by: Matt McGinnis

If there is ever a time to acknowledge silver linings, this is it. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit our local distilled spirits industry hard, creating an enormity of economic and market access restrictions. However, state leadership and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) have risen to the occasion by enacting in-state direct to consumer (DTC) shipping privileges to help alleviate turmoil for Virginia’s distilleries whose tasting rooms were closed by mandate March – June and are now operating at only a limited capacity. Virginia joins a small number of states which allow DTC shipping of distilled spirits via common carriers such as UPS and FedEx. As it stands the DTC shipping privilege is temporary, but industry leaders are working diligently to make the privilege permanent.

The DTC shipping privilege is a “win-win-win” says Gareth H. Moore, CEO of Virginia Distillery Company in Lovingston, Virginia and President of the Virginia Distillers Association. “It is a win for Virginians because this new form of market access makes it easier for consumers to purchase all forms of Virginia Spirits products. Unbeknownst to most, Virginia Spirits are small-batch, artisan scale production, and as a result these products are often only available for sale at distillery tasting rooms or regionally at ABC stores. Now, Virginians can have access to these unique local spirits and support community businesses from the comfort of their homes. It is also a win for Virginia distilleries, as the shipping privilege provides financial support by allowing us to sell products via e-commerce during the public safety crisis. It is also a win for Virginia ABC, as it allows the Authority to continue to meet revenue expectations set by the Virginia General Assembly, which helps to pay for education, public access projects, healthcare and more.”

The million-dollar question is, will the state support DTC shipping permanency for Virginia distilleries? As Virginia ABC embarks upon their own historical Direct to Consumer pilot shipping program for all spirits in partnership with UPS (broader anticipated rollout 2020 / 2021), the concept seems hopeful.

A Win for Virginians

For the first time in the Commonwealth’s history, people can order their favorite locally made spirits online and have them shipped directly to their home. Virginians can purchase up to six bottles of liquor and two cases of low-alcohol-beverage products (a.k.a. ready to drink canned cocktails) per month from the comfort of their homes.

DTC shipping unlocks the ability for Virginians to explore small batch spirits that are hard to find since over 80% of Virginia Spirits are only sold at the distillery, or often only have a limited regional footprint in ABC stores.

“We’re noticing a trend with consumers where there’s an emphasis on purchasing special release products, the ones they used to have to stand in line for – or participate in the ABC lottery to obtain  in addition to our flagship spirits,” says Becky Harris, chief distiller for Catoctin Creek Distillery and President for the American Craft Spirits Association. “This was evident with the recent release of our #InThisTogether Infinity Barrel benefit project. We sold out at 800 bottles as soon as the product was posted on our e-commerce store, with over half of those products being shipped directly to Virginia residents, the other half were available for curbside pickup.”

The stay at home orders that closed the distillery tasting rooms have led to the rise in virtual events. These online events erase distance and allow consumers to engage with Virginia distillers and product ambassadors far more easily (via Zoom, Facebook, Instagram Live, etc.).  “We’ve combined our e-commerce market access with invitations to virtual tastings, “says Gareth Moore. “When consumers purchase our products online, they receive an invite to participate in one of many live “virtual” tastings where we discuss technical tasting notes for enjoying our spirits neat, suggested cocktail recipes and we answer a broad range of consumer questions. It’s helping to build a sense of community and social interaction around our brands despite in-person face to face contact.”

A Win for Distilleries

The DTC shipping privilege has been a financial saving grace for Virginia distilleries during these uncertain economic times. At the start of the COVID crisis, many Virginia distilleries had to evaluate how they were going to continue employing their staff and pay bills, despite revenue streams being severely constricted.

“When ABC enacted the DTC shipping privilege, it was a lifeline,” says Becky Harris. “We sent out a message to our consumer base that we can now ship, and we had an overwhelming response. We immediately put together an online store, which rendered several months’ worth of sales in just the first couple of days. Over the past few weeks, we’ve done more business online than we did during the same period last year when we were open to visitors at our tasting room.”

“We’re so grateful the DTC shipping was enacted by Virginia ABC,” says Moore. “Enacting the DTC shipping privilege was a noble show of support from the state and acknowledged the mounting challenges faced by our industry. Time will tell how consumers spending habits shift as a result of the pandemic. If consumers continue to feel a sense of trepidation with patronizing businesses which require a degree of face to face contact, such as distillery tasting rooms, then revenue will be negatively impacted. However, assuming the DTC shipping privilege becomes permanent along with e-commerce sales, then we will be able to rise to the challenge and adapt our business models for long-term success.”

