Garden to glass: Local produce takes center stage for three bar managers

The Constant Gardener is a refreshing mix of gin, herbed honey, watermelon juice,
Green Chartreuse, and rosemary. Photo: Christian Hommel The Constant Gardener is a refreshing mix of gin, herbed honey, watermelon juice, Green Chartreuse, and rosemary. Photo: Christian Hommel

If you’re into food, chances are you’ve heard the phrase “farm to table.” If you haven’t, it’s essentially a movement of chefs and farmers to limit the distance food travels to market, to restore produce diversity to local markets, and to limit consumption of foods to those that are seasonally available. Voluntary imposition of self-limitation sounds like no fun to most Americans, but the farm to table movement is uniquely responsible for transforming neon, cardboard-flavored supermarket produce back to the true hues and organic flavors that produce has had for generations. True, this does require a certain zen embrace of the limitations of where you live, what time of year it is, and what’s around. But the flavors of aptly picked, locally sourced, in-season produce regularly transform the most simple combinations of ingredients.

It’s taken some time for farm to table to spill over into the domain of beverages, but fortunately, there are some folks in town paying attention to what’s good, and they’re trying to bring “garden to glass” cocktails to Charlottesville. And even more fortuitous is the astronomical number of farms surrounding Charlottesville and flooding our markets with fragrant, diverse, and delicious produce. We asked two local bartenders to share what cocktails they’ve come up with lately using local produce. (My own recommendation follows.)

Brett Harder

Bar manager at The Whiskey Jar

Favorite seasonal produce and where to get it: I like making the trip up to Carter Mountain Orchard for peaches and apples whenever I’m not having them provided by the Local Food Hub. Honestly, the view is beautiful up there and I definitely have a craving every now and again for those addictive, cider granitas.

The Fuzzy Exorcist

Pour 1 1/2 oz. Bowman Brothers bourbon, 1/2 oz. Demerara rosemary-caramom syrup, 1/2 oz. lemon juice, 1 1/2 oz. Carter Mountain peach purée over ice in a Tom Collins glass. Top fill volume with Foggy Ridge First Fruit sparkling apple cider. Garnish with a slice of peach and a twist of lemon. “Peach and rosemary both tend to have some professed ability in history at keeping away evil spirits,” said Harder. “In ancient China, where the peach originated, they used to make peachwood wands to protect against spectral evils that might infect magistrates, kings, and emperors. Similarly, rosemary in the Western world was believed to dispel nightmares if kept under one’s pillow and also repel witches if kept outside. That’s where the name of this drink came from.”

Nick Crutchfield

Bar manager at Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar

Favorite seasonal ingredient and where to get it: My wife, since I get home around 3:45am on Saturday mornings, heads to the City Market and picks up my produce for me. She frequents different vendors and tries to buy the best of what’s around. I use apples from Carter Mountain and local celery to make my Pink Lady shrub (a cocktail made mixing drinking vinegar syrup with liquor).

C-Ray Smash

Combine 1 1/2 oz. Beefeater gin, 1/2 oz. cucumber simple syrup, 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice, four 1″ pieces of celery, and three drops of Carter Mountain Pink Lady shrub in a mixing tin and muddle. Add ice and shake hard. Double strain over fresh-cracked ice in an old-fashioned glass that has been rinsed with 1/8 oz. Kübler absinthe. Express lemon swath and discard. Rub sage leaf on lip of glass and place across top of drink. “Bright acidity from the lemon and shrub, balanced by the herbal notes of the gin and absinthe, rounded with the cucumber simple and crushed celery. Nicely balanced in texture and aroma,” Crutchfield said. “The story of shrubs is that they were used in old times as vessels to deliver medicine. As our social drinking evolved past medicinal needs into social settings, so did the ways in which we took the elixirs. Shrubs are one of the few families that haven’t evolved a lot. They are typically bright with the vinegar used and full of flavor and texture, depending on ingredients used in the making of the shrubs.”

As for me, there’re still a few more weeks of melons left in the growing season. The dudes at the City Market (especially the stand next to the Taqueria) frequently have some fun heirloom varieties like yellow watermelons, crenshaw melons, etc. I like to get local honey from Integral Yoga, and I have an herb garden that I pull most of my herbs from.

The Constant Gardener

Rinse a martini glass with Green Chartreuse. Combine 1 1/2 oz. Beefeater gin, 1/2 oz. herbed honey, the juice of half a lime, and 1 oz. watermelon juice in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and strain into rinsed martini glass. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Watermelon and herbs play together nicely, so it’s not a stretch that the two would be complemented by gin’s botanicals and the 130 herbs in Chartreuse. The herbed honey really ties it together.

Micah LeMon, formerly the bar manager at Blue Light Grill, is the current bar manager at Pasture.