Amanda had fulfilled her childhood dream early on when she worked at the Virginia Aquarium, greeting guests and being an integral part of the guest experience as people came to visit. According to Wikipedia, when it first opened, its mission was to exhibit and showcase life from local rivers, nearby Chesapeake Bay, and the waters off the Virginia coast. Little did she know that several years later, she would again reprise a similar role for a visitor experience, highlighting local geography. This time she would be the one creating the experience, and it would be for a whiskey distillery, and winding up as their Lead Blender.
Whisky and Books
A Virginia native who ricocheted between Virginia, Texas, and New York in her childhood, Amanda ended up attending college in Virginia Beach. She started off as a Political Science major. After taking many courses about Shakespeare, her advisor pointed out that a few more classes would earn her a Bachelor’s in English Lit, so she switched.
It would be Amanda’s love of literature that would inadvertently lead her to where she is today. As part of an online book club, looking for new places to meet, she found out that a new distillery was opening. She was convinced it would be “just another bourbon distillery” and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it would be “American Single Malt” instead. Besides books, Single Malt Whisky was a personal passion for Amanda. She always explored different single malts when she traveled around the world. This was a long ways away from her first distilled spirit sip of Jack Daniel’s.
Learning about this new distillery, she knew she had to be a part of it, so she wrote an email initially offering to volunteer. As she recalled, she made the message personal talking about dogs, chocolate, and coffee. They loved her passion and Amanda received an immediate reply inviting her to join the team and help build the tour and tasting program, an integral part of the distillery experience. She would soon learn that the distillery was actually the culmination of someone else’s passion, the late Dr. George Moore.
An American Whisky Dream
Dr. Moore emigrated to America from Ireland in the 1970s, and was a serial entrepreneur with a love for single malt whiskies from around the world. He felt that his new home of Virginia would be perfect for a distillery. Although he established the Virginia Distillery Company (VDC), Dr. Moore passed before its completion. His wife Angela, and son Gareth, ultimately decided to move forward with it to honor him.
Prior to his passing, Dr. Moore secured consulting commitments from Scotch whisky icons − Dr. Jim Swan, Harry Cockburn, and Andrew Shand. For those familiar with Scotch whisky, these names need no introduction, for those new to the category that might need a cheat sheet:
Dr. Jim Swan: Known as the “Einstein of Whisky”, and a founding member of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, he mentored generations of people in the industry. His Wikipedia entry lists an impressive brand roster where he has worked as a consultant, blender, or master distiller. You may recall we mentioned him in our August 2021 profile of Annabel Thomas of Nc’nean Distillery. Sadly, he passed away in 2017.
Harry Cockburn: Harry joined Morrison Bowmore Distillers as an engineer and ended up as a distillery manager. His whisky career of nearly fifty years includes consulting for distilleries throughout Europe, the US, Canada, and Asia. He is currently retired.
Andrew Shand: Andrew’s whisky career started on the cooperage side, to achieve master distiller for Glenlivet, Nikka, and Speyside Distillers. His career has passed the forty year mark and he is still in the industry as Master Distiller at the Three Societies Distillery in Korea.
Are We Aged Yet?
Dr. Moore’s dream was to produce what they would refer to as an American Single Malt from the “Virginia Highlands”. With Dr. Swan’s guidance on creating their own distillate, and Harry supervising the distilling and production systems, the last piece was having Andrew come onboard, moving from Scotland to the United States, to help design the distillery.
Amanda was excited about being mentored by this dream team, her colleagues, and being part of their start. Prior to the distillery’s opening, they used their Scottish connections to source a Highland single malt whisky, and aged it in Virginia port-style wine barrels. She was there when they had their first distillation and celebrated their Best American Single Malt win. at the World Whiskies Awards, at the New York City Brandy Library.
She was quick to point out that, while pleased, they had made certain to be transparent about the fact that at that point, the whisky was actually a blend of two single malts, one from a Scottish distillery and one from their own.
Communication and transparency are important to them as a founding member of the American Single Malt Commission. [<-Link to July 29th Barrel Report article on the ASMC]. Community is as important to Amanda and the VDC as well as history. She recalled how the 1700s saw a wave of Irish and Scottish immigrants to the area. From the north, the site was formerly an orchard located in what is known as the Fruit Loop in Virginia. To this day, they still have apple and pear trees on the property. Ironically, it turns out that the distillery is located in what used to be a dry county. After the devastation of Hurricane Camille, laws were changed to allow for distilleries, breweries, wineries and cideries. True to their community mindset, VDC partners with some of these local businesses for their barrels.
Their three product lines are Courage & Conviction, VHW, and specialty Limited Offerings.
Courage & Conviction is their flagship line featuring bourbon casks, sherry casks (Fino, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez), and cuvée casks. American Single Malt Whisky, their flagship expression is 100% malted barley and is finished for a minimum of 3 years in a combination of all three -50% Bourbon casks, 25% Sherry casks and 25% Cuvée wine casks, bottled at 46% ABV.
Their VHW line is their marriage of Scotch whisky and their own distillate, finished in casks that previously held port, cider, local beers and Chardonnay. Fun fact: their logo reflects the blend of the old and new world, which pays homage to the whisky and distillery production process itself. The distillery’s design, production, and equipment are a blend of Old World and New World. The two row American barley is harvested and malted in the mid-west and distilled in copper pot stills, then passed through a spirit safe, both from Scotland.
A Limited Edition Journey Cask series is dedicated to founder Dr. Moore, featuring solo casks of aged single malts from around the world. Their Caledonia expression, featuring a ten year old Scotch whisky, pays homage to Master Distiller Jim McEwan. It sold out the same day it was released.
In addition to running their tasting program, Amanda runs a monthly ‘Fun Friday’, where the team gets to taste whiskies from around the world. Their team is also active in local volunteer activities.
If you’re unable to get to the distillery for a visit before the end of Summer, you can still celebrate Amanda and VDC by enjoying the cocktail below.
1 ½ oz Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky
1 oz lime juice
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz peach tea syrup*
3 dashes peach bitters
Peach slice to garnish
Combine ingredients in glass. Stir and garnish with a peach slice. Enjoy!
*Recipe for peach tea syrup: Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 2 peach tea bags and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain and add 1 cup sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Join us next month for National Bourbon Heritage Month as we chat with Lisa Wicker from Widow Jane!