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The Federalist Shakes up Early American Cocktails With Winter-Worthy Infusions

It’s been just about a year since The Federalist opened its doors adjacent to The Madison hotel, and since then chief mixologist Rob Yealu has been steadily building a beverage program worthy of the Founding Fathers (not to mention JFK, who is said to have been present for the hotel’s opening some 50 years ago — for confirmation just ask the seasoned doormen, who’ve been around since).  Of note lately: a freshly debuted winter cocktail lineup and house-made infusions in flavors such as roasted hazelnut, apple spice and espresso, oh my!

Yealu came to D.C. from New York with the intention of attending law school at Georgetown University, but quickly discovered his real passion was in the food industry, around which he grew up at his mother’s Jamaican restaurant. Having worked in bars since he was 18 years old (“I was the biggest bar back you’ve ever seen,” says the strapping former University of Buffalo football player), he applied his school smarts and research skills to developing historically informed drinks that complement chef Harper McClure’s 18th century-inspired menu.

Relying exclusively on house-infused liquor as well as homemade sugars and syrups, Yealu works closely with McClure to develop drinks based on history and farm-fresh ingredients. The Brandied Cherry, now available on the winter menu, uses Dubbonet Rouge, Xocolatl bitters and cherry bounce — that last being one of the first recorded infusions and something that Mary Washington likely made (it's made from brandy steeped for months with sugar and July-ripe cherries).

We especially loved the Bourbon Milk Punch: a creamy, almost soothing concoction of roasted hazelnut bourbon, honey-fig syrup, apple cider and milk. Just watch out — it goes down quickly. Looking for something festive to celebrate the new year? Yealu takes a cue from his his mother’s upbringing with the Blood Flower Royale, a traditional holiday drink in Jamaica. The striking, ruby-hued drink is an aromatic combination of blood orange gelée layered with hibiscus tea syrup (including notes of honey, cinnamon and nutmeg) and topped with Virginia-made sparkling wine.

In all, the Federalist offers nine different and seasonally driven housemade infusions (we seriously recommend the apple spiced rum, but also look for unusual flavors such as sun roasted vodka and smoked pepper tequila) , which you can learn to make at upcoming infusion classes with the master himself. With so many ingredients at his fingertips, what’s Yealu’s drink of choice? “I’m a whiskey guy,” he says, “but I like making cocktails because people dig it.”

Top photo by Lauren Sloat

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