American malt whisky is long past the novelty stage, and Virginia Distillery proves that American ingenuity can take old-world traditions to new heights. Virginia Distillery Company was the dream of the late Irish-American business magnate Dr. George G. Moore. Emigrating to Virginia in the 1970s, George was a successful bi-continental businessman with a passion for malt whisky. He started the distillery in 2011 in Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, sadly passing away just two years later. The distillery continues under the leadership of his wife, Angela, their son, Gareth, and his wife, Maggie.
Released between 2020 and 2021, I finally had an opportunity to sample the four core expressions that make up the Courage & Conviction line- Flagship, Cuvée Cask, Bourbon Cask, and Sherry Cask. My first impressions were mixed, but as an intrepid taster, I gave them a second look- and, my, what a difference a day makes. Initially, I mainly focused on the youthfulness of the whiskies. Touted as being aged “a minimum of three years,” the same minimum length required for even the most basic Scotch, they exhibited many of the same hallmarks- malty and brash, with intense individual flavors competing for attention. At 46% ABV, there was room for dilution, so I added a dash of quality water. No surprise- the whiskeys blossomed!
However, I wasn’t ready to walk away. Despite my experience, I recognize that my opinions are personal and subjective, so I try to tread lightly, especially if it’s something I dislike. I waited a day and returned, and I’m so glad I did!
My second approach resulted in a thoroughly revamped opinion. The youthfulness was still prevalent, but I experienced a significant improvement in balance. Whether it was air contact and bottle rest or simply having a different mindset, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The whiskies are made of 100% malted barley, all non-chill filtered, and all clocking in at 92 proof (46% ABV). While each has unique flavor attributes, a prominent theme connects the expressions. These single malt whiskies have intense aromas; my first thought was “perfumed.” They’re also undeniably youthful, and my primary recommendation is to allow for extended maturation. Longer aging would meld the individual flavors and catapult these whiskies into the stratosphere.
Courage & Conviction Bourbon Cask:
The palest of the four, it looks almost like chardonnay in the glass. Aged in ex-fill Kentucky bourbon casks, the nose leads with familiar aromas of caramel and toffee, with a strong backing of loamy earth and “floral shop.” Hints of lemon pastry, green apples, and raw almonds lead to a medicinal background. Much less hot than the Flagship, it has a creamy mouthfeel opening into malty cereal, marshmallow, honey, and lemon icing. The finish is interesting- it starts fat but dries out into a long “zing” with notes of candied pineapple, black pepper, ginger, and dried apricots. This has the most unexpected flavor pattern of them all. (PS- This is my absolute favorite!!!)
Courage & Conviction Sherry Cask:
Pouring pale amber, the impact of Spanish Fino, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks on the nose is immediately familiar, along with winter spice, fig newtons, cooked grains, leather, and hints of candied yams. It has a fat and oily mouthfeel- round and mildly warm. Roasted pecans lead into baked figs and raisins, milk chocolate, toasted wheat bread, and caramel cake. The finish is luxurious, with sherry overtones leading into winter spice, warm caramel, dried fruit, leather, and pipe tobacco.
Courage & Conviction Cuvée Cask:
Darkest of them all from aging in ex-red wine casks that have been shaved, re-toasted, and re-charred, this whisky is also the mildest in aroma. It shows subtle notes of iced carrot cake, tart cherry juice, cedar, banana pudding, and oak, followed by distant red wine. Fat and round on the palate, a pleasing earthiness, like baked plantains, leads to malted chocolate milk and strawberry pie flavors backed by leather, cranberry sauce, coffee, and burnt brown sugar. The finish is moderately long and still fat, with lingering notes of leather, red fruits, malty cereal, barrel spice, and, finally, oak.
Courage & Conviction Flagship:
A blend of all three expressions with 50% Bourbon Cask, 25% Sherry Cask and 25% Cuvée Cask. The color is pale gold- really quite pretty! Like each of its components, the aroma is intense. This expression exhibits bold notes of gooey candies- caramel, vanilla chews, and nougat leading to toffee and marzipan. Hints of red berries and orchard fruits peek through, with a distant touch of orange peel, turpentine (not offensive), and malt. On the tongue, mild heat and a slight oiliness lead to more vanilla, toffee, and cooked cereal. There’s also a mild fruitiness, followed by hazelnut, custard, cocoa, and powdered sugar. The finish is long and warm, with lingering notes of chocolate-covered orange slices, more caramel, and a hint of baked pie crust.
Despite my initial response to these whiskies, I highly recommend them, especially if you like youthfully zesty malts with unique flavor patterns. If you do, I recommend giving your glass some breathing/resting time and swirling well to release all those unique aromas!