Virginia’s tradition of fine distilled spirits dates back to Colonial times. George Washington himself was one of America’s great early distillers, owning America’s largest distillery that turned out nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey per year.
Even through the Prohibition years Virginia still found ways to produce high-grade distilled spirits – even if the operation was hidden away back in the woods. Today, Virginia’s distilleries don’t need to hide from anything. They’ve won national and international awards for their superb product – and they are fun and educational places to visit. The process of making fine spirits is fascinating, to say the least, so raise a glass and come on in!
George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill. Photo by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com.
James Anderson, George Washington’s Scottish farm manager, convinced his boss that commercial distilling would reap a profit. Anderson was right. Washington’s distillery became the largest in the country and was one of Mount Vernon’s most profitable enterprises. Recreated on its original site in 2007, George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill is the only site in North America that demonstrates 18th Century distilling from seed to barrel. Costumed interpreters show how the boiler, mash tubs and copper pots function in the same manner familiar to Washington himself. Tours are offered daily. Both aged and unaged whiskies are for sale.
A. Smith Bowman Distillery
The roots of A. Smith Bowman Distillery run deep in Virginia. Now owned by Sazerac, Bowman produces excellent single-barrel and small-batch whiskey and bourbon along with dark rum, vodka and gin from its facility on the outskirts of Fredericksburg . Free tours introduce you to “George” and “Mary,” Bowman’s two premium stills. You may even meet Master Distiller Brian Prewitt, whose jovial demeanor reflects his love for his trade.
Copper Fox Distillery
In the picturesque village of Sperryville you’ll find Copper Fox Distillery where Rick Wasmund produces fine single-malt whiskey that has a devoted national following. He is best known for his excellent Wasmund’s Single-Malt Rye Whiskey but produces other fine spirits including an excellent gin. Copper Fox is the only distillery in North America that hand malts its own barley and the only in the world that uses apple and cherry wood smoke to flavor its malted barley. During a distillery tour you may get to meet Rick’s mother, “Malt Mom” who sees to the malting process. A second Copper Fox Distillery is soon slated to open in historic Williamsburg.
Catoctin Creek Distilling Company
Honors and accolades have rolled in to Catoctin Creek Distilling Company since it opened in 2009 in Purcellville. Distiller Becky Harris is a former chemical engineer who brought her expertise to something she loves – producing outstanding distilled spirits. She and husband Scott buy from local farms, orchards and vineyards and give away their spent rye mash as food for local livestock. Their excellent line of products – rye and white whiskey, gin, brandy and special releases – are certified kosher and organic.
Bill Karlson and John O’Mara put the “KO” in KO Distilling, opened in 2015 in Manassas. Karlson and O-Mara were college classmates in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and after careers in government contracting decided to focus their talents on distilling. This fall KO is releasing its first line of products – gin and white whiskey. The gin comes in “Standard Strength” 90-proof and “Navy Strength” 114 proof. Take a tour and see their 550-gallon Vendome copper pot still.
They say that “Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder,” or something like that. Become a believer by visiting Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery in Middleburg. Their version of the fabled Absinthe spirit is made in large part from Virginia-grown ingredients. Mt. Defiance also distills white, amber and dark rum and apple brandy.
Woods Mill Distillery produces tasty small-batch whiskies and brandy at its facility in lovely Nelson County. Each bottle provides a true local flavor as the corn used for the whiskey is grown right on their own property and the fruit used for the brandy is from nearby orchards.
Also in Nelson County, Silverback Distillery uses geothermal energy to both heat and chill the waters used in their distilling process. The gorilla on the label of its Beringei Vodka belies the “gentle yet formidable” taste found within. Gin and white whiskey are also available while its Blackback whiskey and bourbon are still resting in the jungle and are not to be disturbed until they are ready.
Stillhouse Distillery at Belmont Farm
Oh, did we mention Moonshine? No need to go poking around in the woods. Virginia’s best moonshine is right out in the open. Go meet Chuck Miller at his Belmont Farm Distillery near Culpeper. A tour with Chuck is unforgettable, but don’t let his Jed Clampett persona fool you. He’s a retired commercial airline pilot. Chuck uses an ancient copper still that once belonged to his grandfather and produces a sophisticated double-distilled moonshine that is surprisingly smooth.
Appalachian Mountain Spirits. Photo by Jason Barnette.
In downtown Marion walk right in to Appalachian Mountain Spirits in a delightful old-time mercantile store. Scott Schumacher is the distiller and a tasting with him pouring is like a history lesson on the moonshine traditions of Southwest Virginia. Sign up for a “Still Night” at his out-of-town distillery. The experience includes dinner and a four-hour, hands-on learning experience in making fine distilled white lightning.
Virginia Distillery Company, whose specialty is crafting American made single malt whisky made with 100% barley imported from Scotland, is set amongst 100 scenic acres in Lovingston near the wineries and breweries on Route 151. Virginia Distillery Company will open its doors to the public in November 2015, complete with a brand new Visitors Center which will offer tastings of whisky and hand-crafted cocktails.
Even more Virginia distilleries will be opening soon, proving that the Old Dominion is alive with a spirited freedom that is hard to contain in a barrel or bottle.