I’m sitting in a newly designed room in a picturesque little hollow whose only neighbor is the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. Not the neighbors you would expect, necessarily, for a distillery but whisky itself has become a bit of a religion lately too and the flock is growing. The American whisky industry is booming with literally hundreds of distilleries opening their doors in the coming years. Most of those are going to be bourbon though which is what makes what is going on at the VA Distillery Company somewhat unique as they are working on their own single malt. That's what has brought me here.
I’m in the tasting room in Lovingston Virginia and I’m listening to Camile, my hostess, as she explains their different tasting options and a brief history of where they came from. There has always been a greater history of whisky in this area whether we’re talking about the legal or illegal variety. After all the Bondurant brothers were only over in Franklin county, the wettest county in the world, which is really not that far from here. I don’t think the Moore family, who started the Virginia Distillery Company, will have to worry about the types of antics you see in the movie Lawless but this is near the site of an old illegal shot house. Whether you’re sitting inside cooling off in the air conditioning or out on the patio by the fountain sipping on a julep it’s a little higher class than a moonshiner might have expected. There is a certain camaraderie though that whisky breeds regardless of who you’re purchasing it from and that, I think, remains the same today.
Camile has given me my first tasting. The tasting they offer features their highland single malt straight and then three cocktails made with the same. Their single malt is smooth, not the most distinctive single malt you’ve ever had but not bad and a little water definitely opens it up a bit. They did manage to take home a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits competition in 2015 so that should in no way be misconstrued as a knock against it. As I’m selecting my next tasting (the Shenandoah peach) I’m joined by a couple from Lynchburg who are here for the first time as well. It’s hard not to notice my notepad and camera and so quickly a discussion comes up about what I’m doing here. Chuck and Andie are faithful to the cause and more than willing to share their insights, opinions and just generally proselytize. They have recently returned from a trip to Islay.
We get a chance to discuss how that trip went and how much they enjoyed their time at the Lagavulin distillery. They tell me Lagavulin gives out full glasses for their tastings (good to know), they have some beautiful pictures to show and they offer tips for other places I should visit. This is how I end up with a hand drawn map to a liquor store in Boston. I'm not entirely sure how reliable that will be in getting me there but thanks Chuck and Andie. I’ll try my best when I’m up there next. Sadly Chuck and Andie are only there for the tasting and will be driving home after that. They’ve been there done that on the distillery tours and once you’ve seen Lagavulin it’s a hard one to live up to.
After finishing my tasting I still have some time to kill so I wander out to the back deck. It is, after all, a beautiful day and there are some people out there too. I get to talk to Megan and Will briefly. Megan, as has been the case with everyone I’ve met so far, is more than ready to tell me how the distillery got their start. There is definitely a family atmosphere here as the VA Distillery Company is run by the son and the wife of their founder George G Moore and the employees I encounter all seem to have been here from the start. That’s probably not that difficult since they only just opened in November of this year but still you can tell there’s a sense of ownership for each of them. Will fixes me a julep which, after I explain was once William Faulkner’s favorite drink, he starts referring to as the Bill Faulkner. It's nice to be humored but I think the tour is about to start and I head back inside.
Their tour is good. Lead by Patrick today. There’s an interactive exhibit that goes over the history of whisky and how it’s made as well as the founder of this distillery and how that came about. Of course we’re able to take a tour of the distillery. Currently the VA Distillery Company imports a single malt scotch and ages it here on site but they are in the process of actually creating their own from start to finish and many of the people that I’ve spoken to today, such as our friends from earlier, are anxious to try that. They are trying to use local ingredients as much as they can but because of the PH levels in the soil here in the US they do still need to import their barley from the UK. We wrap up the tour with another brief tasting in the barrel house and head back to the tasting room.
Back in the tasting room I get to meet Dana and his wife. Dana has been gradually working on building up his whisky library and wants to share the highlights from that. He also has recommendations for some mixing ingredients he thinks I should try (Bittermans cocktail mixers). They have traveled up today from Asheville, NC and are also interested in coming back again soon. That is a little bit of a hike but it's been a beautiful day for a drive.
Between what I'm hearing from Chuck, Andie, Dana and others I've bumped into while visiting the Virginia Distillery Company the staff here seem to have managed to generate some buzz for their product today. Almost everyone I have spoken to has said they plan to return at a later date. So, there’s clearly something they’re doing right here. I take my leave of Dana and his wife and head on home.