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Whole Foods’ Ashburn Pub Raises The Glass To Local Spirits

© Leesburg Today - 07/29/2015

Vintage and craft cocktails are all the rage. And you could hardly get much cooler than a Sazerac made from whiskey and absinthe from Loudoun distilleries.

The in-store pub at the new Whole Foods market in Ashburn, which opened July 29, is combining its efforts to source locally with a passion for creative and classic cocktails. In addition to serving local wines, beers and hard ciders, the Ashburn store is the first in the area to offer spirits in a restaurant setting and is sourcing heavily from local distilleries.

Whole Foods Ashburn, at 19800 Belmont Chase Drive, officially opened its doors Wednesday, July 29, with a grand opening celebration. Store hours are 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. 

While Virginia law prohibits the retail sale of spirits in grocery stores, Whole Foods' focus on local sourcing for its pub has been a boon for Loudoun-based distilleries like Middleburg's Mt. Defiance cidery and distillery and Purcellville's Catoctin Creek Distilling Company.

Mt. Defiance managing partner Marc Chretien said the distillery has found a great partner in Whole Foods, which, in addition to its absinthe-based Sazerac, features mango-cardamom punch made from Mt. Defiance's Dark Rum. The store will also offer Mt. Defiance's cider on tap at the pub and in bottles in the retail store.

Whole Foods' Ashburn Pub is an illustration of the growing trend of including bars, pubs and restaurants in grocery stores-designed to bring shoppers in and keep them in the store, and to make upscale markets a destination for more than groceries.

""We are always trying to be involved in the current food scene and that includes beverage. Craft cocktails, the artisan, handmade cool, special spirits like we're serving [in Loudoun] are really trendy right now, and they're beautiful cocktails,"" mixology specialist Kathleen Tozzi said.

Tozzi, who works for Whole Foods regional specialty team (focused on beverages and cheese), has spent most of the last week in Loudoun and will be at the Ashburn store as needed to help with training. She also works with suppliers to come up with creative cocktails. Loudoun's burgeoning craft distillery scene has made it easy for the chain to source locally, she said.

""Every time we open a new store-particularly when it's in an area that we haven't been before, we do a local supplier fair several months before opening,"" Tozzi said. ""We do research and look around and see who's making what in the surrounding areas. With some of the specialty areas like spirits, there's not always someone right there. But we were lucky [in Loudoun] because there are people doing really great things close by.""

She cites Mt. Defiance as an example. ""I got to go down there and see what they do and how they make the absinthe, and I got to taste the wormwood that they use,"" she said. ""It's so unique to learn about what really goes into all of these old-fashioned spirits.""

The pub, which also features snacks, sandwiches and Turkish-style pizzas, is part of Whole Foods' efforts to be more than a grocery store in the communities in which they're located.

""It's a great way to connect with the community,"" Tozzi said. ""You know you're going to get good food and good beverage. We want to make it a gathering place and a fun environment to do your shopping. It's also family-friendly-you can go and have a really nice cocktail and your kids can have pizza and sit in the café.""

Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, opened by Becky and Scott Harris in 2009, is Loudoun's first distillery since Prohibition. Since then, the popularity of its products has exploded, and the distillery now has national and international distribution, along with a strong local fan base.

Along with the Sazerac, featuring Catoctin Creek's organic Roundstone Rye, the Whole Foods pub will also feature the Sweet Millie made up of Catoctin Creek's Watershed Gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and sweet vermouth.

Even though the Whole Foods retail store can't sell spirits, Catoctin Creek's presence in the pub is a promotional opportunity for the brand, which is well represented in local ABC stores.

""We thought it was cool that even though they can't sell these spirits directly, featuring us and making a real partnership still makes a great outreach program for us to people who may not have discovered us directly in our natural habitat in ABC stores or coming out to the distillery,"" Becky Harris said. ""We're going to support them and help them keep it a fantastic experience for their customers.""  

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