Moore continues, “The online volumes we’re seeing are substantially higher than what we see in our tasting room. Being located in rural community is great when you want to escape the city life, and enjoy an adventure in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge, but isn’t always convenient for people to get to. Shipping product to the entire state expands our market reach, and gets our whiskey to far more consumers than we would have been able to previously by relying on our Lovingston-based tasting room or ABC retail stores which currently carry our products.”

A Win for the ABC / the Business of DTC Shipping

DTC shipping allows Virginia ABC to fulfill its mission to promote public safety through the responsible sale and regulation of alcoholic beverages even during a pandemic while continuing to meet budgetary measures set by the General Assembly.

Additionally, access to shelf space at ABC retail stores is increasingly limited/problamatic due to competition from multi-national suppliers. Virginia distilleries operate at “craft volumes,” often making it a challenge for ABC to fully embrace placement of most Virginia Spirits in their entire fleet of 380+ retail stores. The DTC shipping privilege allows Virginia distilleries to circumvent this logistics challenge, and shows that the Virginia ABC wants to support reasonable market access for both in-state distilleries and consumers.

The DTC shipping privilege has directly led to Virginia distilleries’ ability to maintain support over 1,500 Virginia jobs; creating more than $160M in economic impact to the Commonwealth. The path ahead will define whether or not the state supports this vital privilege permanently for in-state distilleries, helping to keep Virginians employed during the pandemic and well-beyond. Stay tuned to for updates on this topic and more.

For a full list of Virginia distilleries who are currently offering their products via DTC shipping:

A. Smith Bowman Distillery, Fredericksburg,
Belle Isle Moonshine, Richmond
Blue Sky Distillery, Smithfield
Caiseal Beer & Spirits Co., Hampton
Catoctin Creek, Purcellville
Copper Fox Distillery, Sperryville and Williamsburg
Dida’s Distillery, Huntly
Eight Shires Coloniale Distillery, Williamsburg
Filibuster Distillery, Maurertown
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery, Mount Vernon
James River Distillery, James River Distillery
Ironclad Distillery Co., Newport News
Lost Whiskey, Fairfax
KO Distilling, Manassas
MurLarkey Distilled Spirits, Bristow
Tarnished Truth Distilling Company, Virginia Beach
Reservoir Distillery, Richmond
River Hill Distillery, Luray
Tarnished Truth, Virginia Beach
Virago Spirits, Richmond
Virginia Distillery Company, Lovingston
Vitae Spirits Distillery, Charlottesville
Waterbird Spirits, Charlottesville

To travel is to leave the environment of day to day life to experience new spaces, interact with different people, and be exposed to new ideas. To take a trip is to travel with a plan and sense of purpose. Time, resources, and creativity all go into the formulation of a great trip, and organization, commitment, and attention to detail ensure that the trip goes well. John Steinbeck once said that “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” On the one hand, Steinbeck is referring to the eye-opening and formative potential of travel. At the same time, we can understand that a trip also “takes us,” in the sense that it requires time and effort from the traveler in order to succeed.

At the end of August, the Virginia Distillers Association (VDA) hosted a group of high-profile spirits writers on a two and a half day-long tour of seven Virginia distilleries across Northern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, and Central Virginia. To facilitate our journey across the Commonwealth, we had the pleasure of working with Cville Hop On Tours as our transportation provider. Hop on Tours is based in Charlottesville, but they also offer tours of in Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. Their repertoire of stops currently includes 16 breweries, 19 wineries, 5 distilleries, and 5 cideries and continues to grow. The VDA and Cville Hop on Tours have a natural partnership, as Cville Hop On Tours already has relationships with three of our member distilleries, and shares the VDA’s commitment to exploration and promotion of local producers and craft libations. Moreover, I was familiar with Cville Hop On Tours’ reputation of exceeding expectations and general excellence in hospitality.

Jon Craig, Co-Founder and COO of Hop On Tours, not only joined us on our Virginia spirits adventure, but played an integral role in working out logistical details and ensuring that everything went as planned. Their professionalism and promptness were remarkable, but I especially appreciate their ability to cultivate a convivial environment among the group, both through providing a comfortable space and great amenities as well as sharing anecdotes, jokes, and stories about Virginia and their adventures across the state throughout the trip. All of this goes to say that a trip with Cville Hop on Tours is more that just a ride from Point A to Point B.

Our journey began on a Monday morning when my colleagues and I met Jon and Sharon at Ragged Branch distillery before heading to connect the rest of our group in Northern Virginia. After months of working towards the perfect three-day long experience for our media guests, I was well aware that there were a lot of moving parts to the operation, and immediately relieved to see that transportation was not going to be one of the things into which I would need to invest much concern. Pulling up to Ragged Branch, we saw the most charming, colorful, quirky little bus – one of their 14-passenger shuttles 10-member fleet – and Jon and Sharon looking enthusiastic and ready to go!

