Belle Isle Moonshine

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Behind the Bar: Aaron James / Burger Bach Short Pump

Conversation, Cocktails, Richmond, Behind the BarBrandon Day

If you've ever been through Carytown, Short Pump, Midlothian, Durham, and most recently Charlottesville, you have probably heard folks gushing over the brilliant burgers and booze coming out of New Zealand-inspired gastropub, Burger Bach. The creation of acclaimed restaurateur Michael Ripp, Burger Bach takes the “gastronomical” part of gastropub seriously, focusing on quality food and drinks through better ingredients and preparation. 

We stopped in to see Aaron James, Assistant Manager at Burger Bach's Short Pump location, to hear more about himself and what makes Burger Bach the insanely successful and beloved restaurant it is today.

Tell us about yourself…

I'm the Assistant Manager of Burger Bach in Short Pump, and I first started bartending about a year and half ago after serving for a while. I took on managing the bar at the beginning of this year. After starting as a server, I knew I wanted to expand my knowledge a bit and test myself with something that intimidated me. I felt that bartending was the natural next step and wanted to push myself further. Not to mention that being behind the bar is flat out a fun job, and the tips don’t hurt either.

I am originally from California but have been in Richmond for over 10 years now and Richmond is definitely home. I have worked in the hospitality industry for a long time, spending most of my adult life as an event DJ working weddings and proms, etc. I also helped my family run a successful wedding venue here in Richmond. I have interned in different kitchens to learn more about food. I’ve always had a love and appreciation for food and a good drink, which is what drove me to enter into the restaurant industry.

What do you do when you’re not bartending?

I spend a good deal of time cooking at home with my girlfriend and spending most of our money on our favorite food around town. If possible I try to spend a lot of time outside, jogging with my dogs, rock hopping at Belle Isle, or hiking out towards Charlottesville and visiting breweries on the way back. I have been attending a lot more concerts lately as many of my favorite bands from high school are doing reunion tours now. Pure nostalgia!

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

I’m Mexican. It’s always really funny when I tell people because they never believe me and just see a white guy standing in front of them. Never becoming fluent in Spanish probably hurts my case.

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What’s your favorite thing to drink? Favorite classic cocktail? Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?

A proper Old Fashioned will always be my go-to, but if there is gin involved, I will probably be drinking that as well. When no one is looking I would say any Mexican beer or a mojito.

Tell us about your bar… 

Burger Bach is a New Zealand-inspired gastropub. Everything starts with our hand-made burgers, which we grind in-house and are made from premium New Zealand beef and lamb. We serve Southern Hemisphere wines, craft beer, and over the last year or so have gradually improved our cocktail program. It’s a very casual restaurant because we always want our guests to feel like they are on vacation.

What’s the neighborhood like?

Short Pump gets a bad rap for being nothing but retail, but our neighborhood, West Broad Village, changes that by supporting Richmond-based restaurants like Burger Bach. There are apartments above the shops and town homes surrounding the center of the neighborhood. This makes it easy for the locals to walk over and become our regulars.

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What makes your bar unique?

Definitely the simplicity of our menu; we do a few things and we do them really well. A good example is our liquor selection. We have just one of each spirit to build our cocktail menu from and this creates an interesting side of creativity when we are coming up with new drinks.

What’s your favorite part about working there?

My favorite part is the people. Everyone treats each other like family and genuinely cares about the person working next to them.

What’s a good night look like for you? What are people ordering?

I always enjoy seeing a variety of things hitting the table. I try to start guests with seafood and wine, then move on to burgers and finish with a cocktail.

What’s your favorite menu item / cocktail pairing?

Our spicy shrimp is a house favorite and I think some good cocktail pairings are our West End Wizard or The Belle Dove. They both are citrus-forward and work well with the smoky chilies in the dish.

Can you share a Belle Isle creation with us? What inspired it?

My cocktail is called The Belle Dove. I wanted to pull from the flavors of a Paloma and keep to a somewhat margarita build. The Ruby Red Grapefruit moonshine allowed me to get that grapefruit flavor while keeping it boozy and refreshing. To round it out there is a touch of smoke from some Mezcal.

The Belle Dove

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit Moonshine
  • ½ oz. Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
  • ½ oz. Cointreau
  • 1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
  • ½ oz. Agave

Preparation:
Shake all ingredients lightly with ice, pour into a rocks glass and garnish with an expressed grapefruit peel.

Recipe by Aaron James of Burger Bach Short Pump

Photos by Joey Wharton