Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Washington DC has its fair share of swanky hotels and hotel bars. Add in the word Georgetown and the image conjured up is a pretty specific one. While the new Capella hotel on the C&O Canal looks every bit the upscale hospitality experience you might imagine, The Rye Bar offers something to differentiate itself: a serious focus on rye whiskey.
Headed up by Capella food and beverage director Will Rentschler, The Rye Bar has roughly a dozen ryes behind the 26-seat bar at any given time. From rare bottles like a Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 year or a Abraham Bowman 10 year to standbys like a Sazerac Rye 6 year, which Rentschler favors because it's "great in cocktails," Rentschler aims to curate a selection that offers a bit of variety, including popular bottles like (rī)1, which Rentschler describes as "like biting into a loaf of rye bread," and a rare Willet 4-year that he chose for its super-smooth texture.
Classic rye cocktails on the list get subtle twists: the Old(er) Fashioned uses an aged sherry instead of sugar, adding a smooth texture and cutting the rye's bitterness while adding a bit of nutty character. The $22 (that's right, $22) Manhattan, made with Dad's Hat Pennsylvania rye, Dolin sweet vermouth, Byrrh Quinquina, and housemade orange bitters, is aged in a 15 gallon barrel for six weeks to impart a subtle oaky funkiness that's proven to be extremely popular (Rentschler went through his first batch of 250 Manhattans in a week). He describes barrel aging as a way for a mixologist to do something "fun and different; chefs can have fun in the kitchen, but barrel aging is an opportunity to 'cook' a cocktail."
There are also a number of cocktails not traditionally rye based that Rentschler has adopted into the fold by substituting rye. The Ryeding Out the Storm is a Dark and Stormy with rye instead of rum and the Margaryeta is a margarita with a white rye instead of tequila. Cocktail ice is hand chipped from large blocks, or hand pressed into spheres.