The 'Quarantini': Virginians Are Drinking More

Apr 20, 2020

The week of March 15, Governor Ralph Northam ordered establishments to serve no more than 10 patrons at a time. Also that week, ABC sales in the Charlottesville and Harrisonburg region were up 57% over the same period last year.  Even without the ability to imbibe in crowded bars, Virginians are still knocking ‘em back. WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi reports.

[Pouring, shaking a cocktail] 

Bulleit bourbon, orange bitters, house made vanilla syrup, muddled orange, and ice. That’s what goes into the Vanilla Old-Fashioned, the most popular cocktail at Bella Luna Wood-Fired Pizza. And thanks to Governor Northam, you can now get it to go.

Bella Luna's Sean Allen.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

SEAN ALLEN: We’ll have nothing at 4:30 and then 15 orders at 5 o’clock.

Sean Allen is a barkeep at Bella Luna in Harrisonburg, and has managed the bar for six years now. He’s also serving up –

ALLEN: our Basil Expatriate, our Blood Orange Paloma, and then house-made sangria. And I feel like those are each … the best-selling ones that we have.

You can also call in and pick up a cocktail down the street at Finnigan’s Cove, but bartender Emily Maldonado said folks are mostly getting –

Finnigan’s Cove's Emily Maldonado.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

EMILY MALDONADO: beer, all the time, lots and lots of beer. Wings have also been popular as well, and just like, munchy things.

While there are always some bad apples, she said most customers have been supportive of the bar staff during this time.

MALDONADO: We’ve got a lot of awesome, awesome regulars and people who are aware of how much this sucks for us that are still tipping really, really well … and that’s always so appreciated.

Licensees, such as restaurants, typically account for 17 to 18 percent of all ABC sales at a given time. But even with restaurants and bars shutting down or scaling back, we’re still drinking. For the last few weeks, area ABC sales have been up three to seven percent over this time last year, according to their public relations specialist. Over at Restless Moons Brewing, owner Jeff Moon said that they’ve been going through beer faster than usual.

Jeff Moon owns Restless Moons Brewing.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

JEFF MOON: So we’ve found ourselves needing to actually brew a little bit more … in our industry, to-go prices are pretty steeply discounted … overall sales are about the same.

With the weather getting warmer, Moon said most people are ordering lighter beers and IPAs. We spoke while he was on shift at the bar, and he warned me that he might have to take care of a customer mid-interview.

MOON: We have a pilsner called Harrisonburger that’s a standard Czech pilsner, and it’s light and it’s easy and crisp, it’s basically what you think of when most people think of beer. And then we have three IPAs. We always have a sour IPA, right now the one that we have is called Necromancer, and it’s made with blood orange and vanilla. And then that’s actually going to be kicking pretty soon – How we doin’? I’m gonna put you on hold for just one second …

Out in Rockingham County, CrossKeys Vineyards is offering wine delivery and curbside pickup, too. Saam Bakhtiar, director of operations, said that having to cancel spring events, especially for JMU graduation and Mother’s Day, is dealing them a hard blow. But they do have Key Club members all over the country who are still ordering wine.

SAAM BAKHTIAR: We’ve been shipping to a lot of different states, so that’s definitely been encouraging.

Bakhtiar said they’re here to help anyone trying to beat quarantine boredom.

BAKHTIAR: you know, cooped up, you know, inside, and definitely looking to enjoy a glass of wine, not waiting until 5 o’clock.

For those who want to experiment with “quaran-tinis” or other cocktails at home, Sean Allen recommends stocking a basic bar with one each of your typical liquors, at least one type of bitters, sweet and maybe dry vermouth, juices, sodas, soda water, and –

ALLEN: … depending how fancy you want to be, you’ll get specialty liqueurs.

He’s turning to the garden to inspire his spirits right now.

ALLEN: With spring coming on, our yard is full of a bunch of fresh herbs. I see, I think, some thyme and oregano. We might have some sage around somewhere. So mixing some of those with a little bit of citrus, a little bit of sugar, honey, some soda water, and then your liquor of choice has been really nice, too.

I had to ask everyone what they’re drinking during the quarantine.

MOON: Uh, I love the Harrisonburger Pilsner. It’s one of my favorite things that we’ve ever brewed here. So whenever we have it on tap that’s usually what I take home.

MALDONADO: Ooo, Jameson is one of my faves. But I also, if I get home after work and crack open a beer, I’m drinking Miller! … I feel like, doing it all day at my jobs, I get home and I’m just like, I want something simple and easy.

ALLEN: Hmm, a bourbon with a couple ice cubes … at the moment, probably Bulleit. Good price, and then had the opportunity to visit the distillery back in May last year, on the bourbon tour.

BAKHTIAR: Um, I would probably have to say our Meritage … it’s a Bordeaux blend, it’s aged a bit longer than the other reds, so Merlot, Cab Sav, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, a nice blend. It’s kind of a heavier red wine, it pairs well with any type of grilled meat, but you can also enjoy it leading up to dinner.