by: Scott McGinnis
The entrance to one of the best restaurants in Virginia is a modest one. Stroll down an unassuming alley in Charlottesville’s historic Downtown Mall, and you will find a lamp which marks the entrance to 2015 James Beard Award finalist for “Best New Restaurant,” The Alley Light. You would be forgiven for thinking that you had stumbled upon a private club or speakeasy, but behind that austere entrance boasts not only top-notch, classic French dining for all to enjoy, but what The Washington Post called, “The source of some of Charlottesville’s finest cocktails.” The man behind those very fine cocktails is Micah Lemon, well-known in the Charlottesville area for his fresh and inventive libations. He is also one of our featured Tastemakers for September #VaSpiritsMonth
Micah has been the Bar Manager at The Alley Light since its opening in February 2014. When asked about recent awards, Micah continues the modesty theme, “My greatest satisfaction comes in being genuinely happy with the quality and tastiness of my work.” The quality of Micah’s work behind the bar is largely driven by his pursuit of the best and most interesting ingredients he can get his hands on; most of which he finds right here in Virginia. In fact, Micah doesn’t have to go far to find “new and weird” ingredients for his concoctions. He explains, “I have found that one of the best ways to get weird stuff is to grow it yourself! So I plant lots of fun, odd things in my garden. In the past few years I’ve grown wormwood, hyssop, pineapple sage, purple basil, lavender, peppermint, ground cherries, and heirloom tomatoes, just to name a few.”
Who has hyssop growing in their backyard!? Micah Lemon, that’s who.
The Alley Light truly believes that utilizing local ingredients and spirits is key to putting out the best and most interesting dining experience possible. When Micah isn’t plundering his own yard for inspiration, he relies on local farmers and producers such as Digger Jay’s Wild Edibles. These producers provide cool stuff like black birch, sassafras, and spruce tips for him to play with.
Micah and The Alley Light are staunch supporters of #VaSpirits, featuring nearly two dozen of them behind the bar. Micah notes that Virginia distillers “…are a passionate, resourceful, and hard-working bunch of people.” His creativeness and attention to detail takes these spirits to new levels, and we hope Micah keeps delivering creations like his latest favorite. Micah describes it as “…a stirred cocktail with our house-made Sassafras sweet vermouth (made with local white wine from Early Mountain Vineyards), house Amer Picon, bourbon, and absinthe.” Nothing modest about that.
Celebrate September #VaSpiritsMonth with a stop at The Alley Light for Micah’s Rose Hill Ruby. He describes the drink as “A riff on a Daiquiri with rhubarb, guava, lime, and manzanilla sherry.” Or, give it a try yourself using the recipe below:
Rose Hill Ruby, featuring Vitae Spirits Platinum Rum
1 1/4 oz. Vitae Platinum Rum
1 oz. Hidalgo Manzanilla Pastrana sherry
3/4 oz. rhubarb syrup
1/2 oz. guava cordial
1/2 oz. lime
Shake all/double strain/chilled cocktail coupe/lime wheel
*Rapid Fire with Micah Lemon of The Alley Light*
#VaSpirits: Where were you born?
Micah: I was born in Richmond, Virginia and grew up in Chesapeake, in the Tidewater area.
#VaSpirits: Tell us some fun tidbits about your daily routine.
Micah: I like to get aggressively caffeinated in the morning, and when I do, I invariably sing songs to my dogs about how great they are.
#VaSpirits: When you’re not drinking Virginia Spirits – what do you enjoy drinking and why?
Micah: Water. I really enjoy drinking water, especially reverse osmosis water. It tastes like the purest liquid on the planet.
#VaSpirits: Lastly, tell us what you like to do when you’re not behind the bar.
Micah: I like to cook, garden, and hang out with wifey and the dogs when I’m not behind the stick.
Photo credit: Jay Paul