Newer distilleries have their work cut out for them. We might often hear about the collaborative nature of whiskey production, but at the end of the day, several bottles will compete for customer and consumer attention. To that end, established names like Buffalo Trace, Old Forester, and Wild Turkey are clearly advantaged. Over the course of several years, they’ve amassed a large quantity of mature and curated stocks, as well as loyal fans who turn to them time and time again. This means fresh faces must think of other ways to draw people in. Yet I’d argue that the ones who are leaving a strong and lasting impression all share something in common: transparency. Enter Virginia Distilling Company.
The late George G. Moore founded the company in 2011 with a distillery located along the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of George’s oft-repeated sayings, “have the courage of your convictions” became the guiding principle and inspiration for the company’s flagship single malt, Courage & Conviction. Head to their website and you’ll find few details spared. The barley used for their whiskey is “harvested and malted in the Midwest and shipped to Virginia, where it is stored in two 36-ton malt bins on site” before production begins. Two copper pot stills handmade in Scotland are utilized for distillation, as well as a Scottish spirit safe for making cuts. As for maturation, three casks are used: bourbon from “well-known” Kentucky distilleries; sherry to include Fino, Oloroso, and PX; and cuvée red wine from Europe. The target proportions for aging are 50/25/25, respectively. In addition, Virginia Distilling Company offers a comprehensive breakdown of American single malt whiskey, complete with a list of American single malt producers.
I always appreciate it when whiskey producers are open about their product, which obviously extends to Virginia Distilling Company. That being said, what matters most is the final product. Without further ado:
Nose: Yeasty. Raw nuts and hints of stewed then dried fruits. Pecans and traces of fig newton that slowly develop. Little honey drizzle for good measure.
Palate: Mild viscosity. Fruit and honey—the sherry is pulling its weight. Grain and a bit of effervescence on the back. Eventually leans into prune with some walnut.
Finish: Faint whispers of vanilla, caramel, and over time a little cream. Something of a clean minerality on the tail-end. Short-lived honey and fruit residuals.
Part of me wishes I enjoyed this more. It’s easy to root for Virginia Distilling Company thanks to the aforementioned reasons, but it doesn’t fully translate to the final product. As with many craft (or otherwise smaller) distilleries, Courage & Conviction feels like the victim of underdevelopment. Many of the notes I pull out can likely be attributed to the sherry casks, what with the fruit, nut, and honey notes being the most tangible. The experience is pleasant enough to be consumed, but not strong enough to be completely enjoyed. Maybe the whiskey needs more time to mature? Maybe I need to try more American single malts? Maybe both?
In any case, Courage & Conviction simply doesn’t scratch the itch I’m looking for, least of all for a $70 product. Even considering how new Virginia Distilling Company is to whiskey, that price tag is a tough pill to swallow for something that leaves me bored more than anything. I’d be interested in revisiting them 5-10 years down the line. Hopefully by then their portfolio matures and becomes more satisfying.