Legally Infused

New Virginia law allows NoVA bartenders to flavor booze.

By Whitney Pipkin

New Virginia law allows NoVA bartenders to flavor booze.

Infused Alcohol
Photo courtesy of John Carrabus.

A change in Virginia law now allows bartenders to infuse their own spirits in-house, fostering new flavors that slowly sink into drinks instead of shaking and stirring them in just before serving.

For John Carrabus, beverage manager at Hank’s Oyster Bar in Alexandria, the change means a lot more than adding a vanilla bean to his bourbon (though he might add spices and orange zest for a riff on the traditional Manhattan). “This actually allows us to do things like make our own housemade bitters,” Carrabus says, referring to the botanical flavored alcohols that give a mixed drink its punch.

He’s also thinking about creating cocktails in larger batches for barrel aging, such as Manhattans and negronis, though the new law restricts infusions to two-liter containers if not created in the original alcohol bottles.

Other Northern Virginia restaurants are still deciding how to take advantage of the new set of liquor laws, which also eased restrictions on how bars can promote happy hour.

“We’re definitely excited about it,” says Shawn Zekanis, manager at Stone’s Cove KitBar in Herndon. Currently in the research and development phase is a jalapeno and pineapple infused tequila and KitBar’s menu already features a changing cast of a dozen martinis and mixed drinks—from a pear flower martini to spicy mango mojito—that could benefit from housemade infusions. The change in law comes just in time to inspire seasonal menu updates, bringing an influx of fruit-imbued flavors.

“Spring is right around the corner and we have many ideas for new drinks,” says Virtue Feed & Grain’s Curtis Johnson. The team is working on a jalapeno vodka for bloody marys and a strawberry rum for a punch-style martini.

Other drink experiments are inspired by the same smoky, salty strip of pig that has been ubiquitous in dishes ranging from burgers to ice cream: bacon. Carrabus plans to try fat-washing spirits, a process that involves adding rendered bacon grease to the alcohol then skimming it off frozen. The end product, he says, is smooth like butter-washed rum.

(April 2014)