Virginia Distillery Co. and head distiller Ian Thomas and his team must be doing something right.

Using what CEO Gareth Moore calls a unique approach, VDC has produced a whisky that recently won yet another prestigious award.

In a blind-tasting competition, Virginia Distillery’s flagship Virginia Highland Malt Whisky was judged “Best American Single Malt Whisky” at the World Whiskies Awards.

“As a new producer, winning this award has put us on the radar for producers to watch for in the coming years,” Moore said. “It shows a level of sophistication that has been previously assigned to other regions throughout the U.S.”

While waiting for its own whisky to age, VDC imports 6-year-aged whisky from a single-malt producer in Scotland.

“From there, we focus on the finishing component in Virginia: sourcing finishing casks from premium wine producers across the state,” Moore said.

Wine casks? Yes, specifically port barrels from notable wineries, such as King Family Vineyards, Veritas Vineyards, Stinson Vineyards, Horton Vineyards and Michael Shaps Wineworks.

“The port-style barrels add a variety of sensory components to each finish,” said Thomas, who came to VDC after working in Tennessee. “We meticulously work through sensory analyses to find those valuable components and make sure they are not overpowered or hidden, but instead developed and complementary to each other.”

VDC’s Virginia Highland Malt Whisky earned early recognition when Wine Enthusiast magazine gave it a 92-point rating in its annual whisky publication in 2016. It also was awarded a gold medal by the American Craft Spirits Association for 2016 and 2017.

All for good reason. Listen to this description by Thomas:

“In the port finishes, you’ll find notes of caramel and toffee, as well as a very balanced and sweet base malt-whisky, shortly followed by dried red fruits, such as cherry, pomegranate and red-berry. The finish itself is full-bodied, medium-to-long and beautifully balanced.”

Virginia’s weather also plays a role in the flavor profile.

“We use a traditional Scottish single-malt recipe, from the distillate to the types of barrels we use, but we leverage the maturation climate in Virginia to influence the spirit and give it a sense of place,” said Moore, whose father, George, now deceased, started Lovingston-based VDC in 2011.

“The hot summers and cool winters of Virginia — very different from the mild climate of Scotland — allow active interaction between the spirit and the wooden casks, expanding and contracting to develop complex flavors in the whisky.”

Virginia Highland Malt Whisky, available at most ABC stores in the state for $57.49 for a standard-sized bottle (.750 ml), is not the only malt whisky VDC is making. It is also available at the distillery’s visitors center.

  • Nelson County First Responders Single Barrel is a coffee-finished whisky made to honor the firefighters who battled a forest fire and helped save the distillery last fall. It was made after a cask was filled with a cold-brew coffee, the coffee removed and the whisky added to the cask where it remained for 18 months. ($68.59 only at the visitors center.)
  • Cider Barrel Matured Virginia Highland Malt Whisky (cider-finished) is available through ($64.99).

And down the road, maybe three or four years, VDC will release its Virginia Single Malt, made from 100 percent malted barley and aged in former bourbon casks.

Seems a shame to have to wait that long.

Receive daily news emails sent directly to your email inbox

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

— Virginia Distillery Co.

Jack Berninger’s column on spirits and wine appears every other week in the Culture section. Contact him at

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.