Ernest Hemingway allegedly once said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” And not that that’s a credo we live by here at C-VILLE Weekly (honest!), but we do heed Mr. Hemingway’s advice from time to time. Like this week, for instance, for our first-ever Booze Issue. Follow Vitae Spirits’ Ian Glomski as he distills one of his popular spirits, meet three bartenders changing the local drinking scene and hear why you should be mad about bitters (in the best way). Plus, fill out our March Madness-style booze bracket, and keep up online as eight C-VILLE staffers sip through 16 of the city’s best cocktails to determine the champion. We’ll start working on next week’s paper in the meantime…as soon as the buzz wears off.
Get to know three of the women behind the bar
We’re just going to serve it straight up: Bartending is a boys’ club. And while there are plenty of women in this male-dominated industry who can throw down with the best of ’em, they don’t always get the credit and respect they deserve, from fellow bartenders and customers both (not cool, folks). So we’re turning the spotlight on three of the women currently providing superlative imbibing experiences in and around Charlottesville.
Assistant general manager, The Virginian Restaurant
Bartending on the Corner “is a different animal,” says Mary Topp. Some nights, The Virginian is so crowded that there’s no room to stand on the floor, so the mostly undergraduate clientele stand in the wooden booths and sit on tables and order drinks by the half dozen (or more). Topp, who was a server at The Virginian before stepping behind the bar in spring 2017, estimates she’ll make 300 drinks during a particularly busy shift. “I can make drinks at an alarming rate,” she says with a laugh. But it’s not just about mixing vodka sodas and cracking open cans of beer—she’s also a DJ, a customer service pro and a self-described “fun manager” who’s been known to hop up on the bar and get the restaurant pumped about a big UVA win.
Shooters—small, shot-sized servings of a mixed drink downed in a single gulp—are a big thing at The Virginian, and Topp and her colleagues regularly come up with new flavor combos for surprise shooter menus. When one of Topp’s regular customers dubbed a particular sour-yet-sweet mix “The Proud Mary,” Topp felt like she’d finally arrived.
Her Drink: The Proud Mary
Combine ingredients to taste (shooters should be less painful to swallow than shots of straight liquor). Pour into shot glasses and drink with friends.
Guest experience and education manager, Virginia Distillery Company
Amanda Beckwith loves whiskey. She loves to drink it (single malts, please), she loves to make cocktails with it and, most of all, she loves to share her knowledge of the spirit. In her role with Virginia Distillery Company, Beckwith does a lot: She drives the cocktail program at the visitors’ center, she answers questions for buyers, trains new employees on the unique qualities of each Virginia Distillery whiskey and even helps with olfactory and sensory analysis on the production side (she has a fantastic palate and a great nose, says Virginia Distillery Company brand manager Marlene Steiner). Beckwith has been with Virginia Distillery Company for about two years, though she’s been making drinks longer than that. She loves working her company’s spirits into classic cocktails and says she’s learned a lot from various women in different roles in the industry—she especially admires Steiner’s brand-building abilities, the talents of professional “nose” Nancy Fraley and the artistry of Lost Saint bar manager Carrie Hodgkins—and feels committed to sharing that knowledge with others over a dram or two. It’s something special, Beckwith says, when the same person who makes your Old Fashioned can take you through the distillery to show exactly where your whiskey’s coming from.
Her Drink: Whisky Martinez
1 ½ ounce Virginia-Highland Whisky
1 ounce sweet vermouth
½ ounce Luxardo cherry juice
¼ ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
3 dashes chocolate bitters
Cinnamon stick to garnish
Combine ingredients, stir and garnish with cinnamon stick.
Bar manager, Lost Saint
Drinking a cocktail is “like experiencing history,” says Carrie Hodgkins, bar manager at Lost Saint, the 30-seat bar beneath Tavern & Grocery on West Main Street. Sit at her bar and she’ll make you a cup of Fish House Punch, a strong drink made in a baptismal font. The cocktail gave committed diarist George Washington a hangover so bad, he didn’t write in his diary for three days. Or perhaps she’ll make you a Hanky Panky, a drink that’s particularly important to Hodgkins: She greatly admires its creator, Ada Coleman, who was head bartender at the American bar at the Savoy Hotel in London for 23 years. Coleman is one of only two women to hold that position, and she’s one of just a few women credited with creating a classic cocktail.
“Having a story, a reason, makes it so much better. It gives the drink meaning,” says Hodgkins, who sees cocktails as a way to connect with history while simultaneously expanding one’s palate. Cocktails are a good creative challenge, too, she says: Since opening, Lost Saint has become known for its clever themed menus, like last year’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Thanksgiving menu, where Lost Saint’s bartenders developed drinks inspired by the floating heads from Hasbro’s elimination game.
Hodgkins encourages her team to learn what their customers like and give that to them, time and time again. It’s never about what drinks she wants to make, she says. Instead, it’s all about figuring out what will make a person light up upon the first sip.
Her Drink: The Hanky Panky
1 ½ oz. gin
1 ½ oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet-Branca
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist and serve with Ada Coleman’s story.
After all this imbibing, only the most hideous of remedies will aid in our recovery. In search of a foolproof recipe, we finally found one at The Spice Diva, where owner Phyllis Hunter recommended this recipe from David Hopper (“an actual British subject, so he should know,” she says), whose Chutney Ferret Industries’ mushroom katsup lends the secret ingredient.
1 raw egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
Dash of Chutney Ferret Industries’
Few drops hot sauce (to taste)
Dash of brandy
Lightly mix and swallow in one go.