In Your Cups: Perfecting your palate with a dramatic gentleman, new Virginia spirits and events

How to drink like a pro and all the things you should be drinking like said pro.

Photo by: SammCox

Sure, alcoholic beverages add a touch of spirit to the evening–the buzz paired with the relaxation–but the rise of craft beverages relies not just on alcohol but on taste. Consider those experts who swirl, sniff and sip, waxing eloquent on notes of blackberry or pear, pepper or geranium, oak and vanilla, barnyard or skunk.

I recall a seminar hosted by Finlandia Vodka before I’d started seriously studying craft beverages and alcohol. The first half of the session involved blind tasting of eight different vodkas, from rail to top shelf–the challenge was to match the tasters with the brands. To me, they were all the same: “Tastes like alcohol.” To the professionals, the differences were obvious.

More recently, I got a sample of the cupping classes taught by Todd Arnette, owner, roaster, and all-around coffee expert at Williamsburg Coffee and Tea. Arnette teaches roasters, baristas, tasters, and graders in Williamsburg and around the world. Cupping coffee involves sniffing and slurping, noting the body, sweetness, acidity, flavors, and aftertaste. Only the slurping was a little off-putting, not something to demonstrate at the company picnic.

Over the years, I’ve learned much about all of the liquids that pass over my lips. Most importantly, I’ve discovered that it’s possible to improve the ability to distinguish flavors and build appreciation.

  • Be in the moment. Yes, it’s the Zen of drinking and eating to savor the flavors.
  • Swirl, sniff, and sip. That uppity routine really does more than just make you look like a geek.The swirling releases the aromas and the sniffing pulls them into your nostrils (and most of taste is actually a result of smell). Sipping allows you to roll the liquid around on your tongue and milk it (so to speak) for all it’s worth.
  • Smell everything: inhale the honeysuckle and pine tags as you drive through the country, the wet earth as you walk by the James, the newly mown grass in your neighborhood and the scents wafting from the multitude of spice jars (just don’t blame me if you get kicked out of Penzey’s). You’ll build your mental bank of flavors and aromas.
  • Go retro! Retronasal, that is. With the drink in your mouth, inhale and exhale, letting the air from your mouth pass up into your nose.
  • Pair scents and tastes with memories. If you can’t quite articulate what you’re experiencing, does it bring back a memory that can provide the key?
  • Explore! The world of flavor opportunities is massive.
  • Chill. Holding out your pinkie does not improve the final results.

I still have much to learn, but in the meantime, the research is astonishing.

A Dramatic Gentleman

Virginia’s Modern Gentleman, Jason Tesauro used his dramatic flair and a GoPro to share the creation of a spectacular Southern cocktail at the Kitchen Thyme classroom, plus 13 cocktail and hosting tips. The Virginia gentleman created a Ruby Pearl using James River Distillery’s Øster Vit, Belle Isle Craft Spirits Ruby Red Grapefruit Moonshine and Charleston’s Bittermilk No. 5 Charred Grapefruit Tonic, plus fresh grapefruit juice, simple syrup, and an egg. Enjoy the presentation and learn how to whip one up yourself.

New Virginia products at ABC stores

The Virginia ABC web site is highlighting six new Virginia products, including the Øster Vit Aquavit that our own Stephanie Ganz and I both raved about. “Blending traditional, Scandinavian aquavit with a steeping process using local oyster shells, James River Distillery becomes the only Virginia distillery to craft an aquavit,” the ABC website proclaims. “Enjoy straight or in vodka or gin cocktails.”

Other featured commonwealth products are Colonial Williamsburg orange ginger and tart lime Colonial punch mixers, 5 Mile Mountain Elderberry Moonshine from Floyd, Bondurant Brothers Moonshine from Franklin County and Vitae Spirits Platinum Rum from Charlottesville.

You can check availability of these products at the links above–they’ll show you which ABC store has got you covered.

One shot for whom?

Cirrus Vodka was the featured vodka at the Old Dominion One Shot Turkey Hunt hosted by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries on April 15th-16th. I’m not sure which the one shot applies to, the rifle or the vodka, but I daresay the gobblers would have appreciated a shot of Cirrus more than the alternative.

History on Tap

The next installment in the Virginia Historical Society’s History on Tap program–Washington, Spies, and Cider is scheduled for April 25th. The evening will include a prescreening of the new season’s first episode of Turn: Washington’s Spies, plus spy-themed discussion and a glass of Blue Bee’s heirloom Hewe’s Crab apple cider.

Virginia wine or spirits day trips

If you’re ready to kick off the season of festivals, you can begin in Richmond on April 23rd, 11 AM – 6:00 PM. The nonprofit Wine for Cures, in support of education and fundraising for cancer issues, presents the Dogwood Wine Festival at the Reynolds Building, 6641 W. Broad Street. The event includes entertainment, vendors, craft beer, mead, whiskey, and, of course, wine.

Next, head west for an Earth Day Vineyard Tour on April 24th at Keswick Vineyards, less than an hour west of Short Pump. Winemaker Stephen Barnard walks guests through the vineyards and discusses the challenges of growing grapes in Virginia. Each vineyard block is paired with tastings of its grapes’ wines–Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, and Touriga. Cost is $20 for wine club members and $25 for the general public. Find more information online.

On April 28th, 7:00 – 9:00 PM, Cirrus Vodka is the star in Virginia Beach. Ultra Craft Cocktails presents Cocktail Kitchen at Oceanaire Resort Hotel. Besides enjoying three finished Cirrus cocktails, participants will learn how about mixology, elevating their skills as they muddle, mix, shake and drink.

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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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