First, it was Virginia wineries. In the past decade, they popped up faster than weeds in a vineyard.

Then it was the state craft breweries’ turn. From zero to 150 in what seemed like record time.

Now, distilleries are stepping into the spotlight.

Almost overnight, it seems, the state is home to 42 distilleries, and the industry is projected to increase to more than 50 by 2017. That’s a rise from 15 just five years ago.

A newly minted organization called Virginia Distillers Association wants you to know about this great growth and great product and has created something called “September Is Virginia Spirits Month: Show Your Virginia Spirit!”

A mouthful for sure, but isn’t that what spirits are all about?

During this Virginia Spirits Month, which will run through Sept. 30, distilleries will participate in special events, such as free tastings at ABC stores throughout the state. Also, numerous restaurants across the state will serve drinks concocted by using a base of Virginia-made spirits. (Check out some of these special drinks below).

In Richmond, Rappahannock Restaurant, Comfort, Pasture, Heritage, Mama J’s, McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill, and Maple & Pine at the Quirk Hotel are offering specialty drinks or have a large assortment of Virginia liquor.

How will this special month help distilleries?

“Virginia Spirits Month is a great way to build brand awareness about the range of fabulous spirits that are produced here in the commonwealth,” said VDA President Gareth Moore, who is CEO of Virginia Distillery Co. in Lovingston.

“By partnering with restaurants and mixologists who showcase our products in their cocktails, we’re able to engage with many more consumers than we would at our own tasting rooms and ABC stores. The distillers in the state are confident that as more people are exposed to our products during Virginia Spirits Month, more people will continue to purchase Virginia products at ABC stores and distillery stores.”

A regulatory change went into effect Aug. 1 that allows restaurants and mixed-beverage licensees to directly purchase spirits from Virginia distilleries. This might be the biggest game-changer for distilleries.

“The distilleries get the benefit of restaurants connecting directly with the brands on-site, where they can learn about production processes and the histories of the businesses, leading to greater engagement and ultimately sales,” Moore said.

“Restaurants get the benefit of having direct access to products made locally, including limited availability products or products only sold at distillery stores. Consumers benefit from seeing more and learning more about locally made products in restaurants.”

Two of the local restaurants — McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill in Regency Square and Comfort on West Broad Street — are proponents of the push of state liquors.

McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill, named recently as one of the Best Bourbon Bars in America by The Bourbon Review, carries about 40 Virginia spirits among its staggering total of 2,300 of all brands.

Comfort doesn’t take a one-month-and-done stance when it comes to state liquors. In addition to more than 130 whiskeys, plus others, on its regular menu, Comfort carries a 100 percent Virginia specialty cocktail menu year-round.

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