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 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
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
Appalachian Mountain Spirits has closed in Marion
Source: Google Maps