Belle Isle Moonshine

Replace your vodka with something better.

Richmond

Behind the Bar: Tony Hairston // Wong Gonzalez

Behind the BarStephanie StantonComment
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Located in the hustle and bustle of downtown Richmond, Virginia, Wong Gonzalez is definitely one-of-a-kind in the River City. Not only is the space bright and beautiful, but it’s the only place in town you can find Mexinese food. Although it’s a newer addition to the prolific EAT Restaurant Partners group, Wong Gonzalez sets itself apart from the pack with a delicious Chinese-Mexican fusion menu, a killer Happy Hour, and a selfie-inducing bathroom. Thanks to Bar Manager Tony Hairston, the cocktail menu is just as unique. With drinks like Baby One More Time and Boujie-Vardier, the cocktail list at Wong Gonzalez is just as playful as the kitschy, Old Hollywood interior. We recently chatted with Tony about his favorite drinks, his bartender beginnings, and his amazing Belle Isle cocktail on draft (!!!). Read on to get that recipe, plus another one: the spicy, smoky Strut.


TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF…


I’m Anthony “Tony” Hairston, Bar Manager at Wong Gonzalez. I’ve been bartending at Wong Gonzalez for a little over two years, but in general for about six years.


What first got you behind the bar?

I was serving at the time, and one of my friends who was the bar manager just kept encouraging–as well as nagging–me to work behind the bar. One day I just said, “Fine! I’ll give it a try,” and that’s all she wrote.


Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?

Someone once told me when starting out bartending that a good thing to do is go to other bars. Check out how it’s run and learn from watching other bartenders’ techniques, such as how they stir a cocktail or shake a drink.


Favorite drink made by someone else?

I think maybe a Strawberry-Mint Mojito topped of with a little bit of Champagne.

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Favorite drink that you make?

Currently on our menu we have a Sorry Not Sorry cocktail (#SNS) that I think is pretty delicious. It’s made with peach vodka, blackberry-peach syrup, lemon, tea, and ginger beer. My second-favorite is our Saint Amy–jalapeño-infused tequila, elderflower, pineapple, lemon, and lime.


Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?

Tequila! It’s my go-to, as most people know.


If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Honestly, any of the Belle Isle Moonshine spirits. They always work well when creating cocktails!

What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?

What’s not to love about Wong? It’s beautiful inside. We have really good food. Our Happy Hour is pretty awesome, and we have it everyday we are open–including Saturday and Sunday! We are located in a great area, so we get a mixture of guests that come in, from business people getting off work trying to catch happy hour to a group of ladies having dinner before going to see a show at one of the venues nearby, to a late night pop of people coming in right after partying at a wedding reception. I do think the number one best thing about working at Wong is family. Not only is the staff some of the best people I have worked with and grow with, but EAT Restaurant Partners itself is probably one of the best companies to work for!

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What makes your bar unique?

I think the visual aspect of the bar does attract a lot of people. We also pride ourselves on having a great amount of different spirits–especially tequila, vodka, and bourbon! Our bar is a place where you can come by yourself and not have to worry, or meet up with a group and not feel pressured or rushed. And again, you can’t beat the Happy Hour!


Where do you like to stop in for a drink?

I’ve been hanging out in the Fan and Carytown areas. Some places I like going are The Jasper, Weezie’s, Buddy’s Place, and Babe’s of Carytown, just to name a few.

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What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?

I like the trend of how cocktails are being made today. I feel like more people and restaurants are becoming innovative with cocktails, which makes it exciting to try something new. When I first started, a “complicated” drink was a Long Island. Over the years, I have been able to learn and grow as a bartender, and explore new methods of creating cocktails. It’s fun to learn not only what’s in a cocktail, but the reason why it’s made a certain way.

Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.

Wow, a loaded question! There are so many. I guess for guests: waving money around yelling “Yo, bartender!” while there are a plethora of other guests before you is not going to get you a drink any faster than the rest of them!


What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?

I like the Belle Isle Black Label, Honey Habanero, or Ruby Red Grapefruit with some freshly squeezed lime and lemon juice and some simple syrup. Something very easy to make, yet refreshing.



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Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz. Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit

  • ¾ oz. Aperol

  • 1 oz. fresh orange juice

  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice

  • ½ oz. Honey Syrup

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin over ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over ice.




**Featured on tap at Wong Gonzalez!


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Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero

  • ¾ oz. honey-ginger syrup

  • ½ oz. carrot juice

  • ½ oz. fresh lemon juice

  • 3 dashes orange bitters

  • Spritz of mezcal

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin over ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over a big ice cube. Spritz with mezcal.




Recipes by Tony Hairston.

Photos by Joey Wharton.

Still thirsty?


Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

Wanna know more about our story?

The Field Guide: Forest Hill, Richmond

The Field GuideStephanie StantonComment

Every neighborhood has its own unique landscape, and the Belle Isle Moonshine team wants to help you navigate each of them. In our Field Guide series, we're diving a little deeper into some of our favorite neighborhoods and showcasing a few of the businesses that help to make them unique with the help of some local influencers.

