Oceanaire Resort Hotel’s Ultra Craft Cocktails at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront hosted Cocktail Kitchen on December 15, a special tasting event to learn more about the history and mixology that goes into the craft. For the holiday season, the focus was on the story of American whiskey, and featured three bourbon-based cocktails from America’s largest family-owned distillery, Heaven Hill out of Kentucky. With steadily dropping temperatures and nearly gale-force winds outside, guests hurried in to the luxury hotel for some warming solace in the form of drink and good company.

Attendees tasted an assortment of bites, including ham sandwiches and macaroni and cheese, as well as a variety of bourbons, which also came with a bite. We went headfirst into a tasting of a Heaven Hill Trybox Series New Make corn whiskey. Branded as a white whiskey and clear in appearance as opposed to the opaque tint rendered from barrels, it is marked as 125 proof.

The first cocktail of the evening was Fireside Chat, featuring Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon. It so happens that Reverend Elijah Craig was born a Virginian and began his distilling practices in the state predating what is now Kentucky. The small batch was born of charred barrels, but was mixed and shaken with Domaine de Canton ginger-flavored liqueur, honey syrup and lemon juice. The drink’s brim is coated in pepper, furthermore warming the senses. It seems right in place for a night where you can pull up your wingback chair near the fire when the weather outside is frightful.

Fireside Chat Ultra Craft Cocktail
Photo Credit: Ashley Lester Photography

The second lounge cocktail was made with Larceny Bourbon, another offering of numerous accolades because of its use of winter wheat with a pleasing taste. As legend goes, the notorious John E. Fitzgerald (Old Fitzgerald) was a treasury agent with exclusive access to barrel storage houses. His penchant for bourbon whiskey has henceforth brought up the notions of his malfeasances­­—barrels were lighter, quantities were amiss, and bourbon seemed to have slipped out from storage through a keyhole.

The drink in hand, stirred and strained over ice with a garnished rosemary and bourbon cherry sprig, is named Grand Larceny. It’s made with PAMA pomegranate-flavored liqueur, VYA sweet vermouth, Crème de Cacao chocolate-flavored liqueur and Xocolatl Mole bitters. The rosemary is flamed by a torch, as demonstrated by our mixologist and aided by a volunteer wearing a Santa sweater; questions regarding the flammability of the sweater ensued. The use of a sweeter bourbon (yes, there is such a thing) with fruit and liqueurs masks the alcohol in a cordial way, a far cry from whiskey’s bitterness.

Grand Larceny Cocktail
Photo Credit: Ashley Lester Photography

Finally, we are brought to our last signature cocktail but not before several more helpings of finger sandwiches and macaroni. Southern Noggin’ is the labor-intensive, family-created recipe for eggnog layered with Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon. Its namesake is for the “first” Kentucky bourbon distiller, whose proud heritage has carried the quality beverage to us today.

The holiday eggnog cocktail combines yolks separated from egg whites, sugar, heavy cream, milk, brandy, nutmeg, allspice and vanilla, just to start. It may astonish you how long bourbon can sit in a barrel to reach full character, sometimes for several decades. But interestingly, this eggnog mixture can sit from two weeks to two years if kept chilled. Graced with a coating of cinnamon on your glass, it’s gone within a matter of moments.

Southern Noggin'
Photo Credit: Ashley Lester Photography

Ultra Craft Cocktail’s next Cocktail Kitchen will be held January 19 and will feature classics such as a Manhattan and Old Fashioned. Visit UltraCraftCocktails.com for more information.

Want to try your hand at cocktails made with local bourbon? Learn about the offerings at Williamsburg Distillery here.

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