In Your Cups: Drinking spring holidays and other excuses to celebrate

CInco de Mayo, Mothers Day, Derby Day, and just being alive!

Photo by: jthetzel

What a glorious time of year! I’m not simply referring to my right to bare arms or the festivals that warm weather brings. No, three celebratory events in four days all direct us to drink. Or drive us to drink. Depending.

First up, Cinco de Mayo, which is–you guessed it–May 5th. To Mexicans, the date commemorates their army’s victory over France in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. No, May 5th is not Mexican Independence Day. Mostly it’s just an American chance to party. But since the U.S. helped Mexico reject French rule during the war, we can consider ourselves justified to celebrate. And celebrate we do, typically with Mexican food and margaritas.

But that doesn’t mean we have to settle for cheap American margaritas. Instead, we can thumb our nose at cheap drinks, like the Mexicans in Juarez thumbed their nose at the French, and declare our allegiance to the state of quality!

For the best margaritas, use fresh ingredients (not mixers) and top-shelf liquors, not the cheap stuff. To be true to the drink’s history, choose to enjoy your cocktail over rocks, not as a blender drink.

The International Bartenders Association presents their official recipe (converted here to ounces:

The Official Margarita

  • 3 ½ oz. tequila
  • 2 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 ½ oz. freshly squeezed lime juice

Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass rimmed with salt.

You may choose to substitute triple sec or another orange liqueur for the Cointreau. The tequila you use will, of course, affect the end result. Cheaper tequila (mixto) uses ingredients besides pure agave. Aging affects the richness of the flavor, ranging from lightly aged blanco (aka silver, plata, or platinum) to reposado to añejo to extra-añejo and to the smoky variation, mezcal.

Oh, and that tequila worm–it’s merely an urban legend.


May 7th brings another party opp–Derby Day. Of all three Triple Crown races, Kentucky’s Churchill Downs can claim to have partied the longest with their signature drink, the mint julep, the official drink for nearly a century. (For the record, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore introduced the black-eyed Susan in 1973 and the Belmont Breeze didn’t enter the race until 2011).

According to the official Derby website, nearly 120,000 Old Forester mint juleps are served each year during the two-day event. Yes, they use the Old Forester mint julep ready-to-serve cocktail, but given the volume, that’s to be forgiven. They also use 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint.

Food historians credit Virginia high society of the late 1700s and early 1800s with the creation of the mint julep, though then they would sip over breakfast, mixing drinks with brandy or rum. Oh, but they would pretend that they were drinking the concoctions to soothe their aching stomachs or to allay problems with swallowing. In reality, it’s just delicious.

Mint Julep

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Fresh mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Whiskey

Make a mint simple syrup: boil sugar and water for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint and refrigerate overnight.

Fill a cup with crushed ice, then add one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of whiskey. Stir rapidly with a spoon. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.


Next up: Mothers Day. Depending upon your mom, it may be a day to celebrate as a family or an excuse to drown your sorrows. As a beer lover, it pains me to admit, but the day is typically considered a time for winery tours, mimosas, and bloody Marys.

If you really want to sparkle in honoring your mom this year, start her morning off with breakfast in bed, featuring food and a Virginia-focused bloody Mary using any of the commonwealth’s handcrafted bloody Mary mixes. I’m a fiend for not using mixes, but these are as good as any I can make at home. At Virginia ABC stores, you can pick up Blue Crab Bay, Crabby Mary, Porky Mary (pulling in the taste of bacon–you’ll want to mix one up for yourself), or Patrick Henry’s Revolutionary (it’s hot, so Mom better like spicy). You can find Richmond-based Texas Beach Bloody Mary Mix around town, too.


Not every day is a holiday, but this behind-the-bar peek at Brandon Peck of the Roosevelt reminds me that we can celebrate any day. Belle Isle Craft Spirits chatted with Peck about food pairings, dry versus dirty martinis, and a bartender’s continuing education. Sneak peek: Peck does like blended margaritas, so he would eschew my earlier comment. He also presents two cocktail recipes using Belle Isle Craft Spirits Ruby Red Grapefruit Moonshine–Reunion Island and Julius Maximus. Savor the blog post, then create the recipes in your home bar. Or go to the Roosevelt–go directly to The Roosevelt, do not pass Go–do not collect $200. Just order and enjoy.


Between May 1st and August 31st, your purchase of 92-proof Sailor Jerry Spiced Navy Rum at a Virginia ABC store will help support wounded warriors. The Caribbean spirit is tempered with spices for notes of vanilla and cinnamon.

The same promotion in 2015 netted 115,000 bottles sold and an $8,594 donation to Aleethia Foundation. This nonprofit foundation assists injured troops recuperating at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, with short-term therapeutic recreation.


Black Heath Meadery has announced that their meads will be carried at Ellwood Thompson’s, one of Richmond’s favorite local natural food stores. You can try limited samples or purchase to-go bottles of the honey-fermented beverage at the meadery in Scott’s Addition, or simply pick some up while you’re shopping for groceries!

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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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