By: Stephanie Jones, Bartender
Nearly a year has passed since Brookville took a leap of faith and began to offer exclusively local spirits. With an already flourishing wine industry, a growing craft beer culture, and a steady supply of incredible cider, Virginia is well respected for its homegrown spirits. Perhaps less well known is Virginia’s growing community of artisanal distilleries. Now, Brookville is proud to offer a wide selection of almost exclusively Virginia liquors*. Our guests learn this the moment their server greets them, and every once in a while, someone is disappointed to miss a favorite gin, tequila, or imported liqueur. More often, however, Brookvillle’s clientele are a pretty game bunch, open to tasting new flavors and delighted with the novelty of local liquor. Thus, the year 2015 has seen the evolution of a cocktail program in line with Brookville’s longstanding commitment to fresh, local ingredients and the great people who grow, ferment, distill, herd, and forage them.
You might ask, what happens when you limit a bar program to whatever is fresh and local?
Firstly, you lose the crutch of tried and true cocktail ingredients. Take, for example, the classic Manhattan. We presently do not have access to Virginia-made Vermouth, but we do have local dessert wines. And we do have a few bittering agents in house, like cinchona bark, a South American spice that we also use to make our own tonic syrup. So, to achieve both the sweetness and smoky dryness of Sweet Vermouth, we mixed a handful of ground cinchona with Barboursville’s incredible dessert wine, Phileo. Then, we pre-blended this infusion with bitters and Copper Fox Rye, a deliciously complex and smoky rye whiskey made in Sperryville. Thus was born what we like to call the Belmonhattan.
Secondly, by focusing on fresh, local fruits and vegetables as mixers, we realize new potentials for mixed drinks, both as substites in a classic cocktail, and as stand-out ingredients for new concoctions. We have been delighted to discover organic Elderberry Syrup from Brightwood Vineyard and Farm in Madison County. Elderberries are tart, deep in flavor, and slightly bitter. So, when we sold the last of our cranberry juice over the summer, we started subbing elderberry syrup whenever someone asked for a cranberry vodka. In our own custom Cosmopolitan, the Berry Good Cosmo, elderberries replace cranberries, and orange liquer is replaced with Calmondincello, a limoncello-like digestif we make with local calmondin citrus from Planet Earth Diversified and Virginia Lightning Corn Whiskey from Belmont Farms.
Thirdly, a staunch ‘buy-local’ commitment places Brookville firmly in a broader network of local food artisans. We feel confident about the integrity, sustainability, and nutritional value of our ingredients because of we know the people who produce them. This of course applies, as always, to the vegetables, herbs, and fruit that we feature in our cocktails. But now, Brookville’s bar program radically embraces the creativity of Virginia’s vintners, brewers, distillers, and cidermakers by putting them front and center. And time and again, the challenge of using Virginia made ingredients gives birth to flavor combinations that you might not see in a classic cocktail menu. Take Stone Love, possibly our most popular cocktail this summer and an homage to stone fruit. First, we infused local cherries in a mix of bourbon and cider from Albemarle Cider Works. After separating the cherries, we cooked the liquid down with mulling spice and sugar to make a savory syrup. We then mix this syrup with house cherry bitters, peach-infused bourbon, and muddled fruit (Agriberry Farm nectarines or plums, or Apricot Jam by Daniel). Served on the rocks with a spritz of soda, these flavors together express the essence of late summer: sweet, a little sticky, and lingering.
Brookville’s shift toward a locally-focused beverage program has certainly limited the types of ingredients we could access and how often. It removed probably 80% of the liquors available to most bartenders. And this change presented our guests with fewer, and less familiar, drink choices. Yet it was these limitations that have been the impetus for creativity behind the bar and in the kitchen. We are proud to feature local ingredients of integrity, made with care by our neighbors. And we hope you’ll grab a seat at the bar, take a sip, and agree.
*Our single exception is our rail liquor—from Kentucky.