It’s a sultry summer evening on the Susquehanna River.
Kayakers make a stop at John Wright Restaurant to get some sustenance before continuing their paddling before the sun goes down. The expansive lawn leading up to the golden-glinted river is being prepared for a wedding ceremony at sunset. The historic Veterans Memorial Bridge, dating to 1930, gracefully links Columbia to Wrightsville.
Ahh, this is the life. What could be better than the breathtaking view, the warm breeze and the peacefulness of the river?
How about a Mango Bridge cocktail at the riverside bar at John Wright Restaurant’s patio? At least that’s the suggestion of bar manager Annie Beegle. And let’s just say that Annie knows what she’s talking about.
Outside, framed by yellow umbrellas against the Susquehanna, Annie sets out to make a summery cocktail that is both refreshing and not too sweet. And it has just three ingredients.
The first is probably the most critical. It’s Lancaster’s own Thistle Finch black pepper whiskey. It’s a small-batch rye whiskey made at the West Grant Street distillery in the former Walter Schnader Tobacco Warehouse, which was built at the turn of the 20th century.
Now, the very idea of black pepper whiskey might give you pause. What does black pepper whiskey taste like? Well, it does indeed have a peppery flavor to it, like freshly ground peppercorns. It’s surprisingly smooth, though, without a bitter bite.
John Wright has figured out how to bring out its peppery qualities in the perfect way – with a sweet, luscious mango puree and zippy ginger beer. Together, the three ingredients create a tasteful trio of flavors. It has a nice balance, as you first taste the pepper, then the fruity mango and finally the extra kick of ginger beer. With the next sip, the mango comes to the forefront, followed by ginger and a peppery aftertaste. By the third sip, they all seem to be singing in a summery harmony.
The Mango Bridge pairs perfectly with John Wright’s grilled salmon skewers with lemon aioli. It’ll also work well with the southwest grilled chicken with salsa and guacamole, or a wood-fired pizza, like the pulled pork pizza with red onion, cheddar cheese and chipotle BBQ sauce.
The Riverside Cocktail menu has lots of other warm weather sips, like the Local Berry Mojito with fresh muddled berries, home-grown mint and rum, or the Blackberry and Ginger with house-made blackberry-infused bourbon and ginger ale. You might like a Saketini with house-made infused pineapple sake and vodka, or an Inlet Sipper with St. Germaine, vodka and grapefruit juice. There are also wine sangrias with fresh fruit, and a wide selection of local wines and craft beers to enjoy on the patio.
In keeping with John Wright’s local accent, fresh fruit, herbs, produce, meats and cheeses are locally sourced from producers like Peter Siwik, David Deitz, Horn Farm Center, Tomato Barn, King’s Farm, Breezy Meadow Farm, Flinchbaugh’s Orchard, Curtis Wise, Michael Saylor, Apple Valley Creamery, Groff’s Meats and Murray’s Chicken.
“We like to use products like the Thistle Finch black pepper whiskey because it’s unique and it’s from a local distiller,” says Annie Beegle.
With the sun slowly setting, the wedding party beginning to gather and the luscious peppery fruity kick of the Mango Bridge settling in, there could hardly be a more pleasant way to savor a sip on the Susquehanna.