Tastemaker: JP Fetherston of Columbia Room, Washington DC

If you’re in the Shaw District of Washington, D.C., during September #VaSpiritsMonth, make sure to stop by Columbia Room and ask JP Fetherston for the Second Row! Or, if you’re feeling a little adventurous, try your hand at prepping this cocktail at home.

September #VaSpiritsMonth Special Cocktail at Columbia Room:
The Second Row, featuring Virginia Distillery Company’s (VDC) Virginia Highland Malt Whisky
1 oz. VDC Virginia Highland Malt Whisky
1 oz. Capitoline Rosé Vermouth
0.25 oz. Falling Bark Hickory Syrup
1 dropper Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters
8 drops Black Mint Tincture

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass; add ice and stir briefly. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a sprig of black mint floated on top of the ice cube.

Story behind “The Second Row”: Small world. JP Fetherston and Gareth Moore, CEO for Virginia Distillery Company, went to high school together and played on the same rugby team in Maryland. JP created this drink as a nod to their shared past, mutual appreciation for rugby (Gareth played on the “Second Row” for their rugby team) and of course, whisky.

2nd Row_a
JP Fetherston / Columbia Room and Gareth Moore / Virginia Distillery Company.

by: Amy Ciarametaro

I recently made the pilgrimage to what is irrefutably one of the most compelling bars in the nation’s capital, Columbia Room for a special night out with a friend. Naturally, my friend and I managed to get lost in the back alleys leading up to the Shaw District establishment. But that’s part of the charm and adventure of Shaw’s layout. Upon arriving, we enjoyed a cocktail in the Spirits Library. I savored the Steady Cocktail, which has Gin, dry vermouth, Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse, and EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). It was seemingly simple, yet so precise. My friend consumed the complimentary olives that accompanied the Steady Cocktail, but I didn’t care. I was fixated on the perfectly balanced drink right in front of me. Now fast-forward two months later when I sat down with JP Fetherston, Head Bartender for Columbia Room, to talk about life, how he approaches making craft cocktails, and why it’s important to support your community.

We simply try to make cocktails as good as they can possibly be, while staying true to a few core principles: always try and simplify when possible; tell a story; and no gimmicks,” says JP.

third tryJP has worked at the current location of Columbia Room since its February 2016 opening. He was also at the original location on 7th Street NW, which was inside of The Passenger Bar in 2010 and 2014. JP was also a bartender and Bar Manager at the three other bars within the Drink Company empire: Mockingbird Hill, Eat The Rich, and Southern Efficiency.

JP had some interesting thoughts on why bars and restaurants should wave the local flag. “We, collectively, constitute a community. We have an identity to project, and a reputation to protect. Neighbors have to stick together. Virginia has a ton of amazing producers who are making remarkable products. We use wonderful spirits and ingredients like VDC Virginia Highland Malt Whisky as often as we can because they are great products! We’re building a reputation for our area together, so supporting each other is a huge part of that.

Hear, hear JP! This is one of the many reasons why he selected to be one of our featured September #VaSpiritsMonth Tastemakers.

A little sidebar: JP doesn’t like to brag, so I’ll do it for him since the social stratosphere needs to know how talented this man is. Thrillist named him one of the 21 Best Bartenders in the Country. NBD, right? Well, JP was also named Best New Mixologist 2016 by Food & Wine Magazine!

Aside from #VaSpirits, JP and his contemporaries at Columbia Room try to use as many local Virginia products on their menu as possible; be it sourcing great products directly from Virginia farmers or by going to the farmer’s market and seeing what they can pick up.

JP has one last tidbit of advice for those interested in learning more about #VaSpirits: “Visit Virginia distilleries, and meet the people who make the spirits first hand! That’s the greatest advantage of local, craft spirits have over the big boys: the people, and their stories of how they became distillers.”

Here’s a few of the cool #VaSpirits you can find behind the bar at Columbia Room:
Virginia Distillery Company Virginia Highland Malt Whisky
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye
Catoctin Creek Rabblerouser Rye
Fillibuster Dual Cask Bourbon
Filibuster Dual Cask Rye
James River Distillery Øyster Vit

*Rapid Fire with JP Fetherston of Columbia Room*

#VaSpirits: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

JP: Born in Alexandria, Virginia, and was raised in Arlington and Falls Church.

#VaSpirits: What was it that first inspired you to get into the F&B business?

JP: I was drawn by the physical nature of it, having just finished a graduate degree that involved long hours of solitude sitting in libraries, and also by the hospitality and performance aspects of the business. It caused me to open up more.

#VaSpirits: Tell us some fun tidbits about your daily routine.

JP: We (JP and the staff at Columbia Room) grab more coffee than I’d like to admit, and it’s always from La Colombe, which is across the alleyway from us. Night caps are few and far between when you work in a bar that closes late, but my first choice is A&D, a bar nearby in our Shaw neighborhood. The beer is cold, the shots are strong, and they have a foosball table. Columbia Room foos gets vicious…

#VaSpirits: When you’re not behind the bar at Columbia Room, what do you like to do?

JP: I love physical activities. I’ve run a few marathons in recent years, and want to do more. I never get enough time to read, but if I did I’d read every history book I could get my hands on. Despite my late Friday nights, between August and May of every year, you will find me early on a Saturday morning watching my beloved Liverpool and their rivals battling for supremacy in the Premier League.

#VaSpirits: When you’re not drinking #VaSpirits, what do you enjoy drinking and why?

JP: Bruichladdich Single Malt from Islay, or Sherry; the latter is the most wondrous liquid on Earth.

#VaSpirits: Any additional interesting tidbits about Columbia Room?

JP: We treated ourselves to awesome matching tracksuit tops bearing the Columbia Room logo, so keep an eye out for us instigating dance battles on the reg.

#VaSpirits: Okay one last question, JP! Tell us something we wouldn’t be able to Google about you (well, until now).

JP: I have British citizenship, I am obtaining my Irish passport, and I once cycled around Scotland for three months to visit 25 different distilleries and work at Bruichladdich on Islay, inspired by Rick Wasmund’s [of Copper Fox Distillery, VA] example (the working at a distillery part, not the cycling part; that was my own crazy idea).

For more information on Columbia Room, visit their website or follow them on Instagram and Twitter

To follow JP Fetherston on social media, check him out on Instagram and Twitter

Photo credit: Jay Paul