As we hit the road and I began to settle into my seat on the shuttle, at first I found myself taking in some of the breathtaking mountain scenery that we moved through, and I had missed during my ride in, deterred by a blanket of fog and focused on the road ahead. This segued into a bit of chatter with some of my fellow travelers about past excursions hiking in the Blue Ridge, preferred local products from Central Virginia makers, and of course, our excitement for the days to come. It was not until I realized I wasn’t thinking about my surroundings on the shuttle that I noticed that we had grown immediately totally comfortable. Satellite radio played gently in the background, the ride was smooth, the temperature was not too hot and not too cold.

When we rolled into Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg around 2PM, right on time despite August traffic in Northern Virginia, it was full speed ahead! We started off the distillery tours at Catoctin Creek; the trip to Catoctin was the first time that our media guests rode the shuttle. On the short ride over to= the distillery, they seemed excited about all of the conveniences: outlets to charge phones after a day of travel, wifi for a quick e-mail check, and a stash of chips, water, and ice, that we all agreed would be critical ingredients to the following day when we had four distilleries on the itinerary. When our time at Catoctin Creek was through, the Hop on Tours shuttle was there ready and waiting for us so we could continue our evening back at Lansdowne and rest up for the first full day of the tour!

On Tuesday morning, Jon and his team loaded up our luggage and we headed from Leesburg to Manassas, home to KO Distilling, our first destination of the day. This first leg of the trip in Northern Virginia to Loudon, Leesburg, Manassas, etc. is not currently in Hop On Tour’s travel radius, but we like to think of ourselves as a test run, as Hop On Tours has plans to expand there soon. From KO in Manassas we hit the Sperryville branch of Copper Fox before sliding down to Belmont Farm in Culpepper and finishing up back at Ragged Branch. Through it all Jon remained conscientious of everything from whether we liked the music to the excessive Virginia heat, and even ended up pulling over to buy everyone ice cream when the Virginia summer humidity became too much for even the most formidable air conditioners. Never once did these extra perks get in the way of our plan, either, as we stuck to the schedule impeccably well and made it to all of our destinations on time.

Wednesday was a whirlwind – from Virginia Distillery Company in the morning to Reservoir Distillery at midday to the September Virginia Spirits Month Kick-Off event and dinner in Richmond. By the end of it all, our group, which had begun as a collection of accomplished media producers with a shared interest in craft spirits, parted ways as a group of friends who now had in common deeper insights on what it means to be involved in craft spirits in Virginia. As students, colleagues, travelers, and, now, friends we had gone on an adventure, made complete by camaraderie and taken to the next level by the Commonwealth’s wonderful hospitality industry. It wouldn’t have been the same without our lovely participants, our dear friends of the VDA, or Hop On Tours – it was a trip that took all of us.

Melissa Smith is the enthusiastic Bar Manager for what the Wall Street Journal affectionately calls “One of the Best Oyster Bars in the Country,” Rappahannock Oyster Bar inside Union Market in Washington, D.C. Melissa wasn’t always a cocktail queen and oyster aficionada. She went to school and received her Masters in History & Museum Studies. Lucky for us, she decided the 9-to-5 gig wasn’t for her, thus forever changing the course of how consumers indulge and imbibe inside of one of D.C.’s seafood staples.

Every time I’m visiting the nation’s capital, going to Rappahannock Oyster Bar feels second nature to me. Need to do a business meeting? “Oh let’s gather at Rappahannock Oyster Bar, there’s free parking (FREE PARKING!!!) – and we can spread out in their additional seating across from the raw bar and order a few rounds of Stingrays / Olde Salts / and Rappahannocks for the group.” Or, “Oh we need to celebrate – why don’t we stop on by Rappahannock Oyster Bar and enjoy a couple of bivalves and Commonwealth Gin oyster shooters? You’re in? I thought so!”

It never ceases to amaze me how the folks at Rappahannock Oyster Bar can produce such extensive, lovely products with such a small space to work within. The kitchen has only four burners and a small grill, flattop and oven, but the crew produces some of the best food in the city for up to 400 seatings a day. The bar always has at least 5-6 house cocktails, not to mention 25 other classic and non-alcoholic cocktails.

Melissa and I talked about how local products are an integral part of their focus. “#VaSpirits consistently inspire new ideas, and since they are made locally we know that they’ll work well with all of our other local ingredients,” she explains. All of the oysters are grown in the Chesapeake Bay watershed; which is the nation’s largest and most productive estuary. And the vast majority of their produce and other featured menu items come from the region as well. Melissa adds, “I can’t overstate enough how much we value our local purveyors and producers.”

