Be prepared, dear readers, for this is my “coming out” day.
I’m a whisky man.
There– I said it. Out loud and in the heart of genteel Virginia Wine Country. This may come as a shock to Virginia Wine enthusiasts who have come to know our Bed and Breakfast in Orange, VA as a place that exclusively serves fine Virginia Wine from local wineries, such as Barboursville, Keswick, Old House, Prince Michel, Gray Ghost, and quite a few others. We’ve held Virginia wine tasting events, hosted receptions with Virginia wine, offered tours to Virginia wineries, tasted hundreds of Virginia wines ourselves, and generally do all we can to promote Virginia Wine, especially those crafted on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground and the Monticello Wine Trail.
But I prefer whisky. I’m sorry, I just do. Don’t hate me because I like spirits.
In my formative years of alcohol consumption, a man of dubious character said to me: “If you’re going to drink, drink like a man.” He then handed me a bottle of George Dickel No. 12, suggesting that it was a finer beverage than Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7. I wouldn’t have known the difference at the time, so I took him at his word. The first sip went down like a razor blade, but after that my taste for alcohol was a whisky taste—George Dickel No. 12 in particular. Then, I made it my mission to educate my college roommate—God rest his soul—in the same tradition. He did me proud. I’ve tried to uphold that tradition ever since.
George Dickle no. 12 is certainly a fine beverage, and nary a disparaging word will be said about it in my written musings. Bourbon is still my drink of choice, preferably from Tennessee or Kentucky. Perhaps that’s my Tennessee mountain roots sprouting from within, I’m not sure (hmm…the thought just occurred to me that most folks probably do not know the difference between bourbon, whisky, or scotch—I guess that’s an excellent subject for a future blog). But, the subject for today is not Tennessee bourbon—it’s Virginia Single Malt Whisky.
We make every effort to serve local Virginia products any chance we can, and whisky has a long history here in Virginia. In fact, one of George Washington’s primary sources of income was whisky, which he produced at Mount Vernon (this casts the 1790 Whisky Rebellion in a whole new light). The generous researchers at Washington’s venerable home have been kind enough to rekindle Washington’s passion for spirits, and they now sell Washington’s whisky. Bless their little hearts.
Washington’s whisky used three grains: corn, rye, and barley. It was not a single malt. Traditional Scottish-style single malt whisky from Virginia has been hard to come by, even today. Until now.
A few weeks ago, I had the extreme pleasure oftaking a tour of a nearby Virginia distillery called the Copper Fox Distillery, where the Wasmund family has been making fine Scottish-style single malt whisky since January 2000. Single malt whisky is traditionally produced in Scotland. Like my own taste, America’s taste for whisky spirits tends to lean more towards bourbon. So, Copper Fox’s production of single malt whisky in the heart of Virginia wine country is kinda special.
The folks at Copper Fox perform all tasks by hand themselves, including the bottling and wax-sealing. Our guide, Sean McCaskey, showed us how they malt the barley, turn it on the floor with rakes, and then dry it in the kiln. The kiln uses a woodstove for heat, and the smoke from applewood, cherrywood, and oakwood adds some special flavor to the barley. They hastily avoided detailed discussions of the distillation process (so as not to reveal their secrets!), and then took us to their barrel racks where they showed us the used barrels in which their whisky ages (by contrast, bourbon must be made in new oak barrels, or it can’t be called bourbon). An important feature of Copper Fox whisky is that they add toasted applewood, cherrywood and oak chips to the batch while it ages, to give it a special flavor. This is particularly appropriate considering they are located in Virginia’s apple country!
Virginia law prohibits an on-site tasting (although you can get a nosing sample) but we did buy two bottles to savor in the privacy of our bed and breakfast in Orange, VA. Savor them, we did! We purchased a bottle of the Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky and a bottle of the Copper Fox Rye Whisky. The Rye Whisky is 2/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley, while the single malt is obviously 100% hand-malted barley. The Single Malt came from Batch 46 (the latest batch), and the rye whisky was freshly bottled on 28 October 2010.
At 96 proof, the single malt has a bold flavor, but not obtrusive one. Whereas most whiskys of a similar proof I have tried are nothing but “burn,” Wasmund’s had rich, complex, and identifiable flavors that make it pleasant to drink. My theory is that this comes from the fruitwood chips used during the aging process. Undoubtedly, the bold, pleasing auburn color comes from this as well. This single malt whisky has some excellent characteristics worthy of recommendation.
The Rye Whisky is similarly strong (90 proof), but is slightly lighter and more amber than the single malt. Although it has some bite up front, the finish has some definite earthy flavors. The rye has discernable toasted grain flavors, whereas the Single Malt had more of a charcoal/wood characteristic.
Certainly, one would not mistake these excellent Virginia whiskys for Appalachian-style bourbons. They have their own unique taste, and both would pair excellently with a Virginia-style barbecue, chocolate mousse, or even a pot of home-cooked beans (I know the latter is true because I just had that for lunch—black beans and lentils slow-simmered in a cast iron pot with a country hambone, salt, and pepper—simple, wholesome, and delicious).
The next time you visit our historic bed and breakfast in Orange, VA, be sure to ask for directions to the Copper Fox Distillery. Even if you are not a self-proclaimed whisky drinker like I am, a discerning palate will appreciate the complexities of this fine local spirit. We also have it available to our guests for a winter evening toast by the fire!
Of course, there are a number of other Virginia whiskys one should try, and even a legal moonshine produced right here in Culpeper, Virginia. In the future, I’ll write more about each and every one of them.
Now, I think I’ll have a drink!