Virginia’s Distilling Heritage
Virginia Colonist George Thorpe distills the first batch of American corn whiskey at Berkeley Plantation, an estate situated along the banks of the James River, modernly known as Charles City. Establishing Virginia as the Birthplace of American Spirits, Thorpe documents his accomplishment in a letter to John Smyth dated December 19, 1620.
George Washington's distillery at Mount Vernon produces nearly 11,000 gallons, making it one of the largest whiskey distilleries in America at the time.
Scottish and Irish immigrants bring to America their recipes for “uisce beatha,” (Gaelic for “water of life”). The settlers make their whiskey without aging it, laying the groundwork for the same recipe that would become traditional in the Appalachian area.
More than 3,600 distilleries are operating in the state of Virginia alone, according to census records. In a country of 7 million people, distilleries are becoming very common in early America.
