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.
Drink more sherry. Eat more ham. So reads the tagline of the new DC bar from husband and wife duo Derek Brown and Chantal Tseng. Mockingbird Hill, named after a line in the Clash song "Spanish Bombs," is their new sherry bar, a concept inspired during the couple's trips to Spain.
"We're a sherry bar, not a cocktail bar," says Brown, who intends to steer clear of elaborate cocktail menus. Mockingbird Hill currently has over 50 sherries on hand, and that number is likely to grow. While a passion project for Brown and Tseng (who is a self-professed Fino addict), Brown admits that getting people to love sherry is an uphill battle. "Most people think of sweet, cream sherries," he says, "but the reality is that sweet sherries make up only 10% of production."
The Mockingbird Hill sherry selection spans a vast range of styles, from the bone dry to the sweet. "It's a cocktail in a glass," says Tseng of the inherently complex nature of sherry. "Sherry has so many intricacies in its development from the region of production to the aging process." They're also offering a few spirits that are aged or finished in sherry casks, and pick up a bit of sherry flavor. Tseng will be preparing sherry flights to encourage exploration of sherry's myriad characteristics. And some days, at 5 p.m., there will be complimentary sherry (and ham) classes at the long communal table in the back room. "We want to reintroduce it," Brown says of all of the efforts he's making to reacquaint Washingtonians with sherry. "We want people to experience it in a new way."
While eschewing extensive cocktail menus, Mockingbird Hill will offer a few cocktails that Brown jokingly calls "gateway drugs" to sherry. Of the current four cocktails are three classic sherry drinks. The Adonis, made with Amontillado sherry, Cocchi Vermouth de Torino, aromatic and orange bitters, and an orange peel, is essentially a sherry Manhattan. It has the same bittersweet, citrus qualities you'd find in a Manhattan, but with an earthy funkiness from the barrel aged Amontillado. You'll also find a Bamboo, which is a classic drink that's essentially a martini made with sherry instead of gin.
Once you've committed to the idea of sherry, Tseng hopes you can get into the more esoteric aspects of pairing sherry with food. "Sherry has 307 volatile compounds," Tseng remarks while describing the science behind Mockingbird Hill's overarching concept. "Many of similar compounds are also found in ham or olives or walnuts." So, when Tseng places a small plate of olives next to your Fino or walnuts next to you Oloroso, she's matching like to like. "Fino is a bone dry sherry that's beautiful, refreshing, and sings with the flavor of olives," says Tseng. She can point you to why exactly the flavor pairing works so well in one of the food science texts stacked behind the bar.
Which brings us to the ham, which will also be custom-paired to different sherries. Mockingbird Hill currently has four cured hams rotating through the carving station manned by Jerry Zawacki, including aged ham from Woodland Pork in West Virginia, a Surryano ham, lomo from Red Apron, and a duck prosciutto from CureDC.