You Really Do Still Have Time
It’s September again. It’s become a tradition around here for us to always have something to say around September. Not that we don’t always have something to say but September is always special. Why September you may be asking yourself. Or maybe you’re not. Maybe if you’re someone that’s checking out a whiskey blog you have some idea that September is bourbon heritage month and that all around the country there are fun bourbon related activities going on. For a very brief history of bourbon heritage month you could check out this article over at Flaviar (for instance).
If you were in Kentucky you may have even attended one of the many festivals going on this month for bourbon heritage month. Like the Kentucky bourbon festival. Which ran through the 22nd (sorry, we missed it too). Or maybe you checked out Bourbon and Beyond (also ended the 22nd). I’m sure that if you live in a state other than Kentucky you’ve seen other bourbon related activities going on this month as well. However, September isn’t just bourbon heritage month. There’s another thing going on this month too.
This month is Virginia spirits month as well. Now since Virginia is the birthplace of bourbon (you can go ahead and argue that one out in the comments if you need to) that totally makes sense. It also makes sense that we would like to go ahead and make a suggestion to all of you that missed out on the various festivals that were going on this month. Go visit one of the many amazing craft distillers in the state of Virginia before the month of September is over. And so without further ado here are the distilleries we have had the privilege to visit and recommend you doing the same.
Virginia Tasting Rooms
Virginia Distillery Company
So, here’s the deal with the Virginia Distillery Company. They’re very close to my home. And I almost left them off of here because we’ve actually already made mention of them a lot. Whether that’s on here or on social media. The second thing I ever wrote on this site, actually, was about a visit to the Virginia Distillery Company. Take a look. It’s right here. Just take it easy on me. My writing was new back then. Like how I’m implying that I’ve somehow improved at all? My point is that I felt a little guilty that we’ve given them so much love. However, the more I thought about it I don’t really feel that guilty and here’s why.
One, I’m looking at this a couple years removed and having visited a number of other distilleries or tasting rooms in that time. With that as my perspective I can say that they are one of the best distillery tours you can do. The tasting room is beautiful as is the whole location and if you can catch it on the right day (weather permitting) it’s worth it just to skip the tour and go sit on their deck and enjoy a nice cocktail and take it all in.
That said, the tour is great and if you haven’t done it you should. Their staff are very knowledgeable and it’s a great whisky educational experience. Let me just rant here for a moment. This is not the case at all distillery tasting rooms. I have been to visit some distilleries or tasting rooms for much larger much more well known brands (I won’t name any names) who were clearly just staffed by some college kid that didn’t know anything or care to know anything about whisky and was really just dumping some brown liquid into a glass and pushing people through. In the case of the Virginia Distillery Company this is not the case and if you would like to get some great information, taste some quality spirits and find some interesting ideas about how to mix up some cocktails with their spirits. We highly recommend you check them out. Tell them Whiskey Tramp won’t shut up about them.
Two years ago, also during bourbon heritage month/Virginia spirits month, we were at one of the many Virginia Craft Spirits Showcases. This one was in Roanoke. We had the opportunity to sit in and listen to some of the master distillers at a number of the distilleries in Virginia discuss their process. One that really made an impression was Rick Wasmund of Copper Fox. Of course you can read more about that in the original article (linked to above) but later that summer I was on a little distillery road trip and made sure to make a stop at the Copper Fox distillery in Sperryville Virginia because of that.
When you show up at the distillery, in the small town of Sperryville, it’s somewhat nondescript from the front. Which of course just leads to more of a speakeasy feel. In fact as I approached it I wasn’t entirely sure (except for maybe because of the sign) that I was in the right place. Once you walk through the doors there’s no doubt you’re in the right place though. They have a cool little bar area to mix up some cocktails. A little gift shop that of course includes a kit for aging your own barrel of their whiskey and of course they’ll do the distillery tour with you as well. As I was traveling with my dog that day I did not do the tour but they were unbelievably friendly to me (and to the pooch) and having been on the road all day long their cocktail garden in the back where you can kick your heels up while the river rolls by and sip one of the cocktails they made for you was a very welcome sight indeed. Copper Fox, at least if you’re coming from Central Virginia like I am, is a little bit of a hike. However, it’s well worth the visit and if you’re in northern Virginia near DC it’s really not that far at all. Just get out there already. From what I understand they also have one in Williamsburg but I have not been to this one.
