Started in 2011 by the late Dr. George G. Moore, the Virginia Distillery Company (VDC) is nestled in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains in Lovingston, VA, and was started with the dream of being the US’s largest independent producer of American single malt whisky. VDC initially made a name for themselves by sourcing mature Highland malt whisky from Scotland and finishing stocks in Virginian port wine barrels from local Virginian wineries whilst their own 100% Virginian single malt matured. Once their own whiskey had aged for a year, VDC started blending it with the Scottish single malt whiskey before finishing the blend in a variety of wine, beer, and cider casks sourced from local breweries and wineries. In 2015 the distillery had its grand opening on its scenic 100 acre property in rural Virginia, and since has added a visitor’s centre, museum, and production facility capable of producing 350,000 cases of whiskey annually when at full capacity. The distillery itself boasts two pot stills, including a Wash still with a 10,000 litre capacity and a Spirit Still with an 8,000 litre capacity, and distil 10,000 litre batches of mash to produce approximately 1,100 litre of new make. To make their whiskey VDC use two-row malted barley harvested and malted in the Midwest, shipped to Virginia, split in an authentic roller mill first commissioned in the 1920s, and fermented for three or four days before passing through the stills. Once barrelled in ex-bourbon barrels (as is traditional with Scottish single malt whiskeys) their whiskey ages for two-to-four years in the Blue Ridge climate to create a unique maturation profile. The current portfolio from VDC include their award-winning Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky, Cider Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky, and Brewer’s Batch Virginia-Highland Whisky, as well as limited edition offerings such as their Journey Cask Release, Charity Casks, and Cask Selections which benefit charities such as Hope For The Warriors.
The Virginia Distillery Co. (VDC) have long made a proud name for themselves by first sourcing delicious Scottish single malt whiskey, to then making their own, to blending the two together, and finally to now being on the cusp of their first release of Courage & Conviction, their 100% own-made single malt whiskey. Distilled in the early days of 2016 under the guidance of Scotch whisky veteran Dr. Jim Swan, this whiskey is set for release in April of 2020 and features a 100% Virginian single malt whiskey made from malted barley and aged in VDC’s Cask Houses for a minimum of 3 years in a variety of bourbon, sherry, and cuvée casks.
In the fall of 2019, however, the VDC surprised their eager fans by releasing Prelude: Courage & Conviction. This limited edition was a teaser and put out a full 6 months before Courage & Conviction was expected. Similar to its soon-to-be-released successor, Prelude featured a combination of single malt whiskies from the same three different casks types, albeit not in the exact same ratios as are planned for Courage & Conviction, which was bottled at 92 proof and designed to whet the appetite of those who felt they couldn’t wait to taste what is to come.
Today I’ll be taking a look at this release and hopefully answering the question of whether VDC are on to a winner with their upcoming release of Courage & Conviction. Although just a taster, the quality in the flagship release will be no doubt be along the same lines, albeit older, more mature, and with a slightly different blend of the constituent whiskies.
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Name: Prelude: Courage & Conviction
Age: Age stated as 3y.o.
Proof: 92 proof (46% abv)
Type: American single malt whisky
Mashbill: 100% malted barley
Producer: Virginia Distillery Co., VA
Nose: The nose opens sweet and decadent with butterscotch, floral vanilla, zesty malted barley, fresh cranberries, a touch of sherry wine, and faint toasted oak notes.
Palate: The palate opens light and sweet with honey and floral vanilla before a touch of citrus and young malt emerge trailing spice and sherry notes in their wake.
Finish: The finish opens with a lingering spice before notes of sherry wine and dried red fruit emerges alongside zingy malt and leaves a fruity sherry aftertaste that dries the inside of the cheeks.
I may not be well-versed in malt whiskies but I do know when something tastes great and this whiskey definitely falls into that category. On the one hand it is sweet, light, and zesty, whilst in the balance it’s spicy, packed with bright sherry wine notes, and carries its malted barley notes with exuberance. As you sip it you get the raw whisky first with plenty of honey and light fruit but as it travels down your palate the influence from the wine casks begin to shine through with each adding their complimentary level of flavour and complexity. Of the three the sherry casks definitely carries the most weight adding a dry and fruity dimension that balances the light and youthful malt whiskey, whilst carrying the secondary flavours from the bourbon and cuvée casks. Altogether it’s a delicious malt whiskey and clearly the product of well-versed expertise in producing great single malt whiskey.
This prelude release is part of a trend that has emerged within the craft distillery industry in recent years. Producers who once sourced delicious mature whiskey stocks now want their devoted fans to have the opportunity to taste their own-made product that has been tirelessly produced and aged with much attention to detail. For many distilleries this has meant releasing a product that falls somewhere between blending mature with their own young whiskies, or simply releasing a standalone product with 100% their own whiskey. This approach has seen both success and criticism across the board with this release falling under a success for me. The various layers of flavour and complexity are well-balanced, and it’s easy to taste the effort expended in making this release something really special. I for one am excited about what future releases of this whiskey will give fans because they will only continue to improve upon what this prelude release has delivered and the bar is already set very high.
Try or Buy?
This whiskey was part of a very limited release that has probably sold out at this stage. Fear not, however, because it was just a taster of what’s to come and luckily fans won’t have to wait much longer to taste its full-blooded big brother. For those who do find it and like a single malt whiskey that showcases the shining talent of VDC it’s an easy buy from me.