When I first opened the distillery back in 2014, we started as a laboratory and research-based facility in order to experiment and bring historic spirits alive. Today Eight Shires is the only distillery in the country bringing colonial era spirits to modern market.
Here at Eight Shires we have spent the past seven years diligently researching the lost art of distillation in early America. Over the last 8 years we have perfected the old way of distillation to create two unique product lines named after the original eight shires of Virginia. Both product lines are based off of the popular spirits of our forefathers.
Our facilities are located off of Merrimac trail in the beautiful heart of Williamsburg, Virginia. We have a tasting room and offer complementary tours of our museum and distillery. I invite you to come and experience a taste of living history.
Who is Eight Shires?
Eight Shires Coloniale Distillery is a small craft distillery located within the Historic Triangle of Virginia, near the heart of Colonial Williamsburg.
Eight Shires prides itself on its research, preservation, and education of the history of distillation from the Colonial American Period, encompassing the years 1578 – 1797.
All of their spirits are hand-crafted using historic recipes and ingredients from the 17th and 18th centuries.
What is a Shire?
Why Eight Shires? The name stems from the original eight shires, better known as counties, of the Virginia Colony. Back in 1634, the house of Burgesses was ordered by King Charles to create a new form of local governments in the Virginia Colony, each with its own local officers. The Virginia Territory was divided into eight shires, each shire had a Reef overseeing the government within each Shire. The ‘Shire’s Reef’ is thought to be the origins of the word sheriff. The following is a list of the eight shires that were created in 1634 with the names they are known as today:
Accomac Shire - now Northampton and Accomack Counties
Charles City Shire - now Charles City County
Charles River Shire - now York County
Elizabeth City Shire - extinct, now consolidated with the city of Hampton
Henrico Shire - now Henrico County
James City Shire - now James City County
Warwick River Shire - extinct, now consolidated with the city of Newport News
Warrosquyoake Shire - now Isle of Wight County
Colonial Era Distillation
Distillation technology changed dramatically during the colonial period allowing for more discreet separation of products. Distilled extracts from plants now found new uses in food preparation, spirits for consumption, scientific research, perfumes, and medicines.
During the colonial American period, methods associated with alcohol distillation, for consumption rapidly rose to popularity. Colonists spoke of distilled brews that were "soe goode" that they were better than 'good stronge Englishe beare.'
The developed of distillation processes led to new and far more palatable products for the time, such as gin and rum. Prior to the development of Rum and Genever Gin, distilled spirits tasted much like bad moonshine today. Rum and Genever Gin’s superior tastes opened new doors in the world of distilled ethanol presentation, surpassing the taste and sales of the ‘moonshine like whiskies.’
As distillers sought out more refined spirits they also discovered barrel aging or ‘putting up.’ This aging process revolutionized the whiskey industry creating the predecessor to what we now know as Bourbon and Scotch whiskeys.