Warm Your Winter With Virginian Spirits
Many drinkers have yet to acclimate to the regional texture and character of East Coast libations. Our terroir—the flavor of our land—is still new to the cultural palette, as opposed to wines from France and California or whiskey from Scotland, whose nuances of tastes and textures we know. The reputation of East Coast wines and spirits is gaining momentum in the arena of the national beverage community. Granted, there is a lot of ground to cover, and it can be difficult to know where to start sipping. The bodies and flavors of wines up and down our coast are quiet and subtle, more comparable to offerings from Oregon’s Willamette Valley than to the bright peppery fullness of France or the dense richness of Napa Valley. But anyone in the Washington area with a passion for regional drinking now has the opportunity to develop a beautiful relationship with the fruit, the land and the distinct character of East Coast elixirs.
Unlike many regions around the world, whose well-established techniques have been honed over centuries of trial and error, East Coast regions offer us the opportunity to grow with the very drinks we sip. As the distinct nature of climate and soil composition are still being worked out by area distillers, cidermakers and winemakers, the flavors of our brews are developing and maturing noticeably with each harvest. In Virginia, there is no better combination of beautiful countryside beverage offerings and knowledgeable professionals to make a distillery or vineyard visit an unforgettable winter getaway. However, if you don’t feel like leaving town, you can always just pick up a bottle of the good stuff at your local wine store.
Catoctin Creek Distillery Catoctin Creek Distilling Company was founded in 2009 as the first legal distillery in Loudoun County since before Prohibition. It is a certified organic distillery in the heart of the Loudoun Valley. Just a stone’s throw from the city’s outskirts, Loudoun County has dozens of successful vineyards and has become unofficially known as Washington’s wine country. Now, the District has a distillery to throw into the mix.
Catoctin’s grain and fruit, free of pesticides and chemical additives, are sourced locally as often as possible, and its quality is being recognized on a national level. Its whiskies have a laundry list of silver and gold medals from a number of different competitions, from Whiskey Advocate Magazine to the American Distilling Institute. A tour of their facilities, just an hour’s drive from the Washington, is worth the trip. Their Organic Mosby’s Spirit, a clear grain rye “white whiskey,” is incredibly versatile as a mixer, giving a new grainy sweetness to traditional vodka or rum cocktails. Their Organic Roundstone Rye, one of the only organic whiskeys in the nation, took home a silver medal at last year’s American Distilling Institute Whiskey Competition. Catoctin Creek 1757 is Virginia’s first commercial grape brandy since the establishment of the Commonwealth. Brandy, a traditional old world digestif most widely used these days to spice up eggnog, has long been favored for its soothing, warming qualities. Made from locally grown wine grapes, 1757 is distilled and aged in French Bordeaux oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Try some—this stuff warms the heart. For more information, visit CatoctinCreekDistilling.com
Virginia Distillery Company A small-batch, artisan distiller, Virginia Distillery Company (VDC) in Nelson County, just 25 minutes south of Charlottesville, has brought notoriety to the region with its award-winning selection of double malt whiskies.
Their Virginia Highland Malt Whiskey will appeal to devoted Scotch and single malt drinkers, and it invites bourbon drinkers to look at malt whisky in a new way. The process starts by acquiring aged and vatted Highland malt from Scotland, already complex and luscious with acacia honey and notes of ginger. To enhance its quality and to throw in a taste of the region, VDC then finishes the whiskey in French oak wine barrels used to age Virginia port-style wine from a local vineyard. The months spent in the port-style wine barrels added notes of dark chocolate and raspberry jam, transforming the whisky to a deep, copper color. Whether sipped neat, with a splash of water, or mixed into a cocktail, this whisky is a pleasure.
Named for their home in Eades Hollow near Lovingston, Va., the distillery’s Eades Double Malt Whiskies represent the quintessential malt whisky experience from each of Scotland’s major distilling regions: Islay, Speyside and Highland. The name Double Malt comes from the two single malts that are selected for their classic characteristics and complementary natures to make each expression of Eades. Some of these malts are rarely found in the US, but all represent the finest flavor profile of each region. First, the two malts are finished separately in fine wine casks, such as Chateau Lafitte, Grenache and Zinfandel. Then, they are paired to create the perfect flavor profile of their region, giving us the Eades Double Malt.
To create Eades Double Malt, VDC’s master distiller has borrowed techniques not just from lauded whiskeymakers, but from the world’s finest winemakers as well. Just as two grapes from a particular season can produce a wine far better than a single grape alone, Eades Double Malt Whiskies demonstrate that two malts can create an experience that actually heightens and refines each region’s flavor profile.
The Islay is robust with, with peat smoke and hints of sea spray, while the Speyside is smooth and mellow, with the sweetness of summer berries. The Highland, perhaps the most popular of Scotland’s distilling regions, is famously rich and malty, lingering with hints of toffee and vanilla.
The first batch of their authentic, double-distilled single malt whiskey is now aging, and will hibernate and mature for at least another year or two, turning from the clear spirit to the subtly aged amber whiskey we all know and love, with the added distinction of local flavor character. In the meantime, keep yourself warm with their double malts, and check back next year. For more information visit VADistillery.com.
King Family Vineyard King Family Vineyards is a family-owned and operated boutique winery located in Crozet, just 15 minutes from Charlottesville at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The winery specializes in small productions of premium wine that showcase the remarkable qualities of nearly 100-percent estate grown fruit. Founded in 1998, the winery’s first vintage was only 500 cases. Today, the winery produces approximately 5,000 cases of wine per year. When beginning your love affair with Virginia wines, King Family Vineyards is the right place to start.
David King, owner of King Family Vineyards, is on a larger mission: to make local wine more accessible in the state of Virginia. “We sell everything we make,” says King. “Yet wine made here is only 4.5 percent of the wine consumed in the state. Our biggest goal right now is merely to make more wine.”
There is a large local market in Virginia and its bordering states that has yet to be developed, he says, but with the state legislators helping to promote local wines in more shops and fine dining establishments, consumers have more opportunities to support local growers. King hopes for more wine lovers to discover the burgeoning industry right in their backyard.
The 2010 Petit Verdot is a safe bet this time of year, guaranteed to send a warm shiver down your spine. Violet, blueberries, and a hint of cinnamon on the nose introduce a full textured wine with lots of tannin and spice. The finish is long and velvety, exhibiting ripe blackberries and plum. This wine is quite popular locally, so supplies are somewhat limited, so get your hands on a bottle while you can.
During the summer months, the veranda, expansive lawn, or brick patio are perfect for outdoor picnics. In the winter, however, the winery’s tasting room is home to a warm stone fireplace and rich, family-friendly seating areas. Bring your own goodies or pick from the tasting room’s gourmet assortments of chocolates, cheeses, salamis, spreads, and hot French bread. KingFamilyVineyards.com.