Let’s talk more about how you guys are taking farm-to-table out of the kitchen and into the bar, Melissa. “Since we are an oyster bar, our oyster shooters are a point of pride, and we – of course – only use the ones from our Virginia farm. Not to mention, we make all of our syrups and infusions in house using local ingredients.”

One of the spirits they carry is Øster Vit, which is an Aquavit produced by James River Distillery. Øster Vit is uniquely paired with Rappahannock River Oysters because the distillate is steeped in Rappahannock River Oyster shells along with several other botanicals before its final distillation, making it the perfect cocktail component to accompany fresh oysters. It’s absolutely fabulous with Bloody Marys too!

Melissa waves the Virginia flag high in the District; and this is just one of the many reasons we’ve named her a September #VaSpiritsMonth Tastemaker! Stop on by Rappahannock Oyster Bar before the end of the month and ask Melissa for her special September Virginia Spirits Month cocktail, the Chesapeake Negroni! Or, try your hand at prepping this fun and easy cocktail at home with the below recipe.

The Chesapeake Negroni, featuring James River Distillery’s Ostervit
1 oz. Øster Vit
1 oz. Suze
1 oz. Capitoline White Cordial

Stir and stain over ice. Garnish with an orange peel.

Media Contacts:
Amy Ciarametaro, Virginia Distillers Association
[email protected]
Cell: 757.535.5829

Distillery store sales more than double over first year results

According to data from Virginia ABC, sales at both ABC stores and distillery stores during September 2018 totaled nearly $1.5 million, representing a 20 percent gain over September 2017. September sales at distillery stores alone grew to more than $640,000, more than doubling sales of just two years ago, when the promotion first began.

“We couldn’t be more excited about consumer response to Virginia Spirits Month and how that support has continued to generate revenue for our distilling industry and our partners – from distillers to restaurants to the commonwealth,” said Gareth H. Moore, VDA President and CEO of Virginia Distillery Company. “At the same time, the increase in distillery store sales – despite store closures during Hurricane Florence – shows that consumers not only value Virginia Spirits, but also want to see where they are produced. This has significant implications for Virginia tourism and is proof positive that ‘Virginia is for Spirits Lovers,’ and our partnership with Virginia ABC and VTC will drive economic benefits for many years to come.”

“Virginia has seen rapid expansion of in-state distilleries – from 10 in 2008 to nearly 70 today with more on the way,” said Virginia ABC Chief Executive Officer Travis Hill.  “We are proud to sell Virginia-made spirits and excited to be a part of a burgeoning industry that creates jobs and is a growing part of the commonwealth’s robust agricultural and tourism economies. “

Highlights of the Virginia Spirits Month campaign included:

  • It’s 5 O’clock for 30 Days” promotion driven by 33 “how to make” cocktail videos featuring Virginia spirits used in classic and contemporary cocktails.
  • Complimentary “Virginia is for Spirits Lovers” tote bags with any bottle purchase of Virginia spirits at 20 select ABC stores, which sold out by mid-month.
  • Virginia ABC placed signage and product displays promoting Virginia spirits and the month-long campaign partnership in its 374 retail outlets throughout the commonwealth.
  • A large scale consumer festival, the Virginia Craft Spirits Roadshow, kicked off the month-long promotion at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. A second roadshow scheduled at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery for Sept. 15 had to be postponed until Nov. 17 due to Hurricane Florence.
Left to right, from the ‘Kickoff to September Virginia Spirits Month Celebration’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA: Gareth H. Moore, VDA President and CEO of Virginia Distillery Company / Chris Canfield, VTC Vice-President / Travis Hill, CEO of Virginia ABC / Bettina Ring, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. CLICK HERE to download a high res. version. Photo credit: Revel Photo Co.
Left to right – front row only, from the ‘Kickoff to September Virginia Spirits Month Celebration’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA: Amy Ciarametaro, Executive Director for the VDA / Chris Canfield, VTC Vice-President  / Rick Wasmund, Master Distiller for Copper Fox Distillery / Travis Hill, CEO of Virginia ABC / Gareth H. Moore, VDA President and CEO of Virginia Distillery Company / Bettina Ring, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry; along with representatives from 20 Virginia distilleries. CLICK HERE to download a high res. version. Photo credit: Revel Photo Co.

