As the sommelier at several Washington, D. C. restaurants including renowned Mediterranean hotspot Komi, the talented Derek Brown garnered a flurry of local and national accolades. But a few years ago he traded in the corkscrew for the cocktail shaker. “ Bartenders are as American as apple pie, yet draw in traditions of shamans and alchemists,” explains Brown.
“We are given more license, more creativity and allowed a more approachable demeanor.” Today Brown co-owns The Passenger and Columbia Room, a buzzworthy duo of downtown bars in the District.
Older brother Tom creates cocktails on the fly at The Passenger, while Derek heads up The Columbia Room. The latter is equal parts cocktail den and laboratory, heavily influenced by the Japanese concept of omikase, an “as you like it” approach that ultimately leaves your experience in the hands of the chef (or in this case, mixologist).
When he’s not working behind the bar or intera c ting with customers, Brown does cocktail education and consulting for his company Better Drinking. He’s also on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail, mixology chair for Taste of the Nation D. C. and a proud charter member of the D. C. Craft Bartenders Guild.
Though some modern libations can be amazingly multi-layered and complex to create, Brown is adept at breaking it down. “ The cocktail itself is as perfect as Haiku,” he notes. “ It’s so simple: spirits, sugar, bitters and water. Yet it can appear in infinite combinations.” His ultimate goal is to make people happy, and cites a perfectly made cocktail as a wonderful tool to do just that.