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Sarah Rosner's island upbringing most decidedly influences her cocktail program at Bourbon Steak, where she serves as the restaurant's first female beverage director. (Image: Rey Lopez)
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This Hawaii-born bartender wants to give you a taste of summer all year round

Sarah Rosner was born at Kona Hospital on the Big Island (where her mom worked), raised in South Kona and moved to the mainland right after high school. But, she’s quick to point out that she’s not technically Hawaiian, a Hawaiian native or a Native Hawaiian.

“Those are names reserved for the indigenous people,” she says. “I am a local girl, now a Haole and always a Jewaiian, a.k.a a Jew from Hawaii--we are a small tribe.”

Still, her island upbringing most decidedly influences her cocktail program at Bourbon Steak, where she serves as the restaurant's first female beverage director. We chatted with Rosner to learn how she she infuses her drinks with the flavors of Hawaii. And for those of us with wanderlust fantasizing about swaying palm trees and coconuts, she shares a recipe we can try at home.

What Hawaiian ingredients are you currently incorporating into your cocktails?

Some of my favorite Hawaiian ingredients include passion fruit, pineapple, macadamia nuts and coffee. You can find the latter two in the Mauna Loa Breeze recipe below. I also offer a riff on D.C.’s native cocktail the Rickey, "The Ricky Goes to Hawaii," that includes li hing mui powder. Made from salted dried plums, it has a sweet/sour/umami flavor and is used on everything in Hawaii, especially gummy candy, fruit and popcorn.

How has Hawaii influenced your philosophy towards cocktails?

Growing up in Hawaii instilled in me a deep appreciation for the use of fresh and diverse ingredients, bright colors and garnishes, and unique sweet and savory combos.

What is your favorite Hawaiian-inspired cocktail?

The Eddie Would Go cocktail is not on the current menu, but it is a favorite of mine. It’s named for an iconic Hawaii surfer saying and includes lime, raw honey cinnamon syrup, green Chartreuse, grapefruit and Okolehao, a Hawaiian Ti Root spirit with a unique earthy flavor profile between Tequila and rhum agricole and sweetened with sugar cane, which unfortunately I can no longer get in D.C.

What's your recipe for the perfect Mai Tai?

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert but I use 1/2 oz. orgeat, 1/2 oz. Pierre Ferrand Orange Curaaço, 1/2 oz. lime juice, and 2 oz. aged rhum like Appleton Signature, Mount Gay Black Barrel or any aged Jamaican rum.

How can people in the D.C. area add some "endless summer" elements to cocktails this winter to help us survive snowstorms and polar vortexes?

If you have time, I recommend taking a field trip to an H-Mart in Virginia. It’s an awesome Korean grocery store that stocks most of the tropical fruits, flavors and spices from my childhood. I often wander there for inspiration. Coco Lopez, a canned coconut syrup, and condensed milk are storable and always deliver summer-style concoctions.

Mauna Loa Breeze
Recipe courtesy of Sarah Rosner, Head Bartender, Bourbon Steak

“Hawaiian and tiki drinks are always thought of as fruity and sugar filled, [yet] this cocktail is actually an Old Fashioned variation,” Rosner explains. “All the flavors absolutely invoke a breeze from the gentle slopes of Mauna Loa, [and it] is a surprise for many guests.”

  • 4 dashes orange bitters
  • 4 dashes Bittermens Elemakule Tiki bitters
  • 1/2 oz. orange Curaçao
  • 2 oz. macadamia nut-infused Bulleit Bourbon*
  • Orange peel, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail glass, add ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain and serve over a large rock ice ice and garnish with the orange peel.

*For the macadamia nut-infused Bulleit Bourbon:
Lightly pulse 4 1/4 oz. macadamia nuts in a blender, then toast them in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 minutes or until lightly golden brown and oily. Remove the nuts from the oven and add to a 750 ml bottle of room temperature Bulleit Bourbon. Seal the bottle and set aside for the day, shaking occasionally. Place the bottle in the frieze overnight. The following day, strain out solid using chinois and then a coffee filter. Keep the Bourbon refrigerated.

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