The Virginia Distillers Association is a nonprofit private trade association focused on promotional efforts to increase awareness of Virginia’s growing craft spirits industry, as well as the regulatory and legislative needs of the industry. For more information about the Virginia Distillers Association, visit:

by: Amy Ciarametaro

If you’re a fan of learning more about new and unique Virginia farmers and producers, then following Va Foodie on social media is a must (InstagramTwitterFacebook)! Va Foodie is the love child of a group of marketing geeks who are self-proclaimed ‘food aficionados’ at Water Street Design; who serve as an echo chamber for the Commonwealth’s specialty food and beverage industries. They’re on a mission to connect shoppers who care about the quality of their food and drinks with producers that care about the quality of their product. Their focus: all things Virginia agriculture, 100% time. This is why they were selected as one of our featured Tastemakers for September #VaSpiritsMonthShow Your Virginia Spirit!

Nestled in the rustic and quaint town of Winchester, the @VaFoodie team works off of a solid set of ethos in everything they promote, including:

GOOD FOOD: Made in Virginia with quality ingredients, locally sourced and sustainably produced.
GOOD PEOPLE: Caring and connected to the community; generally all-around good neighbors.
GOOD BRANDS: Trusted resources using best practices, always walking the talk.

With more and more distilleries utilizing 100% (or close to 100%!) Virginia agriculture in the mix of their raw materials (corn, wheat, rye, barley, other grains and water), it was a no brainer to throw a little love to our friends Va Foodie.

For more information on VA Foodie, visit their website or follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter

Photo credit: Jay Paul

by: Amy Ciarametaro

Who says sommeliers can’t talk cocktail shop? They’re just as geeky (if not more) than most of the mixologists I know. Maurice “Mo” Cherry is the Wine Director for the highly acclaimed Ripple in Washington, D.C. He doesn’t like to brag, so I’ll do it for him and the restaurant. Where shall I start?

Ripple just won Wine Program of the Year at the RAMMYS, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s annual gala; Executive Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley was nominated TWICE for Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, and placed third runner-up on the 13th season of Top Chef. Spoiler alert, she was robbed on Top Chef! I have a bone to pick with Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio… but I’ll save that for later.

Mo has been with Ripple on and off for three and a half years, along with stints at Mario Batali and Nancy Silvertin’s Osteria Mozza and with Gordon Ramsay in Los Angeles; Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiola Mare and Chef Cedric Maupillier/Saied Azali’s Mintwood Place in Washington DC. Though he first got his feet wet while working in restaurants as a dishwasher at the age of 14, and was allowed to do prep work at a restaurant inside Prince George’s Stadium, a Minor League Baseball park in Bowie, Maryland.

Laird’s Longboardfeaturing Laird’s Applejack Brandy
1.5 oz. Laird’s Applejack Brandy
0.75 oz. Fresh lemon juice
0.25 oz. Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
0.50 oz. House-made gooseberry/lavender shrub
1 Egg white

Ripple offers the complete dining experience, with a focus on sustainable, organic and locally-sourced produce and products. Not to mention, the restaurant has an epic wine list, thanks to Mo. They have over 800 wine labels on their list. Trust me, I counted. And 70 of those wines are under $50 per bottle. That’s unheard of in Washington, D.C.! Mo has spearheaded much of that effort, and he’s taking his beverage experience one step further into their cocktail program. He explains, “The upcropping of #VaSpirits is definitely evident here at Ripple, which works perfectly. We don’t carry big name brands behind our bar. With a regularly rotating list of cocktails, we enjoy having fine artisan products at our disposal.”

Mo is a consummate supporter of all things Virginia. In closing, he shows his ”Virginia spirit” by saying, “It’s all about locality, place, and passion, and Virginia has all three.”

*Rapid Fire with Mo Cherry of Ripple*

#VaSpirits: Where were you born?

Mo: I was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in College Park, Maryland.

#VaSpirits: Give us a glimpse of your daily routine.

Mo: I admit that I am a bit of a coffee snob, so I make the trek from Northeast D.C., to Georgetown for Intelligentsia coffee (I became hooked while working in Los Angeles).

#VaSpirits: When you’re not in the wine cellar or behind the bar, what do you enjoy doing?

Mo: Being a former chef, I cook at home quite a bit for friends. I am also a huge movie buff.

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

Mo: WINE! I am a sommelier, after all. ?

For more information, check out:
Ripple’s website Facebook Instagram / Twitter
Mo Cherry / Instagram Twitter

Photo credit: Jay Paul

by: Amy Ciarametaro

If you have not dined or imbibed at The Whiskey Jar in Charlottesville, Virginia, then lean in and pay attention to this story (then immediately make plans to go). The Whiskey Jar is a Southern-sourced restaurant and bar where everything tastes like mamma’s love; that is, if your mamma loves you enough to give you whiskey. Focusing on all things local, they try to have as much quality Virginia products on their menus as possible. “Buying from your own community just makes sense. We help ourselves when we support our neighbors,” explains Bar and Events Director Leah Peeks.

