WASHINGTON —Cherry blossom season has kicked into high gear. If you’ve missed the big bloom period, it’s not too late to get a taste of spring. Cocktail dens throughout the District are coming up with their own tasty translations for the iconic blooms lining the Tidal Basin. We’ve rounded up a recipes.
Pickled cherry blossoms: Perfect pairing for cocktails?
This season the recently revamped Columbia Room in D.C. is offering a few cocktails built around a home-brewed pickled cherry blossom tea. “It’s this very light, slightly floral but slightly salty tea,” says J.P. Fetherston, head bartender at the Columbia Room.
The most basic one, Cherry Blossom Tea, combines a barley-based sochu (sochu is a distilled liquor from Japan) with and apricot liquor, tea honey and, of course, the pickled cherry blossom tea.
To make this tea, plop a couple of these pickled cherry blossoms — Fetherston says these can be found online through some intense Googling — into about 10 ounces of hot water and let steep for a few minutes. How long is up to you. “The cool thing is you’re never going to over steep that tea,” Fetherston says.
The Columbia Room let its tea steep for about 30 minutes.
Fetherston also shared recipes for two other drinks: a dirty martini riff called Learn by Watching; and another called the Cherry Blossom Collins, which is a D.C. cherry blossom season version of a classic Tom Collins.
DIY cherry-infused rum punch
For those who don’t have access to cherry blossoms, it’s fine to think in terms of metaphors. After all, there’s no cherry blossom without the “cherry.”
“Rum and cherries are great friends of each other,” says Amnon Pick, general manager for Cuba Libre in D.C.
Fittingly, the rum bar has whipped up a cherry-infused rum punch. Theirs is sweetened by guarapo, an extracted sugar cane juice that Pick called the “backbone” sweetener for the bar’s cocktails.
“The flavor of the cane juice versus the simple syrup is a little softer and not as rough on the palate,” Pick says. “Simple syrup can create a bit of an aftertaste.”
You can make do with simple syrup if you don’t have guarapo on hand. Pick says you’d just need to scale back the amount you’d use.
Pick says the hardest part is waiting for the cherries to infuse with the rum — though the same could be said for waiting on those cherry blossom buds to bloom.
For those feeling adventurous: A cocktail with blossom water and beets
Sushiko Chevy Chase’s Sakura Bitsu cocktail broadly drew inspiration from spring — the fact that spring is a fickle, transitional season that flip flops between cold and warm weather.
This cocktail has a lot going on. It’s a mix of whiskey, a beet-and-clove purée, orange juice, yuzu and blossom water.
“The big thing we were doing, what we were considering, was more winter ingredients,” says bar manager Zachary Khalifa, “and then build toward spring,”
The beet-and-clove purée represents wintertime and the citrusy flavors — the orange juice, yuzu and blossom water — represent bright, fresh spring.
Khalifa described the making of a Sakura Bitsu as a taste-as-you-go-along process. Some of the ingredients are common — the whiskey, the orange juice, and the beets and cloves.
But most people probably won’t have ready access to blossom water, which Sushiko drink makers use to coat the glass.
Khalifa said Triple Sec can stand in for the blossom water; Myer lemon is an adequate substitute for if you’re unable to find yuzu.
For the purée, Khalifa says you can use ordinary canned beets and incorporate a clove-infused simple sugar — to make the simple sugar, use equal parts water and sugar, adding ground up cloves to taste. Boil until the sugar and cloves dissolve and allow to cool before incorporating into the beets.
Khalifa recommends serving this cocktail on the rocks or as a martini.