By Michael W. Harris
Note: For those readers who are not residents of Williamsburg, VA (not to be confused with the neighborhood in Brooklyn), DoG Street is the nickname for “Duke of Gloucester Street”—the main street that Colonial Williamsburg is situated on which runs between the edge of the William & Mary campus and the Virginia Colonial Capital Building. Therefore, when someone here says “DoG Street,” this is what they are talking about. It is not to be confused, though, with “Dogtown,” a nickname for Gloucester, MA, about which Harry Chapin sang. But this “note” has really strayed far afield…on with the review!
I went to DoG Street Pub on a recent Wednesday after work to have drinks with a co-worker and in the process introduce him to the world of gin and tonics. As a sub-mission, I was also trying to find a new decent bar that might start to fill the No Name shaped hole in my heart that leaving Boulder has left. DoG Street is a bit too much restaurant to be a nice bar to hang out at with friends, but I am happy to report that they have a good selection of gin! All the standards, a few locals, plus some that I wasn’t familiar with at all. Unfortunately, for this report, I had to drive home afterwards and was unable to sample “ALL THE GINS!”
But enough preamble, on with the review, which will consist of three parts: an overview of the gin selection followed by two brief cocktail reviews.
As I already mentioned, the gin selection at DoG Street, indeed the entire bar, was quite good. If it were not for the fact that the space was more oriented towards the restaurant rather than the bar, I would say that it could become a good place to hang out with friends. But alas, the food service vibe does not lend itself, in my mind at least, to lingering with friends or a good book.
Of note on the spirits menu were your basics from Beefeater up through Tanqueray and Bombay (in multiple variants). They also had locals like Copper Fox’s Vir Gin and Williamsburg/8 Shires Distillery Jamestown Gin (which is a genever style). There were even a few I didn’t know, including No. 3 London Dry Gin and what I eventually ordered: Whitley Neill.
But before I review that drink, I want to quickly mention that DoG Street also has an impressive selection overall, from whiskey, tequila, vodka, to even two outstanding Japanese whiskies: Hibiki Harmony and Yamazaki 12. I may not drink whisky often, but when I do, they tend to be from Japan.
Whitley Neill Gin and Tonic
While I didn’t know the Whitley Neill name, I immediately recognized its distinctive, matte black bottle when I looked it up. According to their site, the gin is bottled at 43% ABV, on the lower end of gin strengths, and in addition to the more traditional botanicals it also adds in two from South Africa: Cape Gooseberry and Baobab.
Much like last week’s Tanqueray No. 10, there were some very nice fruit notes to the gin and tonic. It was quite a bit sweeter with very little alcohol taste to it. This is probably due to a combination of the lower ABV and a mix ratio that skews more towards tonic than gin. There is also the wild card of what tonic they used and how much added sugar it contains. All of this played well, though, with the taste of the Whitley Neill and makes me interested to check out their entire product line. They also have some flavored gin that I am curious about.
I decided to order a second cocktail in order to test out a theory: I have never taken to the Negroni, that supposed “King of Cocktails,” because I had never made it quite right. I knew this to be a dangerous proposition, though, because the Negroni is an all booze cocktail, much like the martini. It is made of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, Campari (a sweet, yet bitter, liqueur), and traditionally garnished with an orange peel (which is the part I would always leave out since fresh fruit tends to go bad before I can finish it at home).
Knowing that it is a strong drink, I ordered some food (hummus and chips), and took a drink. Campari has a unique flavor that helps to mask the enormous alcohol kick of the drink, but it really does get you on the back end. As the ice melts and dilutes, though, the flavors do open up.
Unfortunately, for my taste, the Campari and vermouth overshadow the gin and make me wonder if it were to matter what gin I would mix the cocktail with. I ordered the drink with Beefeater because it is such a platonic ideal of gins, but I feel that I would have been just as well off if I had gotten it with their well gin.
While I did find this Negroni experience to be more enjoyable to my home mixed attempts, I do not believe that it will ever find a permanent place in my cocktail rotation. This is partially because I’m not sold on the taste of Campari along with the fact that vermouth goes bad. This might be less annoying if martinis and Negronis used the same type vermouth, but unfortunately the former uses dry while the latter uses sweet. Though the martini question is moot as I prefer my martinis in the style of Hawkeye Pierce: “You pour six jiggers of gin into a glass and then you drink it while staring at a picture of Lorenzo Schwartz, the inventor of vermouth.” And while six ounces of straight gin is a bit too much for me, and Schwartz is not the inventor of vermouth, I still appreciate the sentiment as straight gin is quickly becoming my favorite part of gin reviews.
If you are in Williamsburg, VA, and looking for a spot for dinner and a good cocktail (or beer for that matter, as they have an equally impressive selection of craft beers), DoG Street should be on your radar. While its proximity to Colonial Williamsburg and Merchant’s Square means that almost everything is overpriced and you might get an overflow of tourists at any moment, you will at least avoid most of the undergrad crowd when classes are in session due to its upscale vibe. Definitely worth checking out.