Thursday, May 21, 2015

An Entrepeneur, a Writer, and a Damn Good Bartender. Meet Derek Brown from Drink Company

Derek Brown is an American entrepreneur, writer, and bartender. He is the owner of the bars Columbia Room, The Passenger,  Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, and Southern Efficiency in Washington D.C. A leader in the classic cocktail movement, Derek Brown devotes himself to teaching people to drink better and offers cocktail classes through his own Drink Company website.
Photo taken from Drinkcompany

1) One of the favorite things I love about reading your articles is that you always examine the benefits involved with people who drink alcohol responsibly and the amount of fun you’re having, even using terms such as “Drynuary."  If you could give one piece of advice to a person who inspires to create a positive drinking culture what would it be?

Drinking is all about context. If you want to gain positive and lasting experiences with alcohol, open a good bottle with close friends. To me, that's where drinking finds its apogee. People have asked me if I collect special bottles. I will on occasion but with the sole intent of sharing them. Truth be told, with the right people, I could drink almost anything.

2) On your Drink Company webpage you said that that you’re “story tellers” at heart.  Do you have a cocktail that you think embodies the story of your life?

Ostensibly my favorite cocktail is the Dry Martini but, like Bernard Devoto, the only other "cocktail" I drink on a regular basis is a slug of whiskey. Neither one by itself really tells the story of my life. One is sleek and modern, the other one rough and old fashioned. Let's just say that together they explain me well and, I'll try not to give a beauty queen answer here, but I appreciate both the progress of mankind and a longing to live in the past. To me cocktails tell the story of humanity well and our story is one replete with contradiction. I'm no different.

3) Do you mind sharing the recipe?

Dry Martini
1 1/2 oz. London Dry Gin
1 1/2 oz. Dry Vermouth
Dash Orange Bitters

Stir with ice until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express the oils of a lemon peel on top and discard peel.

4) Drink Company offers cocktail classes that change seasonally and reflect the emerging field of craft cocktails. What is your favorite part about teaching those classes?

Ever heard the saying that teaching is learning twice? For me that's part of it, recalling the stories. But I also love the interaction with students. Nowadays most people who attend my classes are familiar with the basics of cocktails, some even with how to make bitters and the history of obscure Pre-prohibition cocktails. It keeps me on my toes but it also keeps me learning. More than anything, I feel like a perpetual student. I'm very lucky to get the chance to share what I've learned.

5) Mockingbird Hill is focused on offering Sherry.  Southern Efficency is devoted to Southern Whiskey.  What kind of personal connection do you have to Sherry and Southern Whiskey? Why not just offer a Whiskey or Wine Bar?

I think that's the point. I love very particular things. I don't see any need to offer every bottle in the world. That's like a musician trying to play all the notes at once. I prefer a well curated program. Maybe it means that it isn't for everyone, but it also hopefully gives people a broader depth of products. We love for people to discover something they've never had before or something they never thought they'd like. Discovery is half the fun.

6) You’ve won a long list of recognitions from being a James Beard Semi-finalist and being mentioned as the best Martini in America by GQ.  What does it feel like to be so regarded in the field?

The short answer is: great. But the recognition is not mine alone. I work with some really incredible people and they deserve the credit as well.

7) Do you have any tips for bartenders who want to follow in your footsteps and be recognized for the work they do?

Drink a lot, read a little. That's advice I once got from a mentor. Try everything, but make sure to put it in its proper context.

8) You’ve given advice on professorcocktail, and are a proponent for bartenders to not be afraid to learn as long as they show they care and want to be better. However, one of the challenging parts about aspiring bartenders is that there is so much competition in the market. Are there any standout experiences you’ve had where you were willing to hire a bartender with no work experience over a bartender with much experience?

I would definitely hire someone with no experience but not necessarily to be a bartender. Its important to work your way up. Maybe a barback, server or some kind of bar apprentice. That's where they'd have to start.

9) Are there any cocktails you like drinking much more than making?

I suppose there are a few, especially some kind of frozen drink. They can be delicious but it's considerable more work than stirring a drink.

10) Are there any upcoming bars that you like to hang out in the Washington D.C. area?

There are plenty of bars I like to hang out in DC. Two of my favorite are Bar Mini  and 2 Birds 1 Stone. 

11) Finally, any plans for a new restaurant in Philadelphia?

Not yet, but I love Philly.

Derek Brown's Drink Company Website:

Related: Learn to be a bartender at Bartending School