If you’re in the Belmont District of Charlottesville during September #VaSpiritsMonth, stop on by The Local and ask Alec Spidalieri for the ‘Songbird,’ a fruity, fragrant riff on a classic Cuban Daiquiri! Or, if you’re feeling adventurous try your hand at prepping this graceful cocktail at home.
Songbird, featuring Vitae Spirits Platinum Rum
2 oz. Vitae Platinum Rum
¾ oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 oz. Blueberry-Lavender-Mint Cordial**
small pinch of salt
Add all ingredients to a shaker. Add ice, shake until well-chilled, and double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a floating lavender sprig or a lime peel.
4 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups white sugar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 cup dry white wine (such as Barboursville Pinot Grigio)
2 oz. high-proof rum
¼ cup dried lavender flowers
10 sprigs fresh spearmint
Place 4 cups of fresh blueberries in a large bowl. Evenly sprinkle 1 tbsp. of kosher salt and 2 cups of white sugar over top. Let macerate for 6-8 hours, add 1 cup of dry white wine, then gently pulse with an immersion blender to mix. Strain mixture through a mesh strainer or chinois into a medium saucepan, pressing to extract all the liquid. Gently bring the liquid to a medium heat setting while stirring, then add 1 cup of dried lavender flowers and let steep for five minutes. Don’t leave the lavender in too long or it will taste ‘sharp’ and burnt. Strain this lavender-blueberry mixture into a blender.
Separately, bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Blanch 10 sprigs of spearmint by submerging them in the boiling water for twenty seconds, then immediately dunk them in a bowl of ice water for sixty seconds. Pick the leaves off the mint, and add to lavender-blueberry mixture in blender. Blend on high for 20 seconds, then let mixture settle for a few minutes until any bubbles or foam created from the blender have died down. Strain out solids, add 2 oz. of high-proof rum (as a preservative) and then store in a clean glass bottle.
by: Amy Ciarametaro
Alec Spidalieri is the modest man behind the bar at Charlottesville’s The Local and soon-to-open Junction. The Local focuses on (you guessed it: local) home-grown traditional American cuisine, with some Asian, French, and Italian influence. Having worked at the restaurant since 2008, he was selected as one of our featured Tastemakers for September #VaSpiritsMonth because he’s been moving to the beat of the local drum longer than most. As Alec says, “It’d be one thing if we [at The Local] were just doing it to help the local economy and so forth, but fortunately the vast majority of the local products available to us are fantastic, and are held to an extremely high standard in this area by both restaurants and consumers alike. And as far as freshness goes, it’s a no-brainer: the closer your product is created, the fresher it will be when you serve/pour/sell it to your customers!”
Alec considers his colleagues “family.” Chef Matty Hart does a great job of locking in purveyors from nearby farms that consistently provide top-notch product for The Local. His wife Melissa Close-Hart is the Catering Chef for The Local (and is a four-time James Beard Award semifinalist) and will manage the kitchen at Junction, which is one of this year’s most anticipated Charlottesville restaurant openings.
A little side note, I know Melissa from her days as the Chef for the Palladio, the Northern-Italian inspired restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards. Her potato gnocchi with oyster mushrooms will bring you to tears, but, I digress. Let’s get back to Alec and the bar!
“I try to actively envision and operate The Local’s beverage program as a sort of cross between a craft cocktail bar and a neighborhood bar,” says Alec. When I asked him to elaborate on that, he said, “We’re not necessarily doing things cocktail-wise that are as ambitious as a couple other spots in town; as much as the cocktail geek in me wants to, I have to toe that line to keep price points down and consistent with the menu. You will absolutely, however, be served a cocktail of quality that’s in the top 10% of places in town, at a competitive price.”
For Junction, opening this fall, Alec will continue his neighborhood-meets-craft-cocktail-bar philosophy, but with a primary focus on the cocktail menu. A lower volume of diners will allow him to really push his techniques, and do some more challenging, and inventive drinks. “Expect vibrant, colorful, well-balanced drinks that heavily showcase Mexican, South American and Caribbean-style spirits. I’ve found this to be my strength, and I intend on playing that up at the new bar.” Though we don’t produce any agave-based spirits in Virginia (yet), we do have a wealth of rums which will fit into Alec’s emphasis at Junction.
