Monday, March 27, 2023

Virginia Distillery Co.'s Courage & Conviction Series and VHW Series Whisky Reviews & Tasting Notes


Virginia Distillery Company was founded in 2011 by Dr. George G. Moore. Born in Ireland, he emigrated to the United States and, after running several successful Irish- and US-based businesses, he established this brand in Lovingston, Virginia. Sadly, George passed away in May 2013 before he could see his dream come to fruition. The first whiskies were released in 2015.


His wife, Angela, became its Chairwoman, and his son, Gareth, was named CEO. Gareth’s wife, Maggie, is the Chief Experience Officer.


“‘Have the courage of your convictions’ was a saying George often repeated to friends and family. His credo became our core principle and the name of our newest American Single Malt whisky line, Courage & Conviction.” – Virginia Distillery Co.


Three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a tasting panel hosted by Amanda Beckwith, the distillery’s Lead Blender. It was a chance to sample six of Virginia Distillery Co.’s expressions.


Today isn’t the first or second time I’ve encountered Virginia Distillery Co. In 2020, when I was reviewing for Bourbon & Banter, I had a chance to write about Prelude: Courage & Conviction and what was then called Virginia-Highland Whisky Port Cask. Interestingly, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) forced the name change, citing that consumers might mistake the Virginia whisky for being Scotch.


Virginia Distilling Co. sources only two-row barley for its distillate. Barrel entry is 125° for its whiskies; the smallest barrels used are 53 gallons.


I was sent all six whiskies when I participated in the tasting panel. I took detailed notes intending to compose a review for each. The results of that #DrinkCurious adventure follow.


The one commonality was each whisky was poured neat into a Glencairn glass. Now, the differences can be revealed. 



The first expression is Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky. This is the distillery’s flagship expression. It carries no age statement, but it is between five and six years, per Amanda. It is comprised of a distillate of malted barley, which was aged in former Bourbon barrels (50%), Cuvée casks (25%), and sherry butts (25%). A 750ml package is about $65.00 and bottled at 46% ABV (92°).


Appearance: The liquid was golden and produced a thick rim. Slow, wavy tears flowed from it.


Nose: The aroma was fruity with smells of green apple, apricot, and pineapple, which was joined by a dollop of vanilla. When I drew the air through my lips, I found butterscotch.


Palate: The mouthfeel had a silky texture. Pineapple, butterscotch, and vanilla formed the front, with apple, pear, and honey at the midway point. On the back, it tasted of rum-soaked fruitcake and oak.


Finish: A bit of oak remained, but butterscotch burst through like the Kool Aid™ Man, and it didn’t want to let go. As he ran away, the rum-soaked fruitcake closed the show for a long finish.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: The flagship whisky made one heck of an introduction. Flavors melded and shifted beautifully, and even the proofing was correct. I fell in love with the finish. A winner for sure; it is well worth the investment and takes my Bottle rating.


The second expression is Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky – Bourbon Cask. It carries no age statement and is made of a distillate of malted barley aged in undeconstructed former Kentucky Bourbon barrels. A 750ml package costs about $75.00 and is bottled at 46% ABV (92°).


Appearance: This whisky appears as bright, liquid gold. A medium rim released a wavy curtain of tears.


Nose: A complicated aroma of green apple, floral, lemon citrus, cookies, and cedar teased my olfactory sense. Pulling the air through my lips enhanced the vanilla.


Palate: This whisky had a buttery mouthfeel. The front of my palate discovered vanilla, apple, and pear. The middle tasted banana, while the back featured charred oak, clove, and ginger beer.


Finish: Charred oak, black pepper, and clove were tamed by vanilla and banana flavors. In all, it was a long-lasting finish.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I found Bourbon Cask to be much different than the flagship expression. However, it was still good, just not great. As it commands a $10.00 premium over the flagship, I rate this a Bar.  



The third expression is Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky – Cuvée Cask. It carries no age statement; however, Amanda indicated it was at least five years. The distillate comes from malted barley, aged in cooperages that formerly held Spanish and Portuguese wines. Those barrels were deconstructed and underwent an STR (shaved, toasted, and re-charred) process.  A 750ml package costs about $75.00 and is bottled at 46% ABV (92°).


Appearance: Bronze in color, Cuvée Cask fabricated a massive rim and wide tears.


Nose: The nose was complex with smells of raspberry, pineapple, banana pudding, orange peel, vanilla bean, and baked goods. My mouth found the air to be heavy with vanilla.


Palate: Cuvée Cask’s texture was rich and thick. Thoughts of a dreamsicle crossed my mind as the liquid hit the front of my palate. The middle offered sweet tobacco leaf and leather; at the back, I tasted coffee, almond, and chocolate.


