Some more relaxed laws will put distillery tasting rooms up there with wineries and breweries. Plus, a new restaurant with a new cocktail program.
Though Virginia distilleries may never be the hotspot for getting tipsy with your friends like wineries and breweries are, regulations are expanding to allow consumers to at least sample and purchase the wares.
“Currently, businesses with a distillery license may offer up to four ½-ounce samples of spirits manufactured on premises,” Jennifer Guild, public relations specialist at Virginia ABC explains. “If the sample is part of a mixed cocktail or served straight, the total liquid amount of the sample can’t exceed .5 ounces.”
As of July 1st, she adds, the code changes: “Businesses with a distillery license may offer up to 1.5 ounces of mixed cocktail samples containing spirits manufactured on premises. Samples served straight (no mixers) may not exceed ½ ounce of spirits manufactured on premises. Also, distillery visitors may consume no more than three ounces total of sampled liquid.”
Got that? No worries if not–just listen to your distillery server, who will be careful to ensure you stay legal!
On my recent visit to Black Heath Meadery, owner Bill Cavender told me that the owners of another spirited Scott’s Addition business, Reservoir Distillery, had begun offering tasting room hours. Never one to pass up an opportunity to explore new tastes, I headed the few blocks to Reservoir, just around the corner from Isley Brewing.
There I found a rustic tasting room equipped to serve, with windows to provide intriguing peeks into the workings of the distillery, including the small barrels used to age the liquor. Such barrels can allegedly draw out the flavors of the wood better than a larger barrel that has a lower surface-to-liquid ratio.
If you venture to Reservoir, remember the number 100. Their three whiskeys are 100 proof, and each is made using a 100% grain bill–wheat, corn and rye–from “the finest quality, locally sourced grains.” For $5, legal imbibers can sample one of the whiskeys; for $10, all three.
I’ll admit a preference for the Reservoir Wheat Whiskey. Although the website describes it as a “Beginner Bourbon,” my somewhat-more-experienced palate still enjoyed its soft, savory flavor.
Not far away, James River Distillery has been offering tastes of their spirits since November 2015. The tasting bar is set up in a small corner of the distillery, with distilling equipment towering above.
The JRD line-up has expanded since my initial visit and the spirits have only gotten better. I enjoyed sampling the Commonwealth Gin, Continental Gin, and UA Navy Strength Gin, but the distillery has since begun offering the Øster Vit and Jackson & James Rum. Per ABC regulations, tastings can only include four ½-ounce pours. “We can prepare them straight or made into cocktails like a gin and tonic or Bloody Mary with occasionally some other cocktails thrown into the rotation,” JRD partner Kristi Croxton explains.
Their $5 tasting fee is refunded if any spirit purchases are made.
Both Reservoir and JRD spirits are also available at local craft bars and the Virginia ABC. Check ahead for the most updated tasting room hours. Two other local distilleries, Belle Isle Spirits and Cirrus Vodka, are also available at ABC stores and bars, but their tasting rooms are still in the works.
If you’re traveling around Virginia, 41 distilleries currently have tasting rooms. I can personally recommend Catoctin Creek and Mount Defiance in Loudoun County, Silverback Distillery and Virginia Distillery in Nelson County, and A. Smith Bowman in Fredericksburg.
At Virginia Distillery, you can also tour the new museum, take a guided tour of the distillery, have a whiskey tasting in the cask house, and finish with a cocktail tasting in the visitors’ center.
The bar at Antler & Fin
I poked my head into the new Antler & Fin restaurant last week. The current cocktails are riffs on classics, including two tiki-inspired drinks, Backyard Paradise and the OG Mai Tai. I chose the Horny Pomelo, a mix of tequila, Belle Isle Moonshine Ruby Red Grapefruit, Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, lime, and agave, garnished with a twist of grapefruit peel–refreshing with just enough of a touch of spice.
I also tried one of the housemade craft sodas. Though the sodas could be mixed with a spirit, I ordered mine virgin. (If I ever write about drinking a virgin screwdriver, you’ll know I’m desperate for topics–not a likely problem here in Richmond). The rhubarb, strawberry, and mint soda provided a refreshing Southern caress to my palate.
Recipe of the Week
Now that the sun has shown its face in Richmond, Virginia ABC suggests sizing up refreshing warm weather cocktails for your next picnic. One suggested recipe:
Sparkling Gin Tarragon Lemonade
- 10 large sprigs tarragon
- 2 lemons, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- ¾ cup gin
- ¾ cup elderflower liqueur
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 12-oz can club soda
Muddle tarragon sprigs, lemon slices, and sugar in a large pitcher. Add gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and club soda. Add ice and stir to combine.