Leah is throwing out some serious ”Virginia spirit” in her beverage program. “I have 24 draft beer lines, and at least half of them are always from Virginia. Right now, I’m offering about a dozen Virginia wines and about two dozen #VaSpirits.

If you’re in the Downtown Mall of Charlottesville during September #VaSpiritsMonth, make sure to stop by The Whiskey Jar and ask our featured Tastemaker Leah Peeks for the Appalachian Iced Tea or the Charlottesville Ambrosia (or better yet, BOTH)! I can personally attest that both drinks are delicious! Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at prepping these delicious cocktails at home.

The Appalachian Iced Teafeaturing Filibuster Boondoggler
Glass: Mason Jar
1 1/2 oz. Filibuster Boondoggler
5 oz. house-made black and mint teas
1/2 oz. lemon
5 sprigs of mint
1/2 oz. or to taste of brown sugar simple syrup

The Charlottesville Ambrosiafeaturing Vitae Spirits Platinum Rum
Glass: Tall Collins
1 1/2 oz. Vitae Platinum Rum
1 oz. house-made moonshine pineapple cordial
2 oz. fresh orange juice
Coconut milk whipped cream on top

The Whiskey Jar, Charlottesville, VA

Okay Leah, we get it! You like Virginia! You really like us! Tell us more about your support for all things Virginia *bats eyes*! “We offer a Virginia Whiskey flight, or pick from one of our many cocktails that feature Virginia spirits. We have friends who run some amazing local breweries, wineries, and distilleries…. ChampionThree Notch’dVirginia Distillery CompanyVitaeBlenheimFoggy Ridge…. The list goes on and on. We are proud of the work they are doing and the quality of the products they put out make it super easy to have a Virginia-focused bar program.

The Charlottesville Ambrosia, featuring Vitae Spirits Platinum Rum

Appalachian Iced Tea, featuring Filibuster Distillery Boondoggler

Now that my thirsts have been quenched, let’s talk about the food menu. While dissecting Chef Will Richey menu, it’s nearly impossible to find anything that’s not locally sourced from his farm, Red Row, or from other farms likely within an hour’s drive. Don’t believe me? Take a gander at this excerpt from The Whiskey Jar menu:

FRIED CHICKEN AND COLLARDS: Sustainably raised Mennonite farm chicken, dusted in locally milled Byrd Mill flour and generously coated in our house blend of Bantry Bays locally-provided herbs, spices, and seasoning. Fried in Peanut Oil and served over local, organic, slow-stewed Collard Greens with Kite’s Virginia Country Bacon.

Chef Richey likes to focus on organic, sustainable products, and heritage breeds, which he says provide a “richer, healthier, and more fulfilling eating experience.” He also commissions highly-skilled foragers to bring forth some of the Piedmont’s wild bounty (ramps, morels, fern heads, and other fine delicacies). Whatever he prepares, it’s guaranteed to be made entirely from scratch, authentic and served to you at a reasonable price.

*Rapid Fire with Leah Peeks of The Whiskey Jar*

#VaSpirits: Where were you born?

Leah: Johnson City, Tennessee.

#VaSpirits: When you’re not behind the bar, what do you enjoy doing?

Leah: One great thing about bartending is that, if you’re lucky, it affords you enough free time to pursue other passions. For me, that was always art. I’ve been painting for as long as I’ve been bartending. Being in management makes it harder to make time for my art practice, but last summer Whiskey Jar gave me a long hiatus so that I could do an artist residency program in Key West. I made art for a month straight and came back to my Bar Manager job. It was an amazing experience and a testament to the awesomeness of my staff that I was able to step away for so long.

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

Leah: It depends on the day and the weather, and how I feel and where I am. I always have a bottle of Plymouth Gin or Hayman’s Old Tom Gin at home, and as many flavors of La Croix as I can get my hands on.

For more information on The Whiskey Jar, visit their website or follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter

Photo credit: Jay Paul

by: Amy Ciarametaro

Did you know Comfort Restaurant in Richmond has a 100%-inspired #VaSpirits cocktail list? Comfort first opened in 2003 and has been a Richmond institution for down-home style southern cooking ever since. Meatloaf, catfish, braised greens, pimento cheese, Cheerwine vinegar pie – all your southern soul food needs can be satisfied here. Much of the inspiration for the menu comes from Chef Jason Alley growing up in Southwest Virginia, where the lifestyle was simple – and the food reflects the beauty of that simplicity.

