the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park in Big Stone Gap (Wise County) has an exhibit highlighting the heritage of making whiskey
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 Virginia's moonshining past
Source: Belmont Farm Distillery, Virginia Lightning
The expansion of distilleries led to differentiation into 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
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
By 2020, there were nearly 60 distilleries operating in the state, making over 175 different types of whiskey, rum, gin, brandy, vodka, and other spirits. The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority allocated enough shelf space in the state's retail stores to sell products from at least 25 Virginia-based distilleries. Customers at the state ABC stores could also special-order any product distilled in Virginia that was not stocked on the shelf. The state also licensed over 30 distillery stores where the distilleries could sell their products with limited production, such as small-batch bourbons.4
nearly 60 Virginia distilleries, scattered across the Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority regions, produced over 175 products by 2020
Source: Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, Virginia Distilleries
The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 led to an unexpected shift in policy by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. It authorized distilleries to offer curbside pickup, and to deliver alcohol directly to customers within a 10-mile radius of the distillery. The change helped offset the decline of business in tasting rooms, since potential customers were complying with government recommendations to stay at home and maintain "social distancing" from other people.
Home delivery of hard liquor was a service not allowed in Virginia since the state banned liquor production and consumption in 1916, though illegal deliveries of moonshine were still occurring. Starting in 2020, those 45 distilleries that were already authorized to make off-premise shipments to restaurants and stores did not need to obtain an additional permit to deliver up to six bottles/month to individual retail customers.
Unlike breweries and wineries, which could use third-party delivery services such as FedEx or InstaKart, the state agency initially required that distilleries use their own staff to distribute their products. As a result, out-of-state distilleries and neighborhoods outside the 10-mile radius were unable to take advantage of the looser policy. Later, delivery by Federal Express and UPS were authorized.
A co-owner of Tarnished Truth Distilling, based at the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach, made the first delivery in person on May 27, 2020. He commented on the change of a policy which had been in effect for over 100 years:5
Appalachian Mountain Spirits has closed in Marion
Source: Google Maps