He finds that the number one thing that helps him promote #VaSpirits products is knowledge. “Members of our community relate to locally-made products. As do tourists, who are almost always eager to try the region in every way.” Many of the products he sells are because of stories or trivia. Alec throws in a few examples such as: “Oh, you just climbed Old Rag Mountain? Try Wasmund’s Single Malt from Copper Fox, it’s made fifteen minutes up the road from Sperryville…” or “You guys want a scotch to sip on and you’re getting married at King Family Vineyards next year? Try Virginia Highland Malt Whisky from Virginia Distillery Company, it’s finished in King Family Port Barrels…”
Proximity to distilleries is also great for educational purposes. Alec likes to take his entire staff on a field trip to Virginia distilleries. “I found the whole distillation process sort of ‘abstract’ until I saw it in person for the first time. And these visits are mutually beneficial to the bar and the maker; the restaurant employees gets to learn about the process in a hands-on way, and the distillery now has new ambassadors of their product!”
Next time you stop by The Local, be sure to check out Alec’s seasonal cocktails as they change at least four times a year along with various specials. They also have a great local beer selection that can cater to any taste, as well as an expansive, well-balanced wine list that spans the globe but features over 40 local wines as well.
Here’s a few of the cool #VaSpirits that you can find behind the bar at The Local:
• Belle Isle Moonshine
• Kopper Kettle Whiskey, Belmont Farms Distillery
• Kopper Kettle Dark Chai Spiced Rum, Belmont Farms Distillery
• Virginia Lightning Corn Whiskey, Belmont Farms Distillery
• Roundstone Rye, Catoctin Creek Distillery
• Watershed Gin, Catoctin Creek Distillery
• Blue Ridge Vodka, Chesapeake Bay Distillery
• Wasmund’s Single Malt Whiskey, Copper Fox Distillery
• Virginia Highland Malt Whisky, Virginia Distillery Co.
• Vitae Platinum Rum, Vitae Spirits
*Rapid Fire with Alec Spidalieri of The Local*
#VaSpirits: Where were you born?
Alec: Charlottesville, Virginia. I’ve lived in Charlottesville, Scottsville, Crozet, and I currently live in Barboursville, so I’m pretty familiar with every part of Albemarle County and the surrounding countryside.
#VaSpirits: When you’re not behind the bar, what do you enjoy doing?
Alec: I bought an old Victorian farmhouse up in Barboursville a little over three years ago. I’ve bought countless tools since then, and I have a pretty decent beginner/intermediate woodshop now. Working on that house has since opened up a real passion for woodworking in me, especially building furniture. It helps in the restaurant too; I’m a lot more knowledgeable when talking to customers about the construction within the old building, and not to mention I can build useful things for the bar. I recently made a tiered shelf for bitters dropper bottles out of old Longleaf Pine, and I’m working on a wooden garnish caddy now, to avoid using an ugly plastic or metal one that has no real context being out on a beautiful bar constructed from reclaimed wood.
Besides that, I love music, hanging out with my two dogs, and I practice archery occasionally as well.
#VaSpirits: When you’re not drinking Virginia Spirits – what do you enjoy drinking and why?
Alec: I don’t really drink that much (for a bartender), but I’m fairly nomadic when I do. As far as spirits go, I’ve been really into rum and rum cocktails lately. I’ve been brushing up on my tiki and Cuban cocktail game behind the bar for a while now. To me, nothing beats a classic Cuban daiquiri, which perfectly showcases what Jeff Berry calls the ”Holy Trinity” of rum, sugar, and lime. You can riff off of it endlessly (see my featured cocktail, for an example). I like single malt scotches as well, especially Speysides. The Glenlivet 15-Year French Oak Reserve is my go-to.
For wine, I like pretty much everything. I love Virginia wines of course, but I suppose I lean towards France when I can (who doesn’t?). If on a budget, there’s some really cool, complex stuff coming out of South Africa and South America now at a fraction of the cost of a wine from a more established region. Also, I am a proud advocate of drinking as much rosé as you can handle. Nothing like sitting with some good friends on a porch with a bottle or two of rosé on a warm day.
I’m a casual beer drinker. While I’m well-versed on the subject because I have to be, I definitely wouldn’t throw myself into the ”beer snob” category.
#VaSpirits: To wrap things up, give us your best PG-rated joke!
Alec: Guy walks into a bar…
Photo credit: Jay Paul