I’ve brushed shoulders with Jason at various food and beverage events over the years, and have always respected his culinary skills and professionalism. Though it was over a group dinner at Pasture (another Richmond restaurant he owns with partner Michele Jones) years ago where Jason stopped by to say hi to the table. Most of the dinner guests had over imbibed and were talking about nonsense at this point – but lucky for me, I was at the end of the table and got Jason’s ear one-on-one for about 20 minutes. I had watched the documentary Food Inc. earlier that week and decided to ask him a few questions to see how much of the story is propaganda and what is reality. Jason talked with me about the topic and in a very sincere manner explained that in his restaurants, “Honoring the animal” is a top priority. This means processing as much of the animal so there is minimal waste. It was a brief glimpse into the world of a thoughtful chef, and a steward of local agriculture.

Chef Jason Alley & Michael Hanbury

Now, onward to the bar! Michael Hanbury (or Sir Michael Charles Hanbury III, as he prefers to be called) has over 16 years of bartending experience, and has been the Bar Manager at Comfort for a little under a year. As he jokingly explains, “I played second fiddle to Beth Dixon behind the bar at Pasture for about a year and a half prior to Comfort.” Michele Jones decided Michael needed his own show late last year, and moved him over to Comfort. The rest, as they say, is history.

Michael has such a fun personality. He laughs……. a lot. And loudly. It’s contagious and energizing. I’ll even admit, trying to get a photograph of him when he wasn’t laughing was a challenge. The world needs more people like Michael. We especially appreciate Michael for his vision and how he integrates 100% of #VaSpirits into his cocktail menu. “Our entire cocktail program is based off of spirits made here in Virginia. We do a weekly drink special that is also based off of #VaSpirits as well. With all the great spirits being produced in Virginia, it is hard to not use them,” says Michael. Comfort currently carries over 20 #VaSpirits behind the bar.

Stop on by Comfort during September #VaSpiritsMonth (or any time of year for that matter!) and sample Michael’s #VaSpirits cocktails, including:
• Sunshine of My Life
• Bette Davis Eyes
• Night Fever
• Mack the Knife
• Islands in the Stream

*Rapid Fire with Michael Hanbury of Comfort*

#VaSpirits: Where were you born?

Michael: I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia.

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

Michael: I start everyday with SportsCenter. And I don’t drink coffee. Ever. I like my nightcaps in quiet, dimly lit places.

#VaSpirits: When you’re not behind the bar at Comfort, what do you enjoy doing?

Michael: I spend a lot of time by the river, either hiking or riding (bicycle, not horses). I love golfing, but am mostly terrible. If I could go to FedEx Field and cheer on my Redskins every day, I’d probably be the happiest boy in the world.

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

Michael: Water, Kombucha, Whiskey (in that order). Water because I have always loved a cold glass of water. Kombucha for my guts. Whiskey because today was a day that ended in “y.”

#VaSpirits: To wrap things up, give us your best PG-rated joke!

Michael: Do you know why a stop light changes from green, to yellow, to red? You’d turn red too if you had to change in front of ALL THOSE PEOPLE!

For more information on Comfort, visit their website or follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter
Follow Micheal Hanbury on Instagram, and Chef Jason Alley too!
Photo credit: Jay Paul

by: Scott McGinnis

With a pedigree that boasts decades of experience at Virginia Beach culinary staples like Waterman’s GrillTaste Unlimited, and The Duck-In, you could say that Eddie and Sandy Schmidtmann have been prepping to open and run a restaurant since their college days. Eddie recalls that, “During college, restaurants were the go-to places for jobs. That left an impression, which led to me working in the business, and even owning a restaurant.” That lasting impression has led to Shore Drive’s Simple Eats, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in July.

Simple Eats special September #VaSpiritsMonth cocktails: ‘Strawberry, Pineapple, Basil Mist’ and the ‘Kentucky Mule’

At Simple Eats, Eddie and Sandy believe that supporting local farmers and producers is the best way to serve up simple, delicious food. Their menu even proclaims, “Where local people gather for local food,” before listing ingredients from over a dozen local farms and producers.

When it comes to incorporating local ingredients, Simple Eats doesn’t stop at the food. “We definitely incorporate Virginia spirits into our cocktail menu. We try to make distinctive, refreshing drinks with house grown herbs and unique purees. We test and try creative additions to popular drinks. We aim to be different and fresh,” says Eddie.

Kentucky Mulefeaturing Filibuster Dual Cask Bourbon
2.5 oz Filibuster Dual Cask Bourbon
5 oz ginger beer
1 oz jalapeno simple syrup and
5 fresh picked mint leaves
1 lime wedge
Add bourbon, mint leaves, jalapeno simple syrup and ice to glass and shake until chilled. Pour ingredients into a copper mule cup, fill with ginger beer and garnish with fresh picked mint leaves and lime wedge.

