Did you know that gin became popularized in England because the country and France were fighting? Or that, in its early days, crude gin was often made with turpentine instead of juniper? Or that at one point in history, you could go up to a gin shop in London, put a coin in a slot, and gin would come shooting out of a tube straight into your mouth (can we bring that back?)
DC resident Dennis Sendros has been hosting “Cocktological Evenings” in various forms since late 2016. It’s now a monthly, themed event where a small group of attendees are regaled with the history and stories associated with the night’s chosen spirits, and taught how to craft three distinct cocktails (no teaching necessary on drinking them).
What began as small get-togethers at his home among friends and family has expanded to ticketed events open to the public at a local establishment – it’s official second season kicks off at Exiles Bar (1610 U Street NW) on January 30th, with two seatings.
In many ways, Sendros’ background is somewhat typical of a young professional in DC. Hailing from New Jersey, Sendros attended GWU, put in six years on the Hill, and now works for the federal government in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
What he doesn’t have is any background or experience in the restaurant or beverage industry.
Cart Before the Horse’s Neck
He says it all started with an accidental handcrafted bar cart, an old bottle of tequila, and a bottle of Goldschlager. See, years ago, Sendros was taking a woodworking class, and on the first day, the instructor asked each student what they planned to craft for the class. Unprepared, Sendros panicked and blurted out “bar cart.” A few months later, he had a beautiful handcrafted walnut bar cart and, depressingly, only the aforementioned old tequila and Goldschlager to rest upon it. This had to change.
Sendros slowly began adding to his paltry spirits collections. He bought some decent booze and began looking up simple recipes, all the while adding to his spirits collection as various recipes called for different ingredients.
In a short amount of time, Sendros went from a two-bottle home bereft of any bar cart at all, to making infusions and hand-carving ice to make cocktails from his 100+ collection of distinct spirits. Drinking with others is inarguably better than drinking alone, so it wasn’t long before he opened up his home to share his newfound interest with small groups of friends.
It was these early, casual gatherings that really laid the foundation for Cocktological Evenings. The first night, Sendros created a menu, selected the spirit (genever, a precursor to gin) and invited a handful of people. He taught everyone about the history of genever, and even made a drink recipe that he had found printed in an old newspaper from 1900. He kept hosting these evenings, selecting a theme for each night.
The themes weren’t always just a rotation of spirits: while he has hosted evenings based on gin, mezcal, American whiskey, past themes have also included “New Orleans,” “Eggs,” and “Lost Generation” (American writers of the 1920s). He discovered that half the fun was seeing the conversation that was sparked during these hooch-themed discussions.
“One of the early Evenings, I think one person started talking about Chinese mercantile policy in the 1800s, and then another person made a connection to the criminology degree they were pursuing. An egg night I hosted had someone there that actually raised chickens, so we all got an impromptu lesson on poultry. It all sounds so nerdy, but it’s incredibly fun for me to watch people make connections with people they’ve never met before,” Sendros says.
With the explosion of DC-based distilleries, industry emphasis on creative cocktail programs and ubiquity of “speakeasy” style establishments, it’s no wonder Sendros has received enough enthusiastic, positive feedback to expand Cocktological Evenings in 2019, partnering with Exiles Bar to have a dedicated space for hosting the events.
For the second season of Cocktological Evenings, Sendros has come up with a slew of engaging themes, the first being “Winter Wonderland” (think toddies and nog), and down the line, “Childhood,” “One Man’s Trash is Another One’s Cocktail,” “International Whiskies,” and an ode to the city,” DC,” of course.
Tickets are $65 and are limited to six spots per seating – there is an early seating and a late seating, once per month until March, when Sendros plans to add an additional night per month. But this ensures individual attention, captivating conversation, and the opportunity to really get to know your fellow cocktail students.
Sendros has come a long way since he first made that serendipitous, accidental bar cart. And at the time of this writing, no old bottle of Goldschlager themed evenings are planned.
To purchase tickets and find out more about Cocktological Evenings, please visit https://www.cocktologicalevenings.com and follow them on Instagram at @cocktologicalevenings.