Agraria’s Lord of the Drink, Derek Brown
“Everyone is pulling for us,” says Derek Brown with a smile, expressing his gratitude toward diners and friends in the restaurant business in Washington. Smash-hit Agraria, owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union, has been the talk of the town since it’s opening earlier this summer. Brown muses that it also re-affiliates him with his roots.
Originally from Ashton, Maryland, Derek was reared on a horse farm. He says, “I grew up with chickens and bulls, and a red-door country store down the road.” However, with no ambitions to take over the family farm he adds, “I was more into punk rock and skateboards.”
Brown, now a certified sommelier, is among the top creative minds in DC’s premiere beverage programs. He calls his journey a typical bartending story. “I started bartending in school, fell in love with it and stopped school to tend bar full-time. I wanted to deal with everything poured out of a bottle or shaker.”
His staff recognize bartending as a ‘noble’ profession. Insisting they be knowledgeable and helpful, not merely into “making a dollar or being part of a scene,” he aims for Agraria’s bar to be “a welcoming place where people can try interesting drinks, and know the bartenders are looking out for them.”
Derek even created a Cocktail Design Assistant position, filled by Kris, a talented young woman nicknamed “Mojito.” He says, “I can’t claim 100% creation here. The beverages are continually improved by the staff.”
Equally important are the ingredients. “There’s not one thing in the bar I wouldn’t drink a whole glass of,” claims Brown. Even among the ‘rail’ liquors are Henessey, Tanquery, Schmirnoff and Vya, a boutique vermouth from California. Known for brewing his own bitters, Derek exclaims, “We have more bitters than any bar in DC. They are a huge component of cocktails. We insist on them.”
“New York has been at the forefront of the resurgence of cocktails but DC is starting to catch up,” claims Brown, who enjoys exploring beverages that “ignite the palatte.” He recalls, “I recently read a poll that said 60% of people drink cocktails, which means, overall, more people drink cocktails than wine. And, I believe it.” He says, “A gin martini is fantastic with certain foods, like charcuterie. It’s up to us to create balanced cocktails that are food-friendly.”
Keeping with the ‘sustainable’ focus on Agraria’s food, the bar is moving toward small batch liquors. Bison Grass Vodka, for example, is already on the shelves and Square One, an organic vodka, is on its way. When possible, Derek supports wineries employing sustainable viticulture.
In the kitchen, Agraria’s new Executive Chef, Ricky Moore takes the reins mid-July. Moore says he was immediately enticed by the restaurant’s farmer-owned concept. Winner of the Chicago Tribune “Good Eating Award” in 2005, his menu showcases the simplicity and richness available from America’s family farms.
2 oz. Millers Westbourne Strength Gin
1/2 oz. Vya dry vermouth
1 dash of Fee Brothers orange bitters
Pour gin, dry vermouth and bitters over ice in a shaker. Stir, then strain into a cocktail glass. Serve with a pickle tray.
1 1/2 oz. Millers Gin
1 oz. blueberry sour mix
1 oz. lavender simple syrup
1/2 oz. tonic
Pour gin, sour mix and lavender simple syrup over ice in Collins glass. Top with tonic. Add three blueberries and a lemon wheel.
Agraria: 3000 K Street, NW; 202-298-0003; www.AgrariaRestaurant.com
*All photos in this post are courtesy of Moshe Zusman: www.carish1.com