The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

Tag: Spirit Lab Distilling

Introducing Charli: A Spirit for Charlottesville

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In tribute to The Charlottesville 29 and Lampo, the label for the new spirit Charli includes a road sign and a lightening bolt.

When Ivar Aass moved to Charlottesville six years ago, he had one purpose in mind: distill high quality spirits. And, at Spirit Lab Distilling, the distillery he runs with his wife, he does just that. From a bare bones warehouse facility on 6th SE, Aass distills tiny batches of spirits that already have a following not just here in Charlottesville, but beyond. With characteristics of both Scotch and traditional American whiskey, for example, his flagship Single Malt Whiskey forges a new style: American Single Malt. Bottles of it and other creations have earned spots in the bars of acclaimed D.C. restaurants like The Dabney and Rose’s Luxury.

As much as Aass loves distilling, though, he has fallen hard for another crush during his time here: Charlottesville itself. In 2012, Aass and his wife had grown weary of life in New York, and were ready for a change. At the suggestion of a friend, they visited Charlottesville. After just a weekend here, Aass and his wife were smitten. So smitten that they signed a lease two weeks later and have been here ever since. “I am continually blown away by how awesome Charlottesville is,” says Aass, citing a combination of small town benefits with the cultural amenities of a big city. The “coolest part,” Aass says, is how nice everyone is. “It’s kind of easy to be a nice person in Charlottesville,” Aass says.

His latest spirit, then, is a tribute to Charlottesville: a bitter apertivo called Charli, similar to Campari. The idea came from Lampo’s Andrew Cole. Aass says a great aspect of brewing in such small batches in a city like Charlottesville is the opportunity to respond to specific, local demand. Aass enjoys sitting with local bartenders, learning of needs and ideas.

In this case, Aass was at the bar at Lampo one afternoon when Cole suggested creating a local apertivo that would revive the use of crushed cochineal beetles as a coloring agent. For decades, this was how the beloved Italian apertivo Campari got its distinctive red color, before switching to artificial coloring in 2006. Aass loved the idea, and set out to make Charli, his homage to Charlottesville.

Aass started with his own neutral spirit made from wheat malt and sugar. To that, he added botanicals like bitter orange, bergamot peel, and gentian, among others. Some he added during distilling, while others he added to the completed spirit afterwards as a maceration. Determining when to add each, Aass said, was part of the learning process, trial and error. Finally, he added the crushed cochineal beetles.

The result is an apertivo that Aass likes best with nothing but a little soda water and a lemon twist. He also suggests it as a substitute for Campari in cocktails like negronis, and hopes that Charlottesville residents will be proud to invent their own creations using a spirit named for their hometown. In tribute to its inspiration, Charli’s label features a lightning bolt similar to Lampo’s logo, as well as the shape of a road sign, a nod, Aass says, to The Charlottesville 29 (Thank You!). Yes, at The Charlottesville 29 there is no shortage of love for both Charlottesville and negronis.

After much anticipation, Charli is now available. Find it at the distillery itself, or order it through your ABC store. $40.79 / 750mL and $21.99 / 375 mL.

Five Finds on Friday: Ivar Aass

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Ivar Aass, owner of Spirit Lab Distilling, whose flagship whiskey received lavish praise in last week’s Five Finds. Check out the distillery here, and learn more about the single malt whiskey here. Aass’ picks:

1) Head Cheese from JM Stock Provisions. “Delicious porcine goodness. You don’t know what meat is supposed to taste like until you’ve tried something from Matt and team, but the head cheese is an especially fun find.”

2) Open-faced Chicken Fried Octopus Sando at Oakhart Social. “Chicken. Fried. Octopus. Unbelievably tasty and tender. I could eat a dozen of these in a sitting.”

3) Meat Lovers Pizza from Fabio’s. “A staple for movie night at home. After living in NYC for eighteen years, I can tell you that Fabio’s gets pizza.”

4) Fried Chicken at Brown’s. “My favorite fried chicken in town with crispy, sinful skins and juicy meat.”

5) Canelés from MarieBette. “Caramelized crusts with custardy, vanilla-rum centers. Makes me nostalgic for Paris. Fun personal challenge: tell yourself you’re just stopping by MarieBette for a baguette and see if you can leave without a box of these.”

Five Finds on Friday: Patrick McClure

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Patrick McClure, General Manager of Tavern & Grocery, which this week won 2017’s Best New Restaurant. McClure also manages and co-owns the restaurant’s downstairs bar Lost Saint. McClure’s picks:

1) Iced Coffee from Splendora’s Gelato. “I hope PK will forgive me for hipping more people to this, but the iced coffee from her shop is absolutely the best I’ve ever had. I’m a regular to the extent that most of the folks behind the counter will start pouring mine as I’m coming through the door. A simple recipe and the cold Toddy method of brewing produce a rich but mellow brew with low bitterness and a mild nuttiness. I drink it black, and try to start every work day with one. Their gelato is pretty amazing as well.”

2) Magical Mystery Tour Pizza from Mellow Mushroom. “I know, I know, everybody loves Lampo. Me too! Luckily for me, my favorite pizzas are like apples and oranges, and I don’t have to compare them. The wonderfully spongy and heavily parmesan-dusted crust Mellow consistently delivers is my style, and the combination of pesto, mushrooms, jalapenos, spinach, feta and mozzarella cheeses is perfect. I sometimes add bacon to this vegetarian pie.”

3) Malt Whiskey from Spirit Lab Distilling. “Charlottesville’s oldest distillery is the one you probably haven’t heard of yet, and Ivar Aass is producing some great distillate. He’s patched together a solera-style barrel aging system that has produced (only) 94 bottles to date of handmade single malt that is rich in toffee and vanilla notes with a smoky backbone that I can’t wait to enjoy again.”

4) Ham Biscuit from JM Stock Provisions. “I have only had this twice. The early risers usually buy all of them before I can get to JM Stock, especially since I think pre-noon is early morning. The perfect biscuit, tender tasso ham, honey and just enough hot sauce to wake you up are worth setting my alarm for.”

5) Cocktails from my Favorite Charlottesville Bars: Oakhart Social, Tavola Cicchetti Bar, and The Alley Light. “My peers around town (and my teammates at Lost Saint) are producing cocktails on the level of the great cocktail bars in the country, and I’m excited for more people to find this out. Go see Albee or Brendan at Oakhart Social, Steve at Cicchetti, Micah at The Alley Light or Carrie and Colin here at Lost Saint, and you’ll be treated to excellent service and a bevy of delicious and balanced flavor combinations that will open your eyes to the great American history of cocktail culture.”