Do you love whiskey enough to want to chat with a whiskey distiller? Our CKJY Exports team does. This week we wanted to share some answers from a recent chat with our friend, Ian Thomas the Distillery Director with Virginia Distillery Company. “Listen in” on Claire and Ian’s discussion while sipping some beautiful whiskey.
What Distinguishes the Virginia Distillery Team Apart?
Our Virginia Distillery Company team is a very tight-knit group with a broad range of industry experience and a deep rooted passion for making whisky. Our distillery team touts experience ranging across fermentation science, wine-making, cider-making, brewing, and even home distilling.
The broad range of experience and backgrounds also gives us a strong foundation in problem solving and approaching our craft from various viewpoints. The Moore’s (Gareth Moore, CEO and Angela Moore, Founder and Board Member) have also played an enormous role in growing the company to where it is today while also having great vision for the future and where we are heading.
Ian continued saying “Our Virginia-Highland Whisky series is a premium Blended Malt Whisky and is offered through a variety of cask finishes (Port, Cider, Beer, Rum, Cuvee, and others) and we are just preparing to release Prelude, our 3 Year Old Single Malt, this fall with Courage & Conviction, our 4 Year Old Single Malt Flagship, following in the spring of 2020!”
What Inspired You to Work in Whiskey?
I worked for a company called Lallemand in 2013 and helped operate their QC/QA and Pathogen laboratories. Throughout my experience with Lallemand I not only gained a thorough background in QC/QA development and implementation, but I also learned quite a lot about fermentation, yeast health, and yeast propogation.
An opportunity to work with a small Mico-Distillery fell into my lap and I helped build and standardize operations for them and also began to see a wide variety of opportunities through consulting within the spirits industry! My consulting efforts ultimately landed me a job with The Virginia Distillery Company.
What is Your Favorite Thing About Working in the Alcohol Industry?
My favorite thing about working in the alcohol industry is two-fold; firstly, it’s the friendships and the relationships I’ve been able to establish and grow over the years – everyone in the industry seems to be so knowledgeable and passionate and friendly and I love being a part of that type of community. Secondly, it’s the work. I love what I do and what I make and working with my team!
What Do You Wish People Outside Your Industry Knew About It?
There are so many answers here, but one thought that comes to mind, specifically in regards to our distillery and it being in such a rural area, is how we manage our waste and strive for sustainability.
In this day and age, where sustainability has to be much more than just a word we use nonchalantly to impress or check a box, we put our sustainability into action by finding ways to recycle and up-cycle our waste byproducts; Our spent grain and pot ales go to a dairy farm as a feed for their cows, we process, treat, and cleanly discharge approximately 2,000,000 liters of wastewater from the distillery every year (this treated water then recharges our aquifer!) we grow the majority of our herbs and cocktail garnishes on site, we grow our own barley on site and look to expand and grow this operation, and lastly, we strive to operate within the bounds of our state’s Virginia Green initiative.
What we do here at Virginia Distillery Company is much more than just make whisky and provide an incredible guest experience, we aim to be stewards of our community here in Nelson County, Virginia.
In Your Opinion, What is the Key Determining Factor that Makes a Good Whiskey an Exceptional Whiskey?
In my (limited!) opinion, the key determining factor that makes good whisky is patience! We live in an era of instant information, and immediate communication, and being ‘plugged-in’ but none of that matters to whisky. And kudos to all of those folks in the industry researching and finding new ways to age and mature whisky as their passion shows through in their pursuit for new technology and innovations. But, I think patience is key; it allows one to think thoroughly and plan, be diligent and calculated, and, as whisky takes time to age and mature, then patience can allow for preparation and planning. In the words of Tina Turner: ‘Don’t rush a good thing!’
What Is Your Favorite Virginia Distillery Company Whiskey and Why?
My favorite whisky from Virginia Distillery Company right now (and I’m so terribly Biased) is Prelude. It is the whisky we’ve been working on over the past 3 years and we just now bottled it and its delicious, and I can’t wait to taste our 4 year old Courage & Conviction in the Fall (spoiler alert, it’s delicious…) and my favorite non-VDC whisky is a tough one.
What is Your Favorite Non – Virginia Distillery Company Whiskey?
There are so many different types of whiskies (Malt, Rye, Corn, Blended, Single-Malt, Scotch, etc.) that its almost not a fair question! But, if I go home and pour a dram from my bar, I (currently, and it rotates) would be reaching for John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon – its local to VA and its good!
What Do You Feel is Special and Unique about Virginia Distillery Company?
Our climate here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia is special and unique to our whisky and maturation process. We see a wide range of temperatures and humidity throughout a single year (below 0 wind chills in the winter and triple digit heat indices in the summer) and that range of climate has an enormously important and beneficial effect on our whisky as it ages.
The humidity helps round out any of the rough ‘edges’ from the alcohol creating a soft and smooth mouthfeel while the range in temperatures ensures that the whisky reaches as deep into the wood as it possibly can throughout the expansion and contraction of the barrels. These climate effects create a full-flavored, well-rounded, soft and smooth whisky in a shorter period of time than that of Scotch!
Isn’t it easy to see why Ian’s team creates such beautiful whiskey? They put so much thought, effort and care into crafting it that logically they craft a whiskey to be proud of and for the rest of us to enjoy.
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