Tavola’s Christian Johnston takes craft cocktail title

Tavola’s cicchetti bar manager Christian Johnston used Potter’s Craft Cider grapefruit hibiscus cider to make a reduction for his Floreale cocktail, which also includes Hendrick’s gin, coriander, black cardamom and lemon. Photo: Staff photos Tavola’s cicchetti bar manager Christian Johnston used Potter’s Craft Cider grapefruit hibiscus cider to make a reduction for his Floreale cocktail, which also includes Hendrick’s gin, coriander, black cardamom and lemon. Photo: Staff photos

Drinking 12 cocktails over the course of six days is a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. Last week the Tom Tom Founders Festival hosted its first local cocktail competition, which is exactly what it sounds like—a dozen area mixologists were tasked with creating an original craft cocktail for the week of the festival, each featuring at least one local ingredient. A panel of judges (including yours truly) tasted each drink and ranked them in three categories: taste, appearance and local ingredient, and members of the public also cast votes online for their favorite.

Spirits from nearby distilleries made their way into a lot of glasses last week, of course, but we want to raise a toast to a few of the bartenders and their creations.


Christian Johnston, Tavola

The Floreale at Tavola’s ciccheti bar is as beautiful and flowery as it sounds. Bar manager Christian Johnston made a reduction out of Potter’s Craft Cider grapefruit hibiscus cider, which he then mixed with Hendrick’s gin, coriander, black cardamom and lemon. The Potter’s was the only local ingredient he used, which, turns out, was all it took to take the title. Quality over quantity.

The Floreale is still on the menu for at least a couple more weeks, so get it while you can.

The Blue Ridge Old Fashioned

J. Brian McCrory, Red Pump Kitchen

Even the name sounds like Charlottesville. Red Pump Kitchen’s J. Brian McCrory wanted to create a drink that tasted familiar and comforting, but still had a surprising twist. His Blue Ridge Old Fashioned features Bowman Brothers small-batch whiskey with muddled local blueberries, fig jam, balsamic vinegar and freshly picked sage, plus a sugar-ambered sage leaf to top it off. You can practically see the view of the mountains when you take a sip.

McCrory says he plans to keep the Blue Ridge Old Fashioned on the menu for another month or so.


Zack Ray, Threepenny Café

Bartender Zack Ray took the whole local-ingredient thing to heart. He spent an entire Saturday behind the bar mixing up concoctions until he came up with the Lawless, a sweet cocktail made entirely of local ingredients. With a base of 100-proof Belmont Farms Virginia Lightning corn whiskey and George Bowman dark rum, the booze is balanced with sorghum molasses, strawberry rhubarb preserves, grapefruit Lumi Juice and vanilla bean from The Spice Diva.

The Lawless is a little sweet for Ray’s taste, and he doesn’t expect to keep it on the menu, but if you ask nicely we bet he’ll come up with something similar for you.

We’ll drink to that

See photos of all the drinks entered into the competition on our Instagram page @cvilleweekly.

Tasty tidbits

Rum for it…Vitae Spirits’ Henry Avenue tasting room isn’t up and running yet, but it should be by this summer. In the meantime, you can find bottles of the new distillery’s Charlottesville-made rum on the shelves of local ABC stores. Oh, baby…Good news for Gordonsville residents who want dinner and dessert at the same time—in addition to homemade tacos, nachos and quesadillas, Burrito Baby is now serving cups and cones of hand-dipped ice cream. Burger stand…Nothing can ever replace a good ol’ hot dog, but now you have a couple more options at Sam’s Hot Dog Stand of Crozet, with made-to-order chargrilled burgers on the menu. Gobble, gobble…In honor of Autism Awareness Month, for every Kelly Bronze turkey sold in April, the company will donate $25 to the Virginia Institute of Autism.

Wine about it

“We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.”

Thomas Jefferson said it best, and we like to think good ol’ TJ would be proud of the ever-growing Napa-esque wine culture in the Charlottesville area. The Monticello Wine Trail consists of more than two-dozen wineries within the Monticello American Viticultural Area (the first established American Viticultural Area in Virginia), inspired by Jefferson’s winemaking vision for the area. It’s a friendly and collaborative local industry for sure, but there’s always room for some competition, like last week’s annual Monticello Wine Cup Awards.

“It’s fairly serious in the sense that we, the wineries, have dominated the Governor’s Cup for years, winning somewhere between 45 and 50 percent of the gold medals,” says Glass House Winery owner and Monticello Wine Trail President Jeff Sanders. “Some of the top wines from Virginia are from this area, so this is a competition among wineries here.”

Each of the eight judges—including local sommeliers, wine shop owners and wine writers—sampled half of the roughly 80 wines entered in the contest and ranked them using the UC Davis 20-point wine scoring system, and those that received gold status were then re-tasted by the entire panel.

Barboursville Vineyards took home the Monticello Cup this year for the 2010 Petit Verdot Reserve, and Michael Shaps won the award for Top Rated White Wine for the 2015 Viognier.

Twenty-two wines won gold medals, including Afton Mountain Vineyards, Cardinal Point Winery, First Colony Winery, Pollak Vineyards and Trump Winery (making wine great again). Silver medals went to 30 different wines, and 10 wines received bronze awards.

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