Our host in Richmond will be Shanna Battle, thrifting-maven and Content Creator-in-Chief of the style blog me and Minnie. With Shanna's help, we'll explore a few of Richmond's most notable 'hoods and the stores, bars, and restaurants that make them tick. Next up: Forest Hill

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Saturdays were always errand days in the Battle household. My mother would drag us kids from home to the Richmond Public Library, local bookstores, and on some Saturdays, it was off to the dreaded antique shops around town. Antiquing was never fun for kids aged six, eight, and nine. We would drag our feet slowly behind her, whining about our overwhelming boredom and not so quietly praying for release from the torture we had to endure. Of course, the louder we complained the longer she stayed!

I’m not sure at what age it happened, but the antiquing became intriguing, and then exciting to me. Gone were the days when I would drag my feet behind her, wanting to leave. Instead, I would be at her heels, eager to show her something cool I’d found and listen to her tell me the story behind it. Before I enjoyed treasure hunting in a thrift store, I loved the hunt of an antique shop.

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Now on Saturdays, I gladly accompany my mommy to an antique store, and we can easily lose our day - and a bit of cash - in the process.  A must-visit on our Saturday antique adventures is Nest. Nestled in the middle Richmond’s Forest Hill neighborhood, I first introduced my mother to this cute, quaint little shop about three years ago when my son was a student at the elementary school directly across the street. Before you even walk into the shop, the porch is filled with vintage wheelbarrows, turn of the century dressers, and hand-crafted pottery.

After a browse outside, we turn our attention inside to the carefully curated treasures that span hundreds of years and tell a million stories. We first walk by a cart filled with vintage bar items. I’ve been carefully building my own bar cart at home, so I look to see if anything catches my eye. While I look, my mother makes her way over to a couch filled with handmade baby hats, dolls, and trinkets. She looks up and spots the most opulent chandeliers, religious pictures, and wall decor. It becomes almost sensory overload -- in a good way of course! Everywhere you turn, there are vintage goodies about, and you don’t know where to start looking.

As we make our way to the back of the shop, we stop and look over a few of the vintage housewares and then we make our way around the corner and find a “Blackmore” that caught our eyes. My mom looks over it, and as per usual, gives me a little history lesson about her right on the spot! On our way to the bathroom that’s peppered with old pictures and frames, she points out a wall of broaches (my weakness) and I must get a closer look to see if there’s one I need for my collection.

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We have a few more shops we want to visit, but we need a quick fill-up before our next adventure. We walk next door to Laura Lee’s, a cute little eatery that seems like it's three restaurants in one. We start off at the bar, where we meet Ben and strike up a conversation about bar carts! I typically con my mom into getting me lunch, but today I treated her to drinks - a Diamond Dancer and a Lady Freeze's Negroni. She’s not the biggest fan of cocktails, but Ben made her a drink she loved so much she’s thinking about making it at home with the bottle of Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit I got for my dad a few weeks ago.

Neither of us have been to Laura Lee’s and wanted to look around. We moved to the dining room area, finding a seat by a huge picture window that seemed to let in all the sunlight RVA has to offer. With a quick look around, we see the walls decorated with custom art, beautiful greenery, cute vintage-style booths accented by subtle industrial touches, blending the charm of the 1950’s and the minimalism of present day perfectly. We quickly scout an open door and take our adventure to an outdoor patio area that is mini botanical
garden right in the middle of the city. From a little table by a wall of flowers to a bench flanked by shrubbery, it's as if we entered another world. If you’ve ever been to any shop on Forest Hill Avenue, you know it can be a bit noisy. Back in the little garden, the noise of the city seems to halt, and for a second, you feel as if you have been transported to another place.

My mom looks at her watch, and it's time for our next antique adventure, so we take a final sip of our drinks and make our way back through the restaurant. As we make our way out  the door, we know we know we’ve stumbled upon a gem and vow to come back as the summer wears on.

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Post by Shanna Battle, founder of me and Minnie. Follow her on Instagram at @meeandminnie to get great thrifting, styling, and lifestyle tips!

All photos by Sandy Swagger Jones. She also has an awesome Instagram feed, which you should follow @sandyswaggerjones

Want to explore more of Richmond?


Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.

We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.

Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.

From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.

Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.

WANNA HEAR MORE OF OUR STORY?

Behind The Bar: Joseph Ewens of Max's on Broad

Conversation, RichmondElizabeth FuquaComment

Joseph Ewens is what some would call a "lifer." After 18 years, eight bars, and seven cities, Ewens can clearly point to his success as a career bartender. "I just love people. The people are why I keep doing this," he told us during a recent visit to the bar at Max's on Broad. Joseph's enthusiasm for craft cocktails and great conversation left little question around the young restaurant's recent popularity.

