit farm not too far outside the city. But we could go out there and kinda check on some fruit. - That would be amazing. Any ideas what's in season now? - I think this week they started opening up with tart cherries. - Tart cherries. - [E.J.] Yes. - Different from sweet cherries. - Yeah, absolutely. They have this iconic look, they're, um, bright red, like what you would see on a jackpot sign when you're in Las Vegas. - Sure, those bright red cherries, like bunched together. - Yeah, it's crazy, it's weird, because they don't have that sweetness, so they have this, like, nice acidity, but they're bright and vibrant. - And that's funny, because one of the only things I know about sort of the history here, well, I know a couple of things, but it's like, George Washington and cherries, like, that imagery immediately comes up. - George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, yeah, exactly. - So why don't we get out of here and go on a little adventure? - Let's go, let's go! - Just north of D.C. is Butler's Orchard, a family-run farm that spills across 300 beautiful, hilly acres. Here, we're catching a lift with third-generation farmer Ben Butler. Butler's Orchard grows everything from raspberries to sunflowers to potatoes, but right now it's the season for tart cherries. Even though tart cherries are less common in supermarkets, they're used in more recipes, are the base of more syrups and liqueurs, and are packed with way more vitamins than their sweet cousins. - So these are the tart cherries. - Geez, they're just exploding off the trees, man. - Yeah. It's wild, too, these were planted in 1983, so they've got a few years on them, but they're still, I mean, you can see, beautiful. - [Shawn] Yeah. - [E.J.] They look like candy, man. - So is there sort of like a method to figuring out when they're ready? - Yeah, so, as you look and see, you know, you want that plump, dark red color, and that's really the sign. If they come off the stem fairly easily, you know they're about ready, and you can kinda feel that plump, watery feel, that's how you know that they're really sweet. As sweet as they're gonna get, at least, for these tart cherries. - I gotta try one of these, - [Ben] Go for it, man. I mean, they just look so... Mmm. - [Ben] Not bad? - Mm-mm. - [Ben] Good. - Better than that, they're tart... It's like a combination of tart and sweet. - The real deal, - [Shawn] Au naturel. - This is the real deal, yeah. - There's a lot of juice in there. What kind of a varietal of cherry is this that makes them tart? - So this variety here is called Montmorency, this was planted 33 years ago and we're still planting the same varieties this year, so Montmorency is... - Yields a sour, tart. - Yeah, it's a good variety, a lot of different uses, and it's got great yields. - [Shawn] Bet they're high in Vitamin C and other antioxidants. - [Ben] Yeah, just through the roof. So there's not just a sweetness factor, but there's a great health benefit to eating these things. - [E.J.] This is a family farm. - It is, I'm the third generation. My grandfather and grandmother started the farm in 1950, kind of a crazy idea, the whole pick-your-own world. But we've come a long way, and now my dad and my aunt are the co-owners and my brother and sister and I are all the next generation, and we're happy that we're still picking them. 30 years is a long time. - [Shawn] Yeah, it is. - I actually grew up about 500 yards through the woods here, so this was my back yard. - That's awesome. - So eating fresh stuff all the time... - Can't beat it. - It was an awesome childhood. - Yeah, for sure. So E.J., we came out here for a cocktail ingredient. What do you think of these cherries so far? - Honestly, they have like, the flesh of a cherry tomato, they have this great juice in them, very acidic and sour, and that plays into a city cocktail, an official city cocktail. - What's the official city cocktail? - The official city cocktail is a ricky. - A ricky? - Yeah. - So this is already kinda speaking to you in the template of a ricky. - Absolutely. - Huh, cool. Thanks for showing us this property. - [Ben] Of course. - [Shawn] A beautiful piece of land, so... - [Ben] Glad you came out. - [Shawn] It's a good damn cherry. Inside Mess Hall, a culinary incubator that gives up-and-coming food entrepreneurs space to get creative, Tori Pratt is making her true syrups and garnishes the old-fashioned way, in small batches with natural ingredients. Hey there. - Hey, how are you? - [Shawn] Good, how you doing? - Good! Well, thank you guys for coming by. I'm excited to kind of show you what we're about here. - Please do, what do you have? You've got all these wonderful ingredients going on. - Yes, so, this is our tonic, so our tonic syrup was made from a whole bunch of different herbs and spices inspired by British India, where the gin , tonic was born. - Sure. - The first step is to put the saffron in to bloom. - Okay. - So if you guys wanna help me out with that... - Absolutely. - Just come on around. - Sure, okay, cool. - [E.J.] Makin' tonic, Shawn. - [Shawn] Makin' tonic. - [Tori] Perfect. - [E.J.] That's cool. - [Shawn] The number of herbs and spices required to make authentic tonic water is impressive. Much simpler is Tori's recipe for another bar staple. - We make a grenadine right now that is really delicious made from pomegranate juice, the way it was supposed to be made, back in the day. Orangeflower water, some cane sugar, and citric acid. - [Shawn] Okay. And that's your preserving agent? - It's preserving and it also helps add tartness. So this is yesterday's batch of tonic and grenadine, so we're gonna taste it out for you guys. - All right. A little taste test. - Usually you would mix it with club soda or something else. - [Shawn] Right, makes sense. I can smell all those, like, clove an allspice, right off. - [Tori] Exactly. - It's really good. And the citrus from that cinchona bark. - Yeah. - It's great. - And you can taste some of the more rounding notes, too. - It's tart, it's spiced, it's very well balanced and rounded, not too sweet. - [Tori] Yeah. - It's amazing that you accomplished