Microwaved Manhattans, “biologically aged” cocktails and “Infinite Banana” are just a few of the alchemical innovations introduced to cocktail culture by Ryan Chetiyawardana (also known as Mr Lyan) and his pioneering bars over the last decade. Each cocktail the Mr Lyan team makes is the culmination of endless hours of R&D, calling on a masterful understanding of advanced culinary techniques and a penchant for peculiar ingredients.
When Silver Lyan, Mr Lyan group’s first stateside venue, debuted in 2020, the bar team inherited a wealth of knowledge from Chetiyawardana’s other groundbreaking bars, including the since-shuttered Dandelyan and White Lyan. Located at the Riggs Hotel in Washington, D.C., the latest in the Lyan family has eagerly taken that signature style and science-driven methods and made something its own, all with the goal of creating memorable drinking experiences for its guests.
“At Silver Lyan, we focus on telling stories about cultural exchanges through cocktails,” says Alex Leidy, the bar’s assistant general manager. The most recent menu is all about migration, which Leidy says includes “not just the movement of people, but also bees, robots, birds, space probes and beyond.” As with all of the bar’s thematic menus, months of research went into building the list of cocktails.
One of these mind-boggling drinks is the Nimbus Spritz, a refreshing and mineral-driven recipe that balances white rum with carrot mead, mushroom caramel, spruce, clay-infused bitters and crisp wine. It has all the hallmarks of a Lyan cocktail: Each of the bespoke components is intricate and unexpected, but drawn from familiar flavors, and they come together to yield something approachable for any drinker.
The inspiration behind the Nimbus Spritz is geosmin, a compound that is largely responsible for the smell of wet soil, also known as petrichor—a scent that’s ranked as “one of the top 10 most globally loved aromas in an international survey,” according to Leidy. The human nose is highly sensitive to geosmin, which is why it played a significant role in the transition from the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to more agricultural societies, as it helped people find land that would be suitable to grow crops.
After researching the compound and its connection to early agriculture, the Silver Lyan team knew they wanted to call on mushrooms and carrots for their high natural geosmin content. A housemade carrot mead, made by fermenting carrot juice with honey, “highlight[s] the brighter side of the carrots” and “open[s] up more of their fruity and floral aspects,” says Leidy. Meanwhile, turning the mushrooms into a “caramel” emphasizes their earthiness. To make the caramel, the team pressure-cooks a mix of candy cap and lion’s mane mushrooms into a broth, then reduces the combination down with sugar until it becomes a thick treacle.
Adding a fresh contrast to the heftier earthy ingredients, the bar makes a macerated syrup from fresh Pacific Northwest spruce tips. Combining the spruce tips with sugar in a vacuum-sealed bag and gently cooking them sous vide in an immersion circulator extracts as much of the fragrant oil as possible.
To add minerality, Silver Lyan uses an old Dandelyan technique, where food-safe bentonite clay gets infused into orange bitters. The resulting bitters, which require rigorous filtration, add both a distinct stony note and a gentle citrusy edge to the final drink. The team also dilutes the cocktail with mineral salt–adjusted drinking water, an ingredient developed at Chetiyawardana’s first bar, White Lyan. “There’s definitely something fun for us in bringing a cocktail inspired by the earliest days of human civilization to life using techniques from the earliest days of the Lyan company,” says Leidy.
Of course, the Nimbus Spritz wouldn’t be a spritz without a wine component. Silver Lyan opts for a dry South African chenin blanc that’s medium-bodied, crisp and reminiscent of orchard fruit. For balance, the cocktail gets a dose of unaged rum for body and alcoholic backbone and a small touch of lactic acid solution for texture. The entire mix is then chilled and force-carbonated.
The spritz is offered by the glass, or it can be served in a Champagne bottle, “the latter being a great way to get the night started,” according to Leidy. He likens the cocktail to a glass of funky pét-nat, although it’s distinguished by its bamboo leaf garnish, which has a lightning bolt carved into it.
“It’s a super bright, easy-to-drink cocktail that checks a lot of the boxes of what you’d want from a spritz, with a totally unexpected mix of flavors,” he says. In fact, Leidy recalls one guest’s comment after drinking the Nimbus Spritz that captures the Lyan experience in a nutshell: “I can’t describe it at all, but this is one of the best drinks I’ve ever had!”