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Virginia Distillery Tour - Bowman, Copper Fox, Catoctin Creek

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Hey all! I spent a few days in Virginia last month touring various distilleries and treating myself to some excellent pours that I can't get here in PA, so I thought I'd give a brief run-down of my trip with some pics. Now, my palate and overall whiskey knowledge aren't near as developed as I'd like to be so some observations might seem a bit pedestrian, but we all start somewhere.

First off we hit Mt. Vernon and toured George Washington's home and grounds. We had intended to tour the distillery where they are reputed to make a rye whiskey based on Washington's own recipe, but thanks to an extreme downpour and subsequent tornado watch we only managed to taste a sample at the Mt. Vernon Inn Restaurant on the grounds. If you've never been to Mt. Vernon and are interested in sampling their whiskey and maybe having a bite to eat at the restaurant I strongly suggest you make reservations in advance. We were able to get a seat at the bar, but were informed that no food orders were being taken for another 2 hours because they were so backed up. The bar area is small, but the overall ambiance is very comfortable and low-key. There are no televisions and the only music was courtesy of a gentleman in period dress who would weave through the tables playing Revolutionary era tunes on his fife.

The whiskey is expensive. DAMN expensive. To my knowledge the bar is the only area on the grounds where you can sample the whiskey and it's a steep price tag. I believe the unaged rye was in the $30 range for a single pour and the aged was $65. I didn't take notes and my memory is sketchy at best, but I recall the unaged was the best white dog whiskey I've ever tried. The bartender mentioned that most people prefer it over the aged whiskey, but I'm assuming that's because of the price tag and the vast majority of people visiting Mt. Vernon probably aren't coming for the whiskey history.


Next we made our way over to the A. Smith Bowman distillery in Fredericksburg. I just read Harry's post about visiting the distillery which is far more insightful than anything I can put together. This was my first large-scale distillery tour. There was no actual distilling happening on the day of our visit, but it was a worthwhile trip just to stand in the warehouse and breathe it in. If you could figure out how to bottle that smell you could make a fortune... Our tour guide (whose name I can't recall, I apologize), while knowledgeable, was stumped a few times by a small number of enthusiasts on our tour. One question posed was how the degree of barrel char affects the finished product to which she basically answered, "It just does." After the tour we sampled their gin, their single-barrel bourbon, and a caramel liqueur. This distillery had the largest gift shop of any on our trip and my buddy Eric decided to start collecting Glencairns here. They also offered about a half-dozen different barbecue sauces all somehow tied to their spirit production. I'm normally pretty skeptical about gimmicks like this, especially since the products are generally produced off site by at third party, but damn it their Barrel Aged Bourbon Hot Sauce is amazing. I ended up with a bottle of their standard issue Bowman Brothers Bourbon while Eric took home a bottle of the John J. Bowman single barrel.




Later that evening after checking in to our hotel, we made our way over to an Irish pub called Park Lane Tavern in Fredericksburg. While not necessarily a whiskey bar, as in that's what they specialize in, the had a good selection of American whiskey and scotch, many of which I'd never sampled before. They offered flights for, I think, $15 with any three of their American whiskeys so I took the opportunity to try some Michter's rye, Copper Fox rye, and High West Campfire. As we were nosing and sipping our way along like we knew what were doing, the bar manager Wade took notice and gave us a free pour of both Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey and Barterhouse Orphan Barrel that he had tucked away under the bar. That definitely elevated the evening plus the fish & chips and bread pudding were damn fine as well.


The next day we made our way out to Sperryville and the Copper Fox distillery. This one was a little difficult to find as it's quite off the beaten path. Both Apple Maps and Google Maps had trouble finding the actual road that it's on and once you pull up to the distillery proper you can see why. It's a very old-school affair situated in a block of buildings with the vibe of a country farmer's market. Copper Fox was absolutely the most unique of the three distilleries we visited and it had a very cool rustic, cobbled-together sort of atmosphere. For those unfamiliar with Copper Fox's claim to fame, their master distiller Rick Wasmund uses methods found in scotch production to bring some of that heritage to American whiskey. Instead of using peat to smoke their malt, they use applewood and cherrywood and the like. The end result what you might call an American scotch and they advertise their flagship Wasmund's as a single malt whisky. The building has a lot of personality as do the half-dozen employees or so. On our tour production was in full swing, grain was drying (on the floor!), and our tour guide had to stop mid-sentence once or twice to help the other guys as they were transferring spirits from one tank to another. I picked up quite a few interesting bits of trivia such as how Maker's Mark sent them a cease-and-desist because their wax seals were straying to trademark territory. (Copper Fox now "swirls" their seals by hand to prevent the Maker's-style "legs" from forming.) We were also told they lose a larger percentage to the angel's share thanks to their method of aging which involves a progressive series of toasted wood chips being added to their barrels. The Copper Fox labels are very detailed with an age statement, mash bill, and plethora of malting, distilling, and aging notes right out front.





Last up was Catoctin Creek in Purcellville. This distillery specializes in 100% organic rye spirits including several whiskeys as well as a gin, and a selection of brandies in partnership with local wineries. The distillery ages their whiskey off-site and according to our tour guide the location of the warehouse is a secret. Catoctin Creek is committed to being a very "green" business and they source as many of their consumables as possible locally. Their spent mash is given away free to local farmers as cattle feed, they have a solar array on the roof of the distillery that provides almost all of their electricity, and everything that can be recycled and reused is. The building that houses the distillery dates to 1921 and our tour guide was keen to explain in detail that it had been a Buick dealership in its early years followed by housing a cabinet manufacturer. During renovation of the property they discovered a bunch of interesting features including a previously unknown basement, and arched windows that had been drywalled over conveniently dividing their tasting and distilling areas. We sampled their Mosby's Spirit (white dog), and two expressions of Roundstone Rye at 80 and 92 proof. I was all set to buy a bottle of the 92 until I noticed a lone bottle of Cask Strength sitting by the cash register which ended up coming home with me. I should mention Catacotin was the only one of the distilleries we visited to offer tasting notes with their samples.



Lastly we stopped at a roadside BBQ joint near Frederick, MD called Chubby's on our way home because what whiskey tour would be complete without a pile of brisket?


Hope you dig it!














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Thank you for taking the time and for sharing. You aren't the only one who has been surprised by the Copper Fox approach.:cool: Someplace on an upper shelf, I still have about a 1/4 full bottle of his 2nd batch of American single malt "guaranteed less than 90 days old" as I recall. Also, even though ASmith Bowman calls their John J. Bowman a "Single Barrel", its profile from batch to batch is fairly constant. I have never been disappointed with a bottle.

Again, thanks.

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Great write up. I will also agree with you about the bowman hot sauce. I think I am buying a case of it the next time I make it down there.

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Great write up! Glad you enjoyed Virginia and the cool distilleries we have! That Catoctin barrel proof is pretty great stuff!

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