all those citrus notes with the bark like that. - Thank you, thank you. - No actual citrus, but lemongrass. - Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. - [Tori] All right, and this is the grenadine, so you can see the gorgeous color. - I can smell that orangeflower water. It's very aromatic. - [Tori] It is. - Doesn't smell too sweet, we'll see. - No. - Slightly tannic, tart, acidic. I mean, that's really, really light. This doesn't spend too much time on the palate. It falls away. - It's more refreshing and light than most grenadine, yeah. - Well, you're the maestro, so I feel like, uh, you're gonna have to make this decision. - Oh, man, I, well, um. The tonic is delicious, the grenadine is delicious. But I think in context with what I'm trying to make, with the tart cherries, I think I wanna stay in that profile, and we'll stick with the grenadine. - Sure. Can we take a bottle to go? - Of course, let me just, uh, make up a fresh one for you. We actually make all of our own labels, and then the final step is a wax seal. All right, here you go, guys. - That's so cool, the wax is literally still drying. - [Tori] Yeah, be careful, it's a little hot. - Thank you so much, Tori. - Thank you. - Take care - [Tori] See you guys. - With grenadine and cherries in hand, E.J. and I head back to Black Jack to see if we can come up with a summer cocktail to help folks cool down. All right, E.J., we've got ingredients for days here. - Yeah, yeah. - A lot of cherries, grenadine, a lot of acidity in both those ingredients. - Right, yeah. There's not a lot of sweetness in this grenadine, which is great. And those cherries are plump and firm and full of juice, so I'm thinking we gotta do a riff on the official cocktail of Washington D.C., and that's a ricky. - What's in the ricky traditionally? - So originally it was rye, but now it's also known to be gin. Lime juice and soda water on top. They say the ricky is like a liquid air conditioning, so we're gonna try to stay with that template, because I think it'll work out, especially on a humid day like today. - Certainly. - [E.J.] I'm gonna grab a handful of cherries and try to grab some juice out of that. - [Shawn] Pits and all? - Pits and all. We're going to take it and we're just gonna mash it up and try to get, as you can see... - [Shawn] Oh, wow, yeah, that is... - [E.J.] All this stuff is just kind of coming out. - [Shawn] Huge juice content in those guys. - [E.J.] Yeah, get some of this fresh, delicious cherry juice out of here. - [Shawn] You might get some tannins off those stems as well. - Yeah, overall it's gonna be sour, so might as well add some of a little bit bitter content to it as well. All right, I've got some juice coming out of there. Now we're gonna take it and we're gonna strain all this stuff out into an ISI or a force carbonator. And we're gonna put the funnel on top. - [Shawn] Is that like a soda canister? - Right, they've been around for a long time. You can just take these cartridges and you fill them full of CO2, and it carbonates whatever you put inside of it. We're gonna put a little more soda water to keep it nice and fizzy. - [Shawn] Oh, yeah. - And then we're gonna cap all that stuff and we're gonna charge it with CO2. We probably only have to do the one, because we have regular soda water in there, and it helps with cold water and to shake it and agitate it and to make sure that it gets... - Very bubbly. - Very bubbly and involved. So now we're gonna build the cocktail. - Okay. - We're gonna start with Grey Goose cherry noir, just to keep with that theme. - [Shawn] Sure. Slight vanilla in that as well, and the cherry is not overpowering, it's not like a sweet flavor, it's a very dry cherry flavor. - Right, so it should match up pretty well. - Nice. - We're gonna still use a little bit of lime juice, but not a lot. A regular ricky recipe calls for at least an ounce of lime juice, but we're gonna go with half an ounce of lime juice. We'll get that to the mid-level. - So you get about a half an ounce of lime juice from a half a lime? - [E.J.] Yeah. - [Shawn] Cool. - We'll fill this up with ice. And I'm gonna top it off with our quickly-infused cherry soda water. We're gonna roll that a little bit, just get it all involved. Nice pink color to start. But then we're gonna top it off with a little bit of local pomegranate grenadine as well. - [Shawn] True grenadine. - Just for color, there. - [Shawn] That's purdy. - I'm gonna do a swathe of the lime. And then we're gonna top off a perfect set of cherries on the side. - [Shawn] Jackpot. - [E.J.] Jackpot. Cool. So here you go. - [Shawn] Very, very cool, man Very cool. Cheers, thank you. - [E.J.] Cheers, enjoy. - Liquid air conditioning. - [E.J.] Yeah. - A lot of red fruit, both from the cherries and from that grenadine. So here, take a sip of that. - [E.J.] Absolutely. - Tannins from both of those as well, almost some, like, orange peel off the grenadine, and some real dry, dark cherry from the Grey Goose. - [E.J.] Right on. - Mmm. It's good, man. It's good on a hot day, for sure, after that farm. - That's the whole idea. - All right, perhaps the tallest order of this entire trip, we have to name this drink. - [E.J.] Oh, man. - And we have to name it in such a way that captures everything we've done thus far. So the history, the local producers... - Well, how about, since the tart cherry is different than the rest of the other cherries, and we're going with George Washington on this one, who was a revolutionary, let's do a Revolutionary Ricky. - Revolutionary Ricky. - [E.J.] Right. - I like that. And what you guys are doing here, as far as, like, keeping the craft alive, but making it very accessible and very quick, and getting out a high volume, it is a bit revolutionary, so. The Revolutionary Ricky. - That'll work. - Cool, man. - All right, Shawn. - E.J., it was a pleasure. I hope you had as much fun as I did on the road, and, uh, thank you for showing me D.C. - No problem, Shawn, man. Any time you're back, good times, I tell you. - Well, I will definitely come back for sure.

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