Strawberry, Pineapple, Basil Mistfeaturing Blue Ridge Vodka
2.5 oz Blue Ridge Vodka
4 oz crushed strawberries and pineapple,
1 oz basil simple syrup
1 oz splash of Sprite
5 fresh picked mint leaves
1 lime wedge
Muddle the strawberries and pineapple with vodka, simple syrup. Pour ingredients into a glass, add ice and shake until chilled. Top with splash of sprite and garnish with fresh picked mint leaves and lime wedge.

So stop on by Simple Eats during September to sample their special #VaSpiritsMonth cocktails – the Kentucky Mule featuring Filibuster Dual Cask Bourbon, and Strawberry, Pineapple, Basil Mist featuring Blue Ridge Vodka; or try your hand at prepping these fresh cocktail recipes on your own (recipes below)!

*Rapid Fire with Eddie Schmidtmann of Simple Eats*

#VaSpirits: Where were you born?

Eddie: I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, went to Bayside High School, ODU, ECPI, and Strayer University where I earned a BS in Computer Science.

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

Eddie: My morning routine consists of: Three Ships Coffee, check the morning surf, off to work, back to work, and visiting the restaurants on Shore Drive and Chicks Beach area.

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

Eddie: I enjoy local beers from the likes of Commonwealth BreweryPleasure House Brewery and hanging out at the Back DeckBay Local, and other oceanfront restaurants. I love to see people that come into the restaurant at other places, and support other local businesses.

#VaSpirits: Lastly, tell us what you like to do when you’re not behind the bar.

Eddie: Smile, laugh and just be happy!

For more information on Simple Eats, visit their website or follow them on Facebook and Instagram

Photo credit: Jay Paul

by: Amy Ciarametaro

William “Mac” McCormack is throwing out some serious Virginia spirit and elevating the way Richmonders drink one tipple at a time. By a landslide, he carries the largest selection of spirits in the Commonwealth, with 2,300 bottles of spirits at his Big Whisky Grill location in Regency Square. (Not to mention he runs Whisky Grill in the Fan and McCormack’s Irish Pub in the Bottom), quenching the thirst of River City residents and beyond. Mac’s mantra is, “As far as Virginia spirits go, if it’s for sale [through ABC], odds are I carry it.” For this reason, and many more, we selected him to be one of our featured Tastemakers for September #VaSpiritsMonth.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mac’s concept for his three establishments, the fundamental goal is to enlighten and wow guests, especially with whiskey. “Educating our customers as it relates to ‘what’s in the glass’ is a priority for us. And locally sourced spirits have a story that consumers can appreciate,” explains Mac.

Take Mac’s newest addition to his restaurant empire, for instance. Big Whisky Grill was recently named one of the Best Bourbon Bars in America by The Bourbon Review. The publication listed out the 75 best bars in the country by region and also gave a nod to the original Fan location. The restaurant has approximately 1,400 whiskeys listed, which includes over 30 Virginia spirits. Going forward, that menu will likely expand due to a recent regulatory change that will now allow restaurateurs like Mac to purchase spirits directly from Virginia distilleries.

It’s clear Mac has put a lot of work into Big Whisky Grill. The sheer size alone is impressive. It’s based in the old Texas de Brazil space attached to Regency Mall – and Mac personally built a lot of the furniture to outfit the interior. He also upped the ante by bringing on award-winning chef Phillip Denny, formerly of Aziza’s on Main, and Todd Brady from Dixie Chicken for the food and menu offerings.

In addition to operating his three restaurants, Mac also has plans to open his own Virginia distillery, Acme Distillery, in the near future. The #VaSpirits industry welcomes his depth and breadth of knowledge and experience. Stay tuned for more information on Acme Distillery!

*Rapid Fire with Mac McCormack of McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill, McCormack’s Whisky Grill, & McCormack’s Irish Pub*

#VaSpirits: Where were you born?

Mac: Morristown, New Jersey, grew up in Japan primarily.

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

Mac: I work seven days a week. When I have downtime, I enjoy spending it with my four dogs.

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

Mac: Whiskeys of all sorts and craft beers.

#VaSpirits: Tell us something about you that we can’t Google about you (until now)!

Mac: I design and physically build my own restaurants, including the furniture in some cases.

For more information, check out:
McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill website Facebook Instagram Twitter
McCormack’s Whisky Grill website Facebook Instagram / Twitter
McCormack’s Irish Pub / Facebook Instagram Twitter

Photo credit: Jay Paul