Cocktail Convos: Sam Scarlet and WK Hearth
Wine is fine but liquor is quicker.
In a County that’s head-over-heels in love with wine, we set out to find bartenders who could make us forget for one damn moment about the rosé. Our quest led us straight to WK Hearth in Purcellville where self-taught bartender Sam Scarlet has made his mark with cocktails.
While most bartenders will ask, “What’s your drink?,” Sam’s asks about our other favorites, in foods, wine, beer, as well as sweet versus dry. From there, he aska more pointed questions about flavors, “Have you tried Elderberry? Do you like lemon or vinegar to make things tart? Are you going to order an appetizer with this?”
Then he’s off, show-boating a bit as he pours and shakes and fizzes.
What he presents on the rail minutes later is a work of art, planned and executed right down to a drop of crème de violet (!), smoked ice (subtle but tasty) or toasted marshmallow garnish (Oh my).
As with wine, Sam suggests you sniff and sip a cocktail to appreciate the balance and blend. One look at your face and he can tell whether he’s made your evening or needs to shake up something else.
Sam advises that my love of gin and my order of WK Hearth’s excellent Brussel Sprout Salad is the perfect set up for an Aviator Cocktail. A silvery fog of a cocktail arrives with a hint of lemon accenting the gin, some nice floral notes and a bouquet that lets me know I’ll like it before the first sip.
Is it possible to be a liquor nerd? If so, Sam is it and happily so. Many of his recipes are oldies but goodies made progressive with new ingredients, distinctive liquors and deep learning. He studies cocktails like he’s cramming for med school. He’s read thousands of cocktail recipes but loves reinterpreting classics because, well, they’re classic.
Part of the inspiration behind WK Hearth’s cocktail menu is Hugo R. Ensslin’s 1917 “Recipes for Mixed Drinks,” a bit of a throwback into America’s cocktail culture before Prohibition. Coincidentally, this book was published the same year that WK Hearth’s farmhouse was built and appears very much at home set in the once front room now a cozy bar.
What Sam calls a classic will still surprise. Take the Diamond Cosmopolitan. It’s carbonated, giving the lime flavor kick and fizz.
The tequila-based drink, Smoke ‘em if You’ve Got ‘em, uses a shurb and smoke to bring out those notes in the tequila. It’s about as far from a margarita as one can get.
The Old Fashioned on the menu has been reimagined with s’mores flavors but don’t think for a minute that it’s sticky sweet. Homemade graham cracker bourbon, burnt marshmallow syrup and chocolate bitters give this a sophisticated balance of s’mores flavor without hinting at candy.
The Wine Kitchen in Leesburg will begin offering cocktails this summer. Sam’s already given some thought to what might be popular there based on the location’s best-selling wines. In the meantime, head to Purcellville for a cocktail experience that’s part matchmaking, part science lab. Sam might make even make you forget about ordering the rosé.
WK Hearth, 130 Purcellville Gateway Drive, Purcellville, VA, Open Tuesday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays until 10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., www.theWineKitchen.com