A couple weeks ago I was in Northern Virginia for a friend’s birthday party. Now, of course, if I’m making a road trip in the middle of September than I’m making a stop at a local distiller. There was one particular distillery that I’ve been trying to get to for years and for whatever reason every time I would plan the trip it would get derailed. So, on my way to Dumfries I made a short stop in Fredericksburg. The distillery I’m talking about (in case the heading didn’t give it away) was A. Smith Bowman. If you live in Northern Virginia or DC and you haven’t taken the train down to Virginia’s largest distillery yet. You’re doing yourself a disservice. In fact if you’re in the DC area it’s a very simple train ride to get to the Bowman distillery. Founded in 1934 on the day prohibition ended this distillery has been in it’s current location, I nice sleepy spot right on the river, since 1988. The cavernous tasting room has got to be one of the largest ones I’ve ever been to. The staff were very nice and their bourbon is great. I took home their John J Bowman bourbon as well as the Carmel Bourbon Cream Liqueur. Even if you can’t make it out to the distillery the John J Bowman is worth picking up at your local liquor store. But if you don’t believe us. Checkout what Paste had to say.
One thing I’ll note for those, like me, that sometimes travel with a furry companion. Unlike many tasting rooms. There’s not any outdoor seating and you cannot take your little buddy in with you. Leave the doggo at home if you decide to visit the Bowman distillery.
The very next weekend, after A Smith Bowman, I was able to make my way up the road to Ragged Branch. Located just outside of Charlottesville, off US-29, Ragged Branch is on a working cattle farm as well. In case you wanted to leave your tasting with a big ol’ cut of steak. And no I’m not kidding you really can do that. I mean really. How can you go wrong with a place that tells you right on their sign when you drive up that they have beef and bourbon 7 days a week?
The approach to their tasting room is a long winding driveway with the beautiful house you can see at the top of the hill looking down on you the whole time. A pilgrimage of sorts you could say. My initial reaction on walking through the door was that I had just walked into someone’s house. Now granted the giant bar in their living room and the, you know, signs that said “tasting room” should tip you off that it’s not someone’s living room but it feels like your friend decided to make some whiskey and wanted to have a place for people to come hang out with them while they drink. The tastings are behind the bar in the gift shop area. This is also where the fridge is with the steaks by the way. As part of your tasting you get three of their whiskeys and you can still go back to the bar and get a cocktail (which of course I did). The tasting is of their wheated bourbon, the double oaked wheated bourbon (this one I took home with me along with some steak), and their signature bourbon. The two wheated bourbons are aged between 3-4 years with the double oaked being aged an extra year in an additional 53 gallon barrel. The cocktail I got was the shotgun shell. I took it out to their back deck to sit and sip with the blue ridge mountains staring down on me. The perfect complement to the day.
Overall the tasting was fun. You could compare their whiskey to some other wheaters like Makersish and the cocktail shined. The room would be a great stop over on your way to or from Charlottesville with some friends.
And So We Must Conclude
I mean I guess we don’t have to conclude but it’s getting late at night and I’m tired of writing. So I’m going to conclude. There you have it folks. Four suggestions for where you can visit before Virginia Spirits/Bourbon Heritage Month is over. Or you know if you’re reading this a few months from now you could just go to some cool tasting rooms.
The selection for great craft whiskey is growing in Virginia, it seems, by the day, and by no means am I saying that these four are the only four worth visiting. Far from it. There are some really cool people doing fun things with spirits even ones that aren’t brown and aged in oak (though we are partial to those ones). But these are the ones we’ve been to lately and can say not only will you enjoy the drink but the experience of visiting their tasting room will be a fun one you can share with some friends.