How to Drink Whiskey in Virginia, According to Cocktail Maven Sherra Kurtz

Whiskey in Virginia is serious business – our Commonwealth claims the status of the spirit’s original homeland in the United States – and that can make the spirit a little intimidating to explore in depth. But when it comes to making the intimidating fun and accessible without sacrificing complexity, there’s no one better to turn to than Sherra Kurtz.

Kurtz worked for years at Colombia Room, a pioneering cocktail bar in Washington known for her adventurous and technical approach to cocktails, where she was able to “explore scientific and precise approaches to cocktail creation”. She is now planning a “sandwich bar” Your only friend, which pairs individual sandwiches, including nostalgic creations like a version of McRib, with cocktails that complement the ingredients. Kurtz recently came to NoVA to lead tastings for Wolf Trapis annual Bourbon and Bubbles event, so we caught up with her to find out her take on how to drink regional whiskey.

At the event, Kurtz and his business partner Paul Taylor built a tasting experience around Catoctin Creek, Virginia’s pioneering artisanal bourbon, loved by nearly every whiskey enthusiast in the region. According to Kurtz, the key is to start new tasters with something simple as a reference, before bringing in something a little different so they can compare, taking them on what she called a “tour. from the land of bourbon “.

“So people can kind of move from station to station and then they kind of connect those dots that have always kind of escaped them over time,” she explained. When looking to bring home a bottle, Kurtz advises that with age, older isn’t always better. The six to nine year range tends to be the sweet spot.

So keep it simple when you sip straight, but what should we look for when we go out to a cocktail bar in Virginia? When it comes to trying to crack a premium cocktail menu, trying something new doesn’t mean stepping out of your comfort zone, either. While there has been a trend in recent years for bars to advertise quirky drinks that pique their audiences’ curiosity, a good drink is not measured by the number of ingredients.

“It doesn’t have to be like a complex, crazy cocktail all the time. I think I’m mostly looking for things that are really well done, ”Kurtz said. “For me, these are always things that are accessible, things that I know. I probably avoid things that are too far-fetched.

Rather than ordering the strangest thing on the menu, look for a drink that uses a classic as a base to start. If a specialty cocktail is based on an old-fashioned cocktail, with a surprising, seasonal or local element to make it unique, it will be interesting even if the fundamentals of craftsmanship remain.

True to his word, Kurtz was doing the “Pawpaw Bradley” at Wolf Trap. Based on the Omar Bradley, an old-fashioned version that uses marmalade instead of sugar, Kurtz and Taylor incorporated papaya, a rare fruit unique to the Appalachian region, to pay homage to the flavors of the local land.

A cocktail that showcases the flavors of a spirit can be a good way to introduce a spirit to newcomers.

“It exposes them to this ingredient and makes them think that maybe there is a way for me to enjoy it.” I just haven’t had it before now, ”Kurtz says.

For a classic cocktail that you can easily prepare at home, Kurtz highlights the Suffering bastard, an unexpected blend of equal parts whiskey, gin and lime juice topped with ginger beer. Gin and whiskey drinkers tend to occupy opposite ends of the drinking spectrum, so this is a great cocktail to get just about anyone out of their comfort zone in a fun and easy way.

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