Finish: The medium-long finish left me with vanilla, leather, clove, and oak.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Considering how much I savored the flagship. Cuvée Cask blew it entirely out of the water. An audible “Wow” escaped my lips. Everything about this American Single Malt screamed luxury. It is worth $75.00, perhaps more. Obviously, this snagged my Bottle rating.



The fourth expression is Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky – Sherry Cask. It carries no age statement and is made of a distillate of malted barley, aged in Fino, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximénez sherry butts. A 750ml package costs about $75.00 and is bottled at 46% ABV (92°). The world-renowned and highly respected Nancy Fraley was involved in its blending.


Appearance: This whisky presented as a dull gold with a thick rim. Long, crooked legs worked their way back to the pool.


Nose: As I brought this glass to my nose, it was as if I entered an orchard with blueberry, strawberry, plum, and cherry.  The fruit was then drizzled with chocolate. As it worked through my lips, chocolate-covered raspberries were rather seductive.


Palate: A buttery mouthfeel led to plum, cherry, and stewed apricot on the front. The middle of my palate encountered raspberry, almond, and chocolate, while the back tasted of tobacco, oak, and white pepper.


Finish: The white pepper I just tasted turned black, accompanied by oak, raspberry, and chocolate. It was a medium duration.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: The fruity notes were expected but far more complex than I had prepared for. I found the mild-to-sharp spice transition at the end fascinating. I usually love sherry-influenced whiskies, and Sherry Cask did not disappoint. I’d be thrilled to have this in my whisky library, so a Bottle rating is well-earned.

From here, we go to the fifth and sixth expressions. These are produced under the VHW Series banner. The difference from the Courage & Conviction series is that VHW uses Virginia Distilling’s distillate and a portion of Single Malt Scotch from the Highland region.

The fifth pour is VHW Cider Cask Finished Whisky. The 100% malted barley-aged whisky was finished in barrels sourced from Virginia cideries, notably Potter’s Craft Cider and Buskey Cider. The finishing cycle was between eight and 20 months. A 750ml package costs about $40.00 and is bottled at 46% ABV (92°). Nancy Fraley was involved in its creation.


Appearance: This whisky was the color of pale straw. A microthin rim had to be formed several times before I could even find it, as thick, wide tears fell immediately.


Nose: The aroma was raw honey, apple, vanilla, and raisin. Drawing it through my lips gave me the sensation of apple crisps.


Palate: A thin and airy consistency rolled through my mouth. The front of my palate tasted apple, citrus, and honey. The middle offered graham crackers and walnut. Flavors of cinnamon, dry oak, and leather pulled up the rear.


Finish: A brief finish featured honey, citrus, dry oak, clove, and cinnamon.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I’m a fan of hard ciders. Aside from a cocktail, it is the only other adult beverage I drink with any regularity. Cider Cask was meh. It wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t impressive. At $40.00, you may want to try this one first before committing to a bottle. That makes my rating a Bar.



Finally, we get to VHW Port Cask Finished Whisky. The 100% malted barley-aged whisky was then finished for a year in 70% of barrels sourced from Portuguese bodegas that held both tawny and ruby port wines and 30% Virginia port-style wine. A 750ml package costs about $40.00 and is bottled at 46% ABV (92°). This expression also involved Nancy Fraley. There is no age statement, but it is about seven years, per Amanda.


Today is the second time I’ve visited the Port Cask Finished Whisky. Spoiler alert: Three years ago, it earned my Bottle rating. Let’s see how it fared this time.


Appearance: This whisky presented as an orange amber as it formed a thin rim that collapsed into a wavy curtain.


Nose: Dark chocolate attempted to envelop strawberries, cherries, and plums. Those plums held onto the air as I pulled it into my mouth.


Palate: The mouthfeel was oily yet dry. I know that’s hard to fathom, but it is what I experienced. At the front, the whisky tasted of plum, raisin, and strawberry, while at mid-palate, tobacco and cocoa flavors dried things out. The back offered leather, coffee, and oak.


Finish: A long, dry, tingly finish left me with dark chocolate, saltines, French oak, and a kiss of smoke.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: After I tasted the Port Cask and took my notes, I reread my review from 2020 to see if I found the experience similar. There were a few differences here and there, but for the most part, my palate remained true. My conclusion is the same; it deserves every bit of that Bottle rating.


Final Thoughts: Between the six, I’d rate them in the following order:  Cuvée Cask, Port Cask, Flagship, Sherry Cask, Bourbon Cask, and Cider Cask. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Whiskyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whisky as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.


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