I think a name change might be in order. The Virginia Food and Beverage Expo, held on Wednesday, March 23, isn’t the same jam, spice rub and barbecue sauce extravaganza that it’s been in years past — although those products are still very much in evidence.
This year, the stand-out products were beverages. Suddenly, it seemed, there were distillers such as Richmond’s James River Distillery or Loudon County’s Coctoctin Creek handing out samples to startled passersby — a result of a new law passed by the General Assembly making half-ounce sample shots legal — next to the more familiar paper cups of coffee or mini cookies in the adjacent booths.
There were craft sodas, kombucha, tea, and plenty of coffee. Bottles of Bloody Mary mix, it seemed, were on every aisle, fighting for attention.
In fact, the locally made Texas Beach Bloody Mary Mix was named best new beverage. And Midlothian’s Mother Shrub won the best new product overall award. Shrub is an 18th century vinegar-and-fruit concoction that’s the darling of craft cocktail programs these days. It makes a tangy non-alcoholic refresher on its own, too.
No specialty food trade show would be complete without chocolate, and although the pickings were slim — get it together, Virginia — they were exceptional. The best new food award went to Gearharts Fine Chocolates for its Virginia Malt Whiskey Truffles, made in conjunction with Virginia Distillery Co.
In between artisan dog biscuits — it’s definitely now a thing — and numerous tables overflowing with seafood at the show, it was gratifying to see Edwards Virginia Smokehouse passing out samples of sausage. Earlier this year the company was devastated by fire. Fortunately, 14,000 country hams were in cold storage, and Edwards has resumed producing fresh sausage for chefs restaurants. You can also find limited products available in its Williamsburg store. As third generation owner Sam Edwards says, “We might be down, but we’re crawling back.”