Distilleries in Virginia

the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park in Big Stone Gap (Wise County) has an exhibit highlighting the heritage of making whisky
the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park in Big Stone Gap (Wise County) has an exhibit highlighting the heritage of making whisky

In 1935, the Sunset Hills dairy farm in western Fairfax County had plenty of grain, so it opened a distillery in a building that was once the town hall for Wiehle. The building had also housed the Wiehle Methodist Episcopal Church; the steeple was removed when the building was converted into a distillery.

The dairy cows ate the grain after it was used to make "Virginia Gentleman" and "Fairfax County" whiskey; the family claimed it has "the most contented cows in Virginia." Sale of the most of the Bowman farmland in the 1960's for development of Reston forced up land prices and taxes, and in 1988 the A. Smith Bowman distillery relocated to Fredericksburg.1

For years, Bowman operated the only licensed distillery in Virginia. After the General Assembly loosened the laws on farm wineries and allowed them to charge for tastings, the number of wineries in Virginia exploded. Tourism increased in rural areas near major highways, stimulating the economy and generating revenue for local governments.

Based on that model, the state also revised the laws and regulations to spur new distilleries, and by 2014 six craft distilleries were licensed in Virginia. By 2018, the Virginia Tourism Corporation advertised over 20 distilleries in its "Virginia Is For Lovers" site. "White Lightning" products are sold legally, in ABC stores.

> legal liquor is marketed with a nod to Viginia's moonshining past...
legal liquor is marketed with a nod to Virginia's moonshining past
Source: Belmont Farm Distillery, Virginia Lightning

The expansion of distileries led to diiferentiation into different niche markets. Dida's Distillery, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Rappahannock County, chose to make distilled brandy, vodka, and gin from grapes. It advertised its spirits were "Pressed Not Mashed."2

Our aged and clear spirits alike are concentrated expressions of our ultra-premium craft wines: the highest quality grapes are pressed and fermented into intense wines, then small-batch distilled in our custom 100 gallon pot/column hybrid copper still.

As in any industry, some start-ups grow and others fail. Appalachian Mountain Spirits, an artisan distillery, started in Smyth County in 2012. It produced different brands, including 85 proof Virginia Sweetwater Moonshine and 101 proof Shiners’ Gold. War Horse Whisky won a gold medal, two years in a row, at the Great American Distillers Festival.

The distillery announced plans to expand in 2016, but by 2018 the business had closed its store in Marion.3

The "ABC" of Legal Liquor in Virginia

> Appalachian Mountain Spirits has closed in Marion
Appalachian Mountain Spirits has closed in Marion
Source: Google Maps



1. "Visit Us," A. Smith Bowman, http://www.asmithbowman.com/distillery.aspx; "Bowman Distillery 029-5014," Virginia Register of Historic Places, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, 1999 nomination form, (last checked October 22, 2014)
2. Dida's Distillery, http://www.didasdistillery.com/ (last checked June 6, 2018)
3. "VA: Appalachian Mountain Spirits to Expand Distillery, Create 13 Jobs," Trade & Industry Development , August 25, 2016, http://www.tradeandindustrydev.com/industry/food-agriculture-related/news/va-appalachian-mountain-spirits-expand-distillery-11991; "Sampling Virginia moonshine at its source," Washington Post, March 19, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/marion-va-and-the-magic-in-the-moonshine/2015/03/19/7a84ca82-bc48-11e4-8668-4e7ba8439ca6_story.html (last checked June 6, 2018)

Virginia and Alcohol
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