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Photo Courtesy of Heritage
Mattias Hagglund of Heritage has introduced a drink called the Southside, using Commonwealth Gin, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup, garnished with mint leaves.
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Photo by Robert Thomas
The Lovingston from Portrait House features Virginia Highland, which beverage manager Shannon Hood describes as an earthy scotch-style whiskey aged in Virginia wine barrels. “The ginger,” she says, a key ingredient in this delightfully spicy concoction, “adds a dry heat that balances the sweetness in both the whiskey and tonic syrup well.”
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Photo by Robert Thomas
The Savory Grain
Arthur Merritt, General Manager of The Savory Grain, prepared the GRTC featuring Bowman Brothers bourbon as well as Hard Rock Cider, both produced in the Old Dominion. Other ingredients included two types of bitters plus one other locally produced ingredient: “We make our own honey syrup,” Merritt says, “using honey that comes from our owner’s father’s property in Powhatan.”
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Photo by Robert Thomas
Jordan Hunter, Marketing director of Social52 Kitchen and Craft Bar, served what he called a “social pairing.” In other words, your bartender provides the ingredients and you pair them. Pictured is a delightful concoction called the RVA. The drink features Jameson Irish whiskey, simple syrup, and orange juice. This was paired with the Virginia-produced Bold Rock Cider.
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Photo by Robert Thomas
The Southerly Cup is The Southerly's play on a Pimms Cup. It’s made by muddling cucumber in their simple syrup, adding Pimms and Belle Isle Moonshine, and topping it with their homemade basil lemonade.
On a recent edition of River City Flavor (better known as The Flave, the River City’s only food, beverage, and restaurant radio show), we asked a couple of the area’s premier bartenders to tell us what was trending on the local bar scene. They agreed that Virginia-produced spirits are currently quite popular.
Now, obviously, Virginia wines as well as locally brewed craft beers have been popular for quite some time, but I can’t honestly say I knew much about the resurgence in Virginia whiskey distillation, at least the kind that the revenuers aren’t searching for up in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I spoke with a few other bartenders and bar managers around town, and, sure enough, Virginia spirits are making a comeback. I say “comeback” because, if you go back a few years, like to Colonial times, you’ll discover that whiskey distillation was once big business here in the state.
In fact, unless you’re quite the history buff, I’m willing to bet that you’ll never guess who once owned the largest whiskey distillery in the United States, right here in Virginia. Okay, I’ll tell you.
It was George Washington. The production of whiskey was one of his most successful business ventures. In 1799, it was estimated that Washington’s distillery was producing 11,000 gallons per year.
Some of that whiskey went to the troops. Early records reveal that our first president, in order to boost the morale of the Continental Army, made sure that they had “moderate supplies” of whiskey.
Washington also sold his whiskey in stores, in both Alexandria and in Richmond. But, lest you think that George Washington was a moonshiner, let me make it clear: He paid tax on the liquor he produced.
Although George Washington’s distillery burned 200 years ago, in 2007 a two-year reconstruction of that distillery was completed and today can be visited at Mount Vernon. For more information, go to MountVernon.org.
But enough history. Let’s move to the present and spotlight some of the great cocktails utilizing Virginia spirits that are currently being served around town.
Mattias Hagglund at Heritage is among the city’s leading mixologists in his use of state-distilled products. “These local distilleries are popular because they’re doing really great work,” he says. “Virginia’s distilleries make me proud in how much they try to be a present, public face.”
Hagglund, who has loaned his support to the owners of the new James River Distillery in both tasting and helping to perfect the recipe for their Commonwealth Gin, says of the product, “It is a really beautiful, standout gin. It works very well in a gin and tonic but also lends a unique flavor profile to more complicated cocktails. Unlike other gins, it has melon and hops (Citra and Amarillo) in its recipe, and that makes it really fun to play with in the bar.”
The Heritage mixologist has introduced a drink called the Southside, using Commonwealth Gin, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup, garnished with mint leaves.
“In Prohibition-era Chicago,” he tells me, “you had the Northside gang, run by Al Capone, and they had access to the best booze. Then there was the Southside gang, run by Frankie McErlane. McErlane, a former bartender, came up with this drink to help sell his homemade hooch and it took off from there.”
For pairing with the Southside, Hagglund suggests their small plate of lightly salted watermelon, barrel-aged feta, aged balsamic, basil, and olive oil.
Heritage’s happy hour runs from 5-7 p.m. and features a rotating red and white wine at $5 each; a rotating draft for $4; and a daily cocktail special for $6. Highballs with house spirits as well as small plates are also offered at a dollar off.
1627 W. Main St. | 804-353-4060
SOUTHERLY RESTAURANT AND PATIO AT SOUTHERN SEASON
Although it’s brand new to the Richmond area, Southerly Restaurant at Southern Season was a first choice for our feature spotlighting Virginia-produced distilled spirits. Local products are a mainstay at this small Chapel Hill-based gourmet grocery/cooking school/foodie’s paradise.
“Here at Southerly, we believe in a casual yet refined take on classic Southern dishes with modern nuances,” says front-of-house manager Justin Johnson. “We believe in being a champion of local farmers, brewers, artisans and giving them a place to show their products to the community and try to utilize these products when and wherever possible.”