Work Style: Alton Lane

Conversation, RichmondElizabeth FuquaComment
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Up and coming menswear store, Alton Lane, is working to be the future of the bespoke suit. Their process is laid back and customer oriented. Rather than selling suits, they see themselves building relationships with their customers while helping them create a customized look.

Richmond is home to one of just eight Alton Lane showrooms in the United States and today we talk with Richmond’s Senior Showroom Director, Richard Newcomb, about setting the stage for a better suit buying experience.


Interview: Richard Newcomb

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Tell us a little about your background in retail and menswear.

I grew up in a small town in Virginia where style and fashion weren’t really things. When I moved to Charleston, SC for college, I turned into a khaki and blue blazer kind of guy. No more socks. When I started grad school at VCU, I landed a job at Nordstrom and realized I really liked the dapper look they sell. Two days after I got my Masters in Public Administration, I got a call from the guys at Alton Lane asking me to come hang out. By January of 2014 I was working there as a manager, and I’ve had a lot of fun growing with the company. I’m now a Senior Showroom Director and support our Richmond and D.C. showrooms.

 

What is one word that best describes Alton Lane?

Experience. At Alton Lane, we strive to give an experience that is second to none. Fun, relaxing, engaging. At the one-on-one appointments we walk through your style, your look, your preferences, and create a unique experience for men. 

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Walk us through the Alton Lane fitting process.

The fitting process is a three-part modern-bespoke process. First we do a body scan to create a 3-D rendering of each client’s measurements and body. Then we do traditional hand-measurements. Finally, we do a sample-fitting to give you a feel for the clothes and how they are going to fit you. This creates the perfect garment for every body-type, because every fit, body and preference is different. Not all “slim fit” or “regular fit” garments are created equal.

 

If you had to choose one AL staple, what would it be?

The classic navy blazer - it’s the most popular item we sell. In Richmond, it’s also been interesting to see gentlemen reaching for brighter colors and patters. Richmond is evolving from the traditional navy/khaki look and men are starting to branch out into newer styles and bolder looks.

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Besides a fabulously fitted ensemble, what is it about the Alton Lane experience that draws your customers in?

We can cater the experience to each individual. We have a bar in each showroom, and folks can come in grab a drink and relax. This gives our customers a sense of comfort; we treat each customer like we are welcoming them into our home. We serve bourbons, scotches, and local beers. And of course, our bar stocks Belle Isle, so there’s a little something for everyone. It’s all about the customer.

 

Describe the vibe in Alton Lane’s Richmond showroom.

We are in Westhampton and that’s a strong community where many of our customers actually know each other well. It’s also not uncommon for me to see our customers out and about in Richmond. Our goal is to give the customer the best experience. More often than not, we develop such great relationships that these customers become life-long friends. We care more about the relationship with them than the sale.

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How many other showrooms have you visited? How are they different and how are they similar.

I have been to New York, D.C. and of course Richmond. They are all unique, but also similar. They each work to capture the style and essence of the city and Alton Lane as a brand. We want to feel like the haberdashery that’s been on that street corner for 100 years. Our values stay the same no matter what location you visit; our clients, their preferences and comfort always come first. But as we grow, it’s important we determine where we fit into each city’s culture as a brand.  But you’ll always see the same big leather couches with the Alton Lane flair at all of our locations.

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Favorite Richmond (and maybe DC) happy hour?

I’d say The Boathouse. Nothing beats watching the sunset over the city with an Old Fashioned in hand. In DC, The Quill Room at The Jefferson. Both founders have sent me there – it’s reminiscent of the Alton Lane style.

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High-end menswear has experienced a resurgence in recent years, where do you see the industry heading in the next 5-10 years?

You’re right, high-end menswear has changed drastically in the past five years. Gentlemen are venturing out to create a style for themselves, so we are looking at trends from around the globe and incorporating them quickly, while staying true to our commitment to quality and the customer.

The kind of experience that boutique stores can offer customers is turning them away from big-box store where no one knows you or really cares that much about how you feel after the garment is purchased. At Alton Lane, we welcome you on your first visit, and then we welcome you back in as a friend. We take the time to develop that relationship.

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E-commerce has also seen huge jumps, so Alton Lane allows people to shop when it’s convenient for them through our online showroom. And we are also offering a mobile showroom that travels to different cities to give people the same Alton Lane experience we offer in-showroom. We can bring the showroom to you.

I also get calls and texts from clients now asking for “the same navy or grey suit” they always want, versus the client who wants to come in and feel the fabrics and be there in person. Both ways are fine, and it’s great that we can offer an experience that works for each individual customer. We want everyone to have a way to shop that is convenient and personalized for them.

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Photography by Alexander Kreher.

Happy Hour With: INM United

Richmond, ConversationElizabeth FuquaComment

Joel Erb founded his company in 1998 at the age of 15. His first big pitch? Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss. He got the gig.

But despite being an early adopter and tech-prodigy, he is known for his ability to disconnect and unplug. We stopped in to talk to Joel at his Richmond-based development company, INM United, about their corporate culture, his team, and life beyond the laptop.