I must confess that even when having lived here for a long time, the good, old state of Virginia just keeps on surprising me. It seems that everywhere you turn, you’ll find someone making some great product that you’ve never heard of before. This week for me it was bourbon. Now, I do know that in some parts of Virginia little details like Prohibition have never dampened the local’s taste for liquids other than water, but bourbon is something that we all tend to (and by default, I’m afraid) associate with the folks in Kentucky. This probably has more to do with ignorance than with taste, though. Well, no more. From what I experienced at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg recently, Virginia is definitely a bourbon state, and in a big way. We’re talking about the hand-crafted, small batch stuff here, not the gallons coming out of a mega-distillery partially owned by some European investment group. And while I was familiar with the famous saying, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon,” this was the first time that I had a chance to walk in to a facility where I could smell the perfume bourbon scent in all its glory. One hour touring the distillery and there was no doubt in my mind that if you are a bourbon aficionado, this place has to be on your radar screen, and pronto.
How well I remember my first encounter with The Devil’s Brew. I happened to stumble across a case of bourbon, and went right on stumbling for several days thereafter. (W.C. Fields)
Tucked away right off Rt. 17 South right past the town of Fredericksburg, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery has to be one of the best kept non-secrets in Northern Virginia. The distillery not only produces an impressive variety of bourbons locally (have I mentioned the great aroma yet?), but they also provide some extremely informative tours of the place before you get down to the “business” of sampling their products. Unfortunately, and to my chagrin, I happened to find myself there without a designated driver and had to pass on the tasting portion of the tour (which required serious depletion of my residual self-control supply). But, there’s always next time, and in the words of the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”
Think that you have to travel to Scotland to find great whiskey? Then think again, because some great spirits are being concocted right here in your Virginia backyard. That’s right, just where the mighty Blue Ridge Mountains give way to the undulating plateau of Rappahannock County, the Copper Fox Distillery is quietly producing award-winning whiskeys and spirits that you have will not easily find at your local liquor stores (at least not yet, but check out the press they have received). These are not your average high-volume, mass-produced products for a global market, though. On the contrary, the whiskeys and spirits coming out of Copper Fox are handled by hand in relatively small batches that reflect the artisan’s approach to producing low-yield, high-quality products. During one of their scheduled tours, it was quite surprising to see how bottles were being handled one at a time with the painstaking care characteristic of a Swiss watchmaker. And while the distillery has been around since the year 2000, modernity appears to live well hand-in-hand with traditional methods of craftsmanship that are so rare in today’s world. One barrel at a time, Copper Fox seems to be putting Virginia whiskey on the connoisseur’s map. So what did I end up bringing home after my short trip down River Lane Road? I went for their signature Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky (Batch No. 107). I am definitely no connoisseur, but I already have plans to enjoy this elixir as if I were one. Cheers.