Behind the bar, you’ll discover craft beers from a number of local breweries. They also feature spirits from both Bowman Brothers bourbon out of Fredericksburg and Belle Isle Moonshine, based right here in Richmond.
“The drink we prepared for you,” says Johnson, “is the Southerly Cup, our play on a Pimms Cup. It’s made by muddling cucumber in our simple syrup, adding Pimms and Belle Isle Moonshine, and topping with our homemade basil lemonade.”
In speaking about Southerly’s broader craft program, Johnson adds, “We want to feature classic cocktails in their pre-Prohibition style. We want to make everything in house that we can and rely on the flavor and quality of the products as opposed to adding unnecessary ingredients.”
The new restaurant is currently offering different happy hour specials each evening to gauge customer response. Check out their specials and be part of the response.
2250 Staples Mill Rd. | 804-292-3447
Richmond on the Nile? Well, not exactly, but the folks at Portrait House restaurant in Carytown seem to be doing a fine job of combining authentic Ethiopian cuisine with Virginia spirits.
Following a recent merger (in early July) with the Nile Restaurant, a Fan-area staple for the past nine years, beverage manager Shannon Hood has done an amazing job in putting together a bar program that meshes well with the new cuisine.
“That begins with a heavy focus on craft beer,” she says. “Daniel Koen is our sole beer buyer and he is the best in the business. We have 24 beers on draft and a constant rotation of craft cans. About six lines are always dedicated to Virginia beers.”
And, while most of the liquors are obviously not distilled in Virginia, Hood has brought in some Virginia products that are proving to be quite popular. Based on our sampling, I can understand why. Her selection, pictured here (and which we sampled for research purposes only, of course), is the Lovingston, named for the small Nelson County town near which it is produced.
The Lovingston features Virginia Highland, which Hood describes as an earthy scotch-style whiskey aged in Virginia wine barrels.
“The ginger,” she says, a key ingredient in this delightfully spicy concoction, “adds a dry heat that balances the sweetness in both the whiskey and tonic syrup well.”
It’s that heat that makes this a very sippable drink, perfect for sitting at the bar or on the patio and people-watching, a Carytown pastime.
Happy hour specials (check with the restaurant for times) include $4 pints, $3 rails, $4 wine, and $8 flights.
2907 W. Cary St. | 804-278-9800
THE SAVORY GRAIN
One of the leaders on the Richmond dining scene in the farm-to-table movement is The Savory Grain, located across from Pleasant’s Hardware on West Broad Street. General manager Arthur Merritt describes the restaurant’s concept as offering “American comfort food, but a little more upscale.”
“We are very beer forward,” he says. “We use a lot of beer in our recipes in the kitchen. Beer is heavily featured behind the bar as well. Half of our 23 taps feature Virginia beers.”
The Savory Grain is also a leader in the use of Virginia liquors.
“We have close to 10 different Virginia-distilled spirits which we use,” Merritt says.
The drink he prepared for us, dubbed the GRTC, features Bowman Brothers bourbon as well as Hard Rock Cider, both produced in the Old Dominion. Other ingredients include two types of bitters plus one other locally produced ingredient: “We make our own honey syrup,” Merritt says, “using honey that comes from our owner’s father’s property in Powhatan.”
The Savory Grain offers one of the simplest happy hours in town (from 4 to 7 daily.) Basically, everything is four bucks. That goes for the beers and the well drinks, and there are also a red, a white, and a sparkling wine that are four bucks a glass.
2043 W. Broad St. | 804-592-4000
SOCIAL52 KITCHEN AND CRAFT BAR
When we stopped in at Social52 Kitchen and Craft Bar in the Fan to see what they were doing with local spirits, we didn’t expect them to be so sociable. Marketing director Jordan Hunter brought us a variety of drinks and shareable appetizers.
The beverages included a couple of what Hunter called “social pairings.” In other words, your bartender provides the ingredients and you pair them. First, we sampled a delightful concoction called the RVA. The drink features Jameson Irish whiskey, simple syrup, and orange juice. We paired that with the Virginia-produced Bold Rock Cider. Even before the pairing, you had the makings for a couple of great drinks.
We also sampled the socially paired sangria, which features a sweet red Virginia wine and a sauvignon blanc.
The third beverage pays tribute to the bar’s 10 taps that feature Virginia brews exclusively. We sampled Saison from Ardent.
I must say, the “shareables” that Hunter shared with us were quite tasty as well. She served up the crispy duck rolls and the Campfire Wings, half of which had been tossed in ghost pepper, the other half in a delicious sriracha-honey glaze. Both the rolls and the wings were delightful, but my very favorite was the Firecracker Shrimp, sriracha-honey glazed and stir fried with snow peas and carrots.
Things get even more sociable during happy hour (4-7, Monday through Saturday) at Social52, when you can take advantage of discounts on the beers, wine, and the well drinks. Plus, for the starters and shareables, when you buy one, you get a second one at half price.
2619 W. Main St. | 804-353-9709
Click here to see this article in our September/October issue of River City magazine!