Strange how this one came about really, one of my cousins who lives in the US Got in touch to inform me that he was meeting a chap from the leadership team of the new Virginia Distillery so naturally I asked to be connected and one thing led to another and here’s the resulting interview with Dan, their Director of Distillery Operations, (and lovely excitable guy).
In their words:
The Virginia Distillery Company began as a dream, but we’ll become a reality because of a simple crossing of paths. In 2010, a handful of whisky lovers set out to build a malt whisky distillery in Virginia. After many trips spent studying distilleries in Scotland, we created a company that would bring the experience of a Scottish-style malt whisky distillery to America.
Obvious one to start Dan, can you tell me where the Virginia Distillery is now and where it has been to get there?
The distillery is still under construction, looking to turn on the stills in the fall of this year along with the visitor’s centre. The visitor centre was supposed to be opened up later on but moved up to open simultaneously and take people on tours from day one.
It has been a long journey to get to where we are today but we are in a good place to be a big player in the single malt market over here and abroad.
We started in 2007 on paper – exactly the wrong time to start a high capex business.
Instead of rushing to open and producing clear spirits, we decided to curate our aged single malt concept.
All produced in Scotland then shipped here from Longmorn, Glen Moray, Bowmore, Caol Ila and others – brands you don’t see too often over here and we have labeled up each pair on the bottles to reflect our line in the sand and our quality benchmark.
This was to show people that we know our stuff and show US consumers that single malts are not all peaty and powerful, they can be delicate and interesting.
We moved from that down the path a little bit to sourcing a highland whisky, took twenty or thirty samplings to settle on the one that is in the same vein to what we are going to be doing here. Once shipped here we finished it in interesting Virginia wine casks.
When we distil from scratch we will have a purely Virginia single malt with copper stills made in Scotland and a veteran master distiller of thirty-five years. We will be the closest you can get to a Scottish style whisky in the United States. We will age in full size barrels for four years minimum.
The Virginia Distillery is here to make an amazing whisky, that’s what we’re going to do – we are not a gin or vodka. We are fortunate to have a good financial state to be able to do that based on our financial modelling.
How did you get into the whisky industry?
Pure luck! I used to work for the Department of Defense in DC, born and bred in Virginia and had done what I wanted to do with the US Government so quit my job.
My dad had purchased some land near what would be the distillery, and so I worked my ass off to do on the job training for virtually no money until they could hire someone full time and that was me.
We now have a great team and are very excited for the future.
Are there ambitions to talk about provenance and a purely Virginia created product?
As much as possible. There is not a lot of barley about in Virginia so until we can get Virginia growing some great barley for us later down the road we are having barley shipped directly from the UK to our door instead. Only the best! No comparison – the product from the UK is the gold standard.
How would you describe the Virginia Single Malt range you are going for? What stands it out from competitors?
Every distillery is different due to the equipment, no two stills make the same distillate so our unique pot stills will put us in a different category to the others.
Our master distiller will really step us apart too with his experience and the respect he has in the industry that gives us a head start on others learning the ropes over here.
We will not be afraid to tinker and play to try new things and we have interesting wineries and breweries so we can play with finishes and whatnot.
No mention of craft in what we do or on our site, the term has been so overused and ruined over the years.
One thing we are trying to do with our distillery, more relevant now Andrew has joined us, is get back to the single malt distillery how it used to exist. Diageo buy up and mechanise whisky where we want to create it as it should be.
It is going to be a manual process the whole way, someone walking through each stage and being present, no computers running the thing. There will be mistakes, sure, but it shows the labour of love.
Ironically as our society moves forward and relies more on tech at each stage, people are turning away from that and looking for more genuine craft.
How important is packaging in consumers’ decision making?
Brand is so important and standing up to the big boys and local boys. It needs to look good once someone buys it and has it on display; no one wants to buy a bad looking bottle, unless you’re a collector.
What are the biggest challenges you’re facing at the minute in getting your message out?
Not making critical mistakes, we lean on people who know what we don’t know to help and advise. We are pretty honest in knowing where our core competencies are and not afraid to ask for help.
Some other distillers think they are reinventing the wheel with their new distilleries, you’re not, you’re creating your own version of a loved product so by surrounding ourselves with smart people we have been able to navigate that.
Finally, aside from your own, what would be your top three whiskies? Does it differ by occasion?
It does differ by occasion, without doubt –
Oban 14, first I ever had so holds a place in my heart
King’s Crest 25 YO blended scotch whisky
Check out http://vadistillery.com/about-us to learn more and follow their fantastic story.