Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
From Wyatt Earp to Clint Eastwood, Americans love stories of open country, wild ranges, and gun-slingers. The American single malt whiskey industry carries this spirit (pun-intended) of the frontiersman, venturing into the unknown. American single malt whiskey, as of when this review was published, is not yet an official category even though the first American single malt was McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt, which debuted in 1996 from Master Distiller Joe O’Sullivan.
27 years later, the U.S. Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) has finally published a notice to standardize the category with specific requirements, including that the spirit 1) is 100% malted barley, 2) distilled from one distillery, 3) must be mashed, distilled, and matured in the U.S, and 4) the maturation must be done in oak casks.
This definition still gives distillers ample flexibility for innovation. For example, the new definition does not specify if the oak barrel must be virgin, meaning used or new casks can be used, as opposed to bourbon, which must be aged in virgin oak casks. As a result, distillers can age their products in ex-bourbon casks, wine casks, charred American oak, non-charred American oak, etc…, which will hugely affect the flavor of the final product.
Further, the vastness of the U.S. means there are a huge variety of climates, agriculture, and traditions, all of which influence the final products. This combines the advantages of Scotch, which gets much of its flavor from the type of barrel used, and bourbons, which get much of its flavor from the temperature and humidity of the local atmosphere.
Virginia Distillery Co. is one of the pillars of the American single malt category. Founded in 2011 by Dr. George G. Moore, he was native Irishman that had a vision for an American whiskey, but unfortunately passed away before the distillery was complete. His son, Gareth, and wife, Angela, completed the project and now Virginia Distillery Co. describes itself as the “largest, independently owned American single malt whisky distillery in the U.S…” with an annual production of 80,000 4.5L cases.
The distillery is one of the top purveyors of American single malt whiskey, with their Courage & Conviction line seemingly holding more awards than any other distillery in that category.
I had the chance to talk to Gareth Moore at the 2023 Nth Ultimate Whisky and Spirits Experience. A tall man with broad shoulders and a reddish-brown beard, Mr. Moore talked with a quiet intensity showing his knowledge of the whiskey industry and a true passion for his work. He’s also a history buff, which is just awesome.
He talked to me about the joy of marrying the old world and the new, in line with a 2019 interview where he said “I like taking a time-tested Old World tradition and doing it here in the New World … It fits into the American tradition. It’s all the things immigrants bring with them and make better. The biggest difference here is the climate. The temperature swings from summer to winter are greater, causing more expansion and contraction in the casks. The whisky is sucked deeper into the staves than in a milder climate like Scotland or Ireland. That means more flavor here than there and on a faster schedule.”
One of the most recent expressions from this distillery is the Virginia Distillery Co. Scholar’s Craft Coffee Cask Single Malt whiskey. The limited release is an American single malt aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished in barrels that previously held small-batch coffee. This is a marriage of flavors not typically brought together: the leather, chocolate and smoky notes from the malted barley, the caramel from the charred oak, the sweet toffee from the ex-bourbon barrel, and the bitter espresso from the coffee.
At first glance, the mix is worrisome as one flavor could overwhelm the nuances of the others (I was particularly concerned about the bourbon flavor dominating the palate). However, Virginia Distillery Co. succeeds in artfully mixing and balancing the flavor profiles to present at different points in the tasting experience. The result is a whiskey that reviewers are encouraging enthusiasts to grab where they can. The price point of $59.99 is also fairly inexpensive and accessible compared to many other limited release whiskeys.
The whiskey also has the added bonus of contributing toward the distillery’s new Angela H. Moore Women in Distilling scholarship program, providing $100,000 in aid for students at Appalachian State University entering the field of distillation and whisky production. “As a minority in a male-dominated industry, my goal is to grow representation and create opportunities for women in the production of world-class whiskies,” Ms. Moore said in a news release.
Tasting Notes: Virginia Distillery Co.’s Scholar’s Craft Coffee Craft Whisky
Vital Stats: Aged approx. 6 years, 5.5 years in first-fill bourbon barrels and 5 months in coffee casks. 92 proof (46% ABV). ~$59.99
Appearance: Clear yellow with a touch of brown oak, similar to a well oaked chardonnay.
Nose: The coffee aromas fill the nose with the smell of a boutique coffee shop. Heavy aromas of malted barley arise after, manifesting as roasted wheat and iodine. There is no peat, but notes of lapsang souchong tea arise alongside caramel and honey.
Palate: Again, the coffee is readily apparent, but does not overwhelm. It retreats quickly to reveal bitter chocolate, cinnamon, and tobacco. There are light fruit flavors of apricot and blueberry that dance around the body of the whisky with the finish darkening considerably, returning to the coffee flavor.
Whiskey Review: Virginia Distillery Co. Scholar’s Craft Coffee Craft Whisky
A great sipper, the unique blending of coffee, bourbon, and single malt somehow balances classic Scotch flavors and sweeter American bourbon notes. A must for single malt and coffee lovers. If you don’t like coffee, I would recommend their fruit forward Cuvee cask expression. Yet, for the price, this single malt satisfies and has the additional benefit of supporting women’s education in the spirits industry. Well done.
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I am a Portland area attorney whose career has dovetailed with a love of fine spirits and cigars. With no formal training in the field, my own interest spurred a thorough education through books, articles, visits to distilleries all over the United States, and a few deep dives into Wikipedia....