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Try the Best Smoky Cocktails from DC Bartenders

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D.C. bartenders recently shared their finest recipes in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge, sponsored by Ardbeg. David Bernhardt of Leftdoor ultimately won, earning a to Scotland for his subtle and smoky masterpiece, The Outlaws. He won’t be the only one to benefit from the competition, though. You, for instance, can check out the best recipes submitted, including Bernhardt’s, and explore the DC bars where these talented, innovative bartenders work. But before you head out to see what else they’re mixing up, find the smoky cocktail that speaks to you.


This Truxton Circle destination is known for having one of the most extensive cider lists in the country. That’s not the only delicious drink you can get here though, since talented bartenders like Cooper Sheehan are mixing up innovative cocktails. His original recipe, the Tartan Sour, even had him featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.


The Armory at Rebellion

It pays respect to the rich tradition of the American tavern, but updates that tradition with thoroughly modern menu items. Craft cocktails are also on display, thanks to skilled technicians behind the bar, like William Jackson. He’s constantly introducing delicious new recipes, all of which share the same quality and playfulness that got his Oil and Smoke featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.


This restaurant is inspired by the cooking and cocktails of southern Spain, with the menu, design and architecture all nodding to the region. Bartender Carlos Paiva adds his own style with wholly unique creations like his Essentially Islay. It’s where you’ll find the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge–featured bartender putting his creativity on full display.

Bar Rouge

One of the district’s best boutique hotels also features one of its finest cocktail bars. Grab a seat at this sleek, hip bar and you may even get to try the latest creation from bartender Naderia Wynn. Chances are it will be as innovative as her Curious George Goes to Scotland, the striking original recipe featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

Café Milano

This stunning Georgetown restaurant has the feel and look of a stylish boutique in Milan, hence the name. Head over when it’s warm to take advantage of the sidewalk patio and complete the experience. You don’t have to depend on the weather to enjoy show stopping cocktails from Linda Jockers, who just had an impressive run in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge with her original recipe, Chasing the Islay Sun.

Le Diplomate

This café offers an authentic slice of French culture right in DC. You can enjoy French café staples—from pastries and coffee to oysters and wine—in a gorgeous open air space. The cocktail program completes the experience, with signature recipes made by skilled bartenders like Walter Raubeson, who recently shared his delicious original, Auld Alliance, in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

Dirty Habit

Thanks to this trendy spot, you can now enjoy premium craft cocktails in the original 1841 General Post Office. The architecture and décor is something to behold, but the creations of bartender Chris Boyenga make it truly special. The judges at the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge would agree, since they were blown away by Boyenga’s recipe, the Chranachan Stiff.

Five to One

This lively bar, inspired by the 9:30 Club next door, is all about the music. The extensive drink menu hits all the right notes, with original recipes paying homage to different bands. Your craft cocktail might even be made by acclaimed bartenders Faith Alice Sleeper or Jeremy Wetmore, who were both recently featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

The Hamilton

You won’t be disappointed with the food, drinks or live music at this venue and restaurant. It draws influence from each corner of the globe and is leading the charge in the District’s creative renaissance. Plus, you can often grab a delicious and original cocktail from Josh McCabe. Recipes like Smoking by the Maple Tree—featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge—have put him on the map as one of the city’s most creative bartenders.

Hank’s Oyster Bar: Alexandria

It’s more than an oyster bar. It’s a local institution offering one of the finest raw bars—and bars, period—on the entire Eastern Seaboard. Part of what makes this location unique is the presence of bartender Alex Taylor, the mastermind behind My Mistress Smokes Cigars, a recipe featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

Hank’s Oyster Bar: Washington, DC

It’s more than an oyster bar. It’s a local institution offering one of the finest raw bars—and bars, period—on the entire Eastern Seaboard. Part of what makes this location unique is the presence of bartender Jessica Weinstein, the mastermind behind Everyday I’m Trufflin’, a recipe featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.


This polished and funky cocktail bar impresses with wildly different drinks. You can splurge for the $100 Portland 95 cocktail or try one of the other standout, less expensive, drinks. Whatever you’re craving will be made by an expert bartender, like David Bernhardt, who won the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge regional on the strength of his original recipe, The Outlaws.

McClellan’s Retreat

This cozy bar, named after the Civil War general, serves handcrafted cocktails in an appropriately vintage setting. Despite the throwback décor and name, bartenders like Brian Nixon are constantly innovating and among the leaders of the local cocktail scene. Nixon’s recipe, A Scotsman Dreams of New Orleans, was widely acclaimed in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

The Partisan

It’s quality across the board at this hip bar and restaurant. You won’t find a weak link on the wine, beer, whiskey or cocktail list. What else would you expect from the home bar of Kendra Copeland? Her original recipe, the Southern Teddy Bear, is a fine example of the skill and creativity she brings to each drink. It even got her featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

The Passenger

This Shaw hangout features multiple floors, tons of specialty cocktails and no frills. Scan the chalkboard for something that looks good or simply tell the bartender what you usually like. Experts behind the bar, like Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge featured bartender Jade Aldrighette, can think—and pour—on their feet. Aldrighette’s subtly smoky creation, After Islay, is only one example of her creativity.


The name and design at this 14th Street bar are inspired by the car dealerships and auto repair shops that once dominated the area. It creates a striking setting, but the craft cocktails are the real highlight, especially when you have bartenders like Lindsay Parsons mixing them. She was recently featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge for her original recipe, the Sweet Tooth.

2 Birds 1 Stone

The highly original—and hand drawn—menu at this lively cocktail lounge changes every week, giving regulars something new to try with every visit. It’s built up its loyal following with the help of genius bartenders like Alexander Witt, who’s starting to get recognized for recipes like Really That Stubborn, which was featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.


This elegant restaurant imports flavors and craftsmanship from Italy to Dupont Circle. You can get an unforgettable plate of pasta, a delicious happy hour cocktail or—better yet—both. The chef here is widely celebrated but bartenders like Lauren Paylor are starting to garner attention for themselves. Her original recipe, the Cool Winter Breeze, made a major splash in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

Locations: Washington D.C.
Brands: Ardbeg
Appears in 2 Collections

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