Using the tagline “It’s 5’oclock for 30 Days,” the Virginia Distillers Association (VDA) is promoting the 400th anniversary of the first spirit distilled on U.S. soil this month. (Although some indigenous tribes did produce alcohol before the arrival of Europeans, they did not have stills, a necessary piece of equipment for distillation.)
By streaming a video tasting at a distillery on its social media channels every day of September and getting the state liquor store system to run a 20% off promotion that boosted sales 1,316% a few weeks ago, the commonwealth is doing what it can to boost awareness of its robust yet under-the-radar spirits industry at a time when COVID has annihilated alco-tourism, distillery events and on-premise sales.
In this spirit, here are 10 things you probably don’t know about Virginia’s home-grown liquor.
1. According to the VDA, the commonwealth has 73 licensed distilleries, with another 11 licenses pending. Though its bourbon tourism dwarfs Virginia’s, Kentucky has approximately the same number of licensed distilleries.
2. Virginia claims production of the first American spirit because in 1620, colonist, reverend and former distiller George Thorpe sent a letter professing to have made corn “beere,” which was actually unaged corn whiskey … in other words, moonshine.
3. No one knows for sure who made the first bourbon or exactly where it happened but one thing is known: Bourbon County was part of Virginia until the Louisiana Purchase separated Kentucky into its own territory.
4. 8 Shires Distillery recreates traditional 17th and 18th spirits recipes right outside Colonial Williamsburg. George Washington’s historic Mt. Vernon home also recreates the first president’s recipes in a replica of his home distillery.
5. MurLarkey Distilled Spirits is one of the first distilleries in the country to host a full distiller-for-a-day program that invites whiskey lovers into the distillery to participate in a day in the life of the distiller.
6. Virginia Distillery Company owner Gareth Moore makes one of the nation’s most prominent (and only) examples of American single malt whiskies and is working with a handful of craft distillers around the country to lobby the federal government to give this liquid, which can best be likened to Scotch, its own official designation and protected status on the world market.
7. Drinkers with a Virginia address can now get state spirits direct shipped to their homes. The association is working to convince state lawmakers to permanently extend other liberalized COVID-era sales laws like cocktails to go, curbside pickup and home delivery.
8. One-third of Virginia’s distilleries sell out of state, including Catoctin Creek and Copper Fox.
9. Virginia’s craft distilleries source more than 70% of their agricultural ingredients in-state, contributing $3.6 million to the sector in 2017.
10. Scotland’s famed Speyside Cooperage has completed its $35 million investment in both a new barrel-making facility and a stave mill in the southwestern part of the state to capitalize on the region’s abundance of white oak, the wood needed to legally age bourbon.
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