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“That’s moonshine in there! Perhaps I better be careful with that one,” said a suddenly wide-awake patron, shattering the silence of a relatively sleepy afternoon of imbibing after taking his first sip of a corn whiskey-infused cider beverage dreamt up by the beer-loving brain trust behind Star and Shamrock.
The genre-blending establishment at 1341 H St. NE — it’s part Jewish deli, part Irish pub — put down roots in the city’s still-transitioning Atlas District in April 2010.
In addition to creating a menu loaded with classic nosh, founder Jason Horswill, who continues to sling drinks on a regular basis, carved out room for a carefully curated selection of craft brews.
Those dedicated draft lines have also fueled a handful of layered specialty pours, including: the Heebster (one-half He’brew Hop Manna IPA, half Guinness stout), Transatlantic (half Blue Point Brewing Co. Toasted Lager, half Guinness), Black Velvet (half sparkling wine, half Guinness), Snake Bite (half Magners cider, half Guinness), Half & Half (half Harp lager, half Guinness), Irish Shandy (Harp lager with a splash of lemon-lime soda) and the Black & Witte (Ommegang Witte with a Guinness float).
A few months back, assistant manager Sara Leigh Franco put even more potent potables into play, working up a half-dozen beertails that mix together various sodas, teas and spirits with barley and hops.
“It has been an evolving process for the last year or so,” Franco said of her best efforts to leverage all the available brews. “I am constantly changing recipes and coming up with new ideas. I always try to have something new for people to try.”
Her experimentation has taught her a few things — such as a deeper appreciation for lagers. “They are light enough that they pair easily with most liquors but flavorful enough that you can taste the beer. It’s what you want out of a beer cocktail,” Franco said of the nearly goof-proof building block.
While she has no illusions about beertails ever besting standard drafts or cocktails, Franco maintains that there’s a place for beertails at the table.
“Beer is always going to sell,” she said, so customizing it to fit the local clientele is all about adding to the inherent value. “When the locals come in, they love seeing a drink named after a street they live in or their neighborhood.”
Her contributions to regional pride include (ranked from most to least interesting):
Potomac Punch: This boozy concoction features Green Hat gin, grapefruit juice, Blue Point toasted lager and ginger ale. The drink is invigorating; sour citrus leads the charge, the gin weaves in herbal influences and the lager adds depth. The whole thing made us pine for brunch (and a few free hours to properly enjoy a few more).
Trinidad Tea: The most complex drink of the bunch mixes together Ommegang Witte, peach-spiked moonshine, peach schnapps and a splash of iced tea. The resulting cooler looks cloudy, but fruity notes shine through the lightly carbonated, mildly creamy base.
W. Virginia Ave: A tip of the hat to Appalachia that marries Harp, bourbon and lemonade. The bourbon gives this one a woody tinge, the underlying lemonade adds tang, and the Harp conveys a hint of hoppiness.
Benning Bomb: This odd-sounding creation incorporates Harp, Stoli vanilla, Kahlua and ginger ale. The drink is much lighter than expected, with the Kahlua and vanilla-flavored vodka coalescing into the milkshake-like middle, while the ginger ale adds fizz and spice.
Cap Hill North: The beverage that gave our unsuspecting drinking companion pause partners Magners with butterscotch-spiked corn whiskey. The combination is just shy of cloying; the cider actually dominates, producing a tart open followed by a vaguely caramel finish.
13th and H: The heaviest drink we downed features Guinness, Stoli vanilla and Dr. Brown’s cream soda. “It’s pretty sweet, but that’s one of my favorites,” a bartender warned as he set the tricolor beverage down on the bar. The drink is sugary, with the candy-like vodka and cream soda piggybacking on one another, while the Guinness fights to deliver some chocolatey notes.
According to Franco, locals love imbibing the 13th and H best.
“It’s like drinking a melted chocolate milkshake,” she said. (Though we thought the Benning Bomb did a better job of that.)
Meanwhile, she’s partial to the Long Island iced tea knockoff, Trinidad Tea. “Being from Georgia, you give me anything with peaches, and I’m a happy girl,” she gushed.
Franco is also putting her stamp on different hard liquors, creating batches of house-made hooch bearing significantly different flavors. During one visit, the bartender in charge made sure to point out sealed containers filled with fig-spiked Jameson, dill bourbon — “That’s really only good in, like, hot tea,” our bearded tour guide assessed — and the crowd-pleasing bacon bourbon.
“The only one that I make batch after batch is the bacon bourbon,” Franco said.
The piggy pour is intoxicating. The bacon-y flavor is subtle at first, providing traces of smoke and brown sugar on the nose. After swishing it around a bit, buttery notes danced across the palate, and a bit of porkiness developed in the back of the throat.
To wit, Franco said she likes to make customers’ heads spin by combining the signature bourbon with Magners.
“It’s like a salty caramel apple,” Franco pledged.
A request for said mashup only drew a blank stare from a befuddled barkeep who insisted, while other employees may indulge such orders, he was not privy to any such recipe. (Bummer.)
We made do with a proper European Snake Bite, uniting Harp and Magners — moderately sour; pleasantly pungent; all good — in perfect harmony.
Those looking to broaden their beer palate would be wise to give the Heebster (think tropical fruit, allspice and coffee, swirled into a foamy gulp) a try, while newcomers to the beer-based beverage market can ease into things with a bubbly refreshing Irish Shandy.
Meanwhile, staff said the menu is getting a facelift in just a few short weeks (the fried chicken livers have already been retired).
Here’s hoping Horswill et al. don’t dump all their signature fare. Because the only thing more fun than exploring new beer offerings is the diet-wrecking decision-making — gravy-covered roast-beef-and-bacon-stuffed Clogger, anyone? — that naturally goes along with it.