Crushing the Orange Crush Game

Watermen Spirits Orange Crush

Main Squeeze: How the Waterman’s Orange Crush inspired the region’s juicy love affair with VB’s signature citrusy cocktail

By Leona Baker | Photos By Jacqui Renegar, Performance Foodservice Virginia

At the risk of crushing a few hearts in the 757, this origin story starts with a shot of truth. Neither Waterman’s Bar & Grille nor Virginia Beach can lay claim to originating the fresh-squeezed Orange Crush, the drink that, along with its many fruity variations, has become ubiquitous at bars and restaurants from the Oceanfront to the Peninsula and beyond.

That distinction goes to Harborside Restaurant in Ocean City, Maryland. That’s where Waterman’s owner Mike Standing found inspiration nearly 20 years ago at the suggestion of a family friend who called Ocean City home. At the time, Waterman’s already had a crush on its menu. But it was made with juice from the gun (pause for pearl clutching). 

The Waterman’s team took what they had tasted in Ocean City, added their own twists and tweaks—the proper ice, the proper cup, the proper juice-to-alcohol ratio. And, from that moment forward, freshness and consistency became an uncompromising mission.

The quality of the oranges, where they were sourced and when. Sugar counts in the fruit. How the drink was made from bartender to bartender. It all mattered.

“Mike’s obsession with perfection turned into having a really consistent product all the time,” remembers his wife, Mariah Standing, who also worked for the restaurant at the time. “It really drove Waterman’s restaurant to be known as Virginia’s Original Crush House.” 

Fast forward a couple decades and you’d be hard-pressed to find a casual bar menu in the region without at least one crush on it. But let’s not beat around the orange tree: there have been widely varying levels of success in execution. Some crush it. Others not so much.

That’s one of the things that drove Mariah to establish the Waterman Spirits distilling brand, which is separate from the restaurant, the result of a seven-year journey that culminated in the creation of Virginia’s only organic vodka in the fall of 2022.

Made using a unique coral filtration process, organic corn and citrus fruits, Waterman Spirits vodkas are now available in 170 ABC store across the Commonwealth and at the Waterman Spirits Tasting Room across the street from Chix on 7th and Atlantic. 

They’re also the only spirits used in the crushes served at Waterman’s restaurant. In creating their products and working with other restaurants around the area and the state, Mariah hopes to take the guess work out of crafting that perfect crush.

“The Perfect Crush,” in fact, is a blend of the orange vodka and orange liqueur (two main ingredients in a crush), making it easy for other restaurants and home mixologists to get the proportions just right.

Mariah also works with restaurants to adapt processes for using fresh squeezed juice if that is something they want to do to take their crushes to the next level.

Another motivation for Mariah in establishing Waterman Spirits was simply creating a higher quality product worthy of the “beautiful fruit” they were being married with. She also wanted to make something that would be better for the person drinking it and better for the environment.

“To make a good cocktail, you have to start with a good base spirit and a sense of purity,” she explains. “So, then when you add your other components, you’ll have a better cocktail if your base is great.”

Waterman Spirits’ coral filtration process raises the pH levels in the spirits for a softer taste. They are also gluten-free and crafted using simple ingredients that contain no pesticides, chemicals or preservatives.

Waterman Spirits owner Mariah Standing

Anatomy of a Crush

Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice* There’s just no comparison to the bottled stuff. “There’s a massive difference in flavor profile when using fresh squeezed,” says Mariah. Depending on the season, Waterman’s crushes are made with oranges from Florida or California. Typically, two orange halves (cut through the middle, not the stem!) yield the requisite 3 ounces of juice.

Orange Vodka & Orange Liqueur Waterman Spirits has made this part a breeze with “The Perfect Crush,” a pre-blended, ideally portioned mixture of Orange Organic Vodka and Orange Liqueur so you can create the perfect crush at home every time. If you’re not using The Perfect Crush, be sure not to go too heavy on the liqueur as it can quickly overpower the other flavors.

Crushed Ice Is it really a proper Orange Crush if it doesn’t have that perfect pebble ice to act as your own personalized cold filtration system, imbuing every sip with that icy, citrusy zing? Many crush lovers would say “no way.” Others wouldn’t quibble over the cubes. We’re not taking sides, and neither is Mariah. But that’s how the OG is done, and it’s worked out well so far.

Lemon-Lime Soda Less is more here. An ounce is all you need. Make it “skinny” by replacing with plain soda water. You can also eliminate the orange liqueur and just use orange vodka. 

Fresh Orange Slice It looks pretty, of course, but using your straw to smash that slice down into a fresh crush to get that little extra orange flavor pop is a cherished pastime in these parts.

*If you are going to use bottled OJ, Mariah recommends Natalie’s, a woman-owned, Florida-based company known for their minimally processed juices.

Want to learn to make the perfect crush and all sorts of other delicious cocktails? Try one of Waterman Spirits’ cocktail making classes. Learn more at

Leona Baker

Leona Baker is the Editor-in-Chief of Coastal Virginia Magazine, a writer, creative, communications professional, food freak, news junkie, nature and travel lover and mom. She holds a degree in English from James Madison University and a degree in Dance & Choreography from Virginia Commonwealth University. She previously served as Senior Copywriter for Spark 451, Director of Marketing & Communications at Virginia Wesleyan University, and Senior Editor of Port Folio Weekly.

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