Bar keepers: Cocktails we couldn’t get enough of in 2018

Reid Dougherty’s Rabbie Burns, made with charred maple syrup. Staff photo. Reid Dougherty’s Rabbie Burns, made with charred maple syrup. Staff photo.

By Carrie Meslar

The house cocktail menu is a bar team’s magnum opus. Hours of research, experiments, and tweaks can go into a single drink, only for it to be erased from record with the printing of a new menu. But some drinks refuse to leave: A bartender creates a cocktail that is the perfect fit for his program, and the removal of said beverage would result in a mini-revolt of patrons dead set on getting their hands on “the only thing I drink here.” So, what drinks had the biggest staying power around town in 2018? We checked in with bar managers at some of our favorite watering holes.

Alec Spidalieri: Junction

The house cocktail list at Junction includes both a collection of tried-and-true staples and a section that changes drastically with the seasons. “My staff probably hates it, but I’m a big believer in keeping things fresh and interesting for the guests,” says Spidalieri. He saw an increased interest in rum cocktails this year, including the Rum Communion: a house creation that won the C-VILLE Weekly Cocktail Bracket challenge earlier in 2018, and will stay on his list year-round.

Reid Dougherty: Brasserie Saison

The Kitchen Cocktail at Brasserie is a rotating drink that reinforces the relationship between the kitchen and beverage program. When bartender Jeremy Curtis got his hands on smoked maple syrup, he paired it with Four Roses bourbon for a drink that was so well received it became the building block for a new menu fixture, the Rabbie Burns, named in honor of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Bar manager Dougherty says they upped the char on the syrup and swapped the bourbon for local Virginia Highland Malt, making the final cocktail a craveable sipper of Highland Malt, Luxardo Bitter, smoked maple syrup, lemon, and bitters.

Colin Antonovics: Lost Saint

When Lost Saint launched its Saint 182, All The Fall Things menu, the Waxing Poetic was a massive hit. The cocktail features Rhum Clément that is aged in a bottle lined with beeswax, adding a unique mouthfeel and a softening of the Clément. Antonovics has had to continue to fill the bottles long after the cocktail menu changed over, regardless of the season.

Steve Yang and Rebecca Edwards: Tavola

Yang, who was a regional finalist in the World Class bartending competition this year, put his Alpha and Omega cocktail on the menu shortly after taking over the bar program. Featuring Baker’s bourbon, brown butter-washed PX sherry, Asian pear, lemon, and thyme, it has been a steadfast customer favorite ever since. When tackling the spring cocktail list, Edwards came up with The Witchcraft, a Ransom Old Tom gin cocktail with Liquore Strega, housemade sesame falernum (a sweet syrup), lime, and tonic. The combination of a unusual color and unexpected flavor proved to make The Witchcraft something too popular to ditch.

And cocktails aren’t the only thing with staying power at Tavola. In 2018, the duo behind the cicchetti bar also decided their relationship was going to go the distance, and announced their engagement.

As the cocktail scene in Charlottesville continues to evolve, it’s clear to area bartenders that customers are putting their trust in house creations such as Reid Dougherty’s Rabbie Burns, made with charred maple syrup.