One of the most exciting developments in the world of spirits during the last decade was the emergence of American malt whiskey. Distilled from malted barley, like Scottish single malts, but with a flavor all its own, distilleries began producing malt whiskey everywhere from the Hudson Valley to the Pacific Northwest. The 2020s promise a great leap forward both in the number of American distilleries making malt whiskey and the quality of the product. And with onerous tariffs looming on the horizon for Scotch whisky, American malts look to be downright practical as well.
One of our favorite American malt whiskey distilleries is also one of the most idiosyncratic. Virginia Distillery Company launched in 2011, combining malt whiskey made in their own distillery in Virginia, using 100% American malted barley, with malt whisky from the Highlands of Scotland. To add another dimension to the final product, they finish the blend in casks from local producers of beer, wine, and cider.
The bottle which you’ll find in this month’s package, Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky (note the Scottish-style spelling which loses the “e”), is, after distilling and aging, finished in port-style wine casks predominantly sourced from Virginia. You’ll smell the port influence even before you’ve taken a sip, with fig, raisin and dates coming through on the nose. You’ll taste that fruitiness as well, with the drier cereal notes of the whiskey coming to the fore as it hits the back of the tongue. The finish is long and velvety, with just enough bite to remind you that you’re drinking a 92-proof spirit.
This whiskey (or “whisky,” your pick) is an excellent sipper, but it makes a terrific cocktail as well. Try it in an Old Fashioned with your new Crafthouse Double Old Fashioned glass — just muddle a sugar cube, a few dashes of cocktail bitters, and a splash of water at the bottom of the glass, and then add two ounces of Virginia Distillery Company’s Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky, a large ice cube, and stir. If you’re feeling ambitious, add a twist of orange peel (or one of your Dardiman’s Orange Crisps) and a cocktail cherry. It also works great in a Perfect Rob Roy, with a couple dashes of bitters and equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, using about a 4:1 ratio of vermouth to whiskey. Or you can combine it with the enclosed Fever-Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale and some ice for a libation we like to call “Whiskey A L’Orange.”
If you aren’t familiar with the category, this is a great introduction to American malt whiskey. And if you already know it and love it, here’s an exciting addition to your spiritous arsenal. You’re going to be hearing a lot, both about the brand and the category, in the coming years, so consider this bottle a little primer to give you a head start.