In Your Cups: Drinking up knowledge, sipping oysters, and previewing a sweet and sour spirit

We’re thrilled to present Annie Tobey, our very favorite writer about everything alcohol-related.

Photo by Jessica Aicholtz


Bartenders are noble servants of our society. In addition to memorizing and learning how to create dozens of different recipes from a multitude of ingredients, they must deal with often obnoxious, demanding customers, work on their feet for hours on end while performing repetitive upper-body motions, and be on the clock when the rest of the world is at play.

On top of all this, they’re required to sample liquors and cocktails and keep up with mixology trends. On March 28th, noble local industry professionals from the RVA Bartenders Alliance gathered at the Westin Richmond to bolster their education in order to better serve their customers.

Note the subtle shift from sincerity to irony–though bartending is not all glamour and glory, none of the bartenders at this event indicated anything but pleasure and interest in their training.

The evening focused on Jack Daniel’s whiskeys, with a live Skype appearance by JD master distiller Jeff Arnett. The master discussed proprietary yeast, mineral-rich spring water, grain bills, the double distillation process, and copper column stills.

Arnett described the Tennessee whiskey Lincoln County Process–mellowing the young spirit through sugar maple charcoal–as participants got to compare the unfiltered whiskey with the filtered. Yes, there was a clear difference between the two: a bit of bitter on the back of the palate with the first but a cleaner flavor in the second. And that’s before the spirit’s even aged!

In addition to getting a taste of the single barrel rye, the bartenders got a hint of JD products to come, including a whiskey to celebrate Jack Daniel’s 150th anniversary this year and a small-batch release that promises to be as good as the distillery’s Sinatra Select.

Curious as to which Richmond establishments are furthering their education? Some names and faces you might recognize include Maddie Pere of My Noodle Bar, Pete Konrad at Southbound and Rachel Boxley of Heritage, plus bartenders preparing for restaurant openings – Derek Salerno of Shagbark, Lindsey Scheer of Liberty Public House (forthcoming on 25th Street) and Sean Rapoza of the Kabana rooftop bar. Other restaurants that cared enough to send their very best include Postbellum, Belle & James, On the ROX, New York Deli, Rock Bottom Brewery, the Westin Richmond and TJs at the Jefferson.


As our own Stephanie Ganz reported, James River Distillery is producing a new spirit, the Øster Vit, an Old World-style aquavit steeped with Rappahannock River Oyster shells. To my palate, it’s the best product to come out of this Richmond distillery yet!

Out west in Nelson County, Virginia Distillery announced this week that their flagship Virginia Highland Malt Whisky was awarded a gold medal at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition, one of the most influential spirits competitions worldwide.


The Rogue Gentlemen represented our fair city just yesterday, April 4th, at the Washington, D.C. Taste of the Nation for No Kid Hungry, a charity event to end childhood hunger in America.

Caledonia Spirits of Barr Hill gin fame asked us to present their cocktail offering this year,” Rogue Gentlemen bar manager Paul Blumer told me. “So I figured I’d share the wealth and I wrote a cocktail with their gin plus Confluence cold-brew coffee and Black Heath mead–both local RVA businesses.”

Belle Isle Craft Spirits will be at the event as well, represented in moonshine cocktails by Mick Perrigo of D.C.’s Left Door.

To further the Virginia love, Belle Isle auctioned off a Virginia gift basket featuring Belle Isle bottles, Caromont Farms cheese, Barboursville wine, Autumn Olive cured pork, Blanchard’s Quirk Coffee and other Virginia bounty.


The VHS has announced “History on Tap: Washington, Spies, and Cider,” scheduled for April 25th. The evening offers a prescreening of Turn: Washington’s Spies (season 3, episode 1), discussion (pssst–you’ll get to learn more about espionage during the Revolutionary War), and a glass of Blue Bee’s heirloom apple cider Hewe’s Crab, apparently a favorite of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.


Black Heath Meadery has started their first batch of sour mead, made with orange blossom honey with a house Brettanomyces yeast strain, to add a touch of funky to the bit of natural sweetness. Don’t go holding your breath, though–Bill Cavender doesn’t expect the sour mead to be ready until perhaps September.

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Annie Tobey

Writer and editor Annie Tobey dutifully studies the craft beverage scene, then runs Richmond’s roads and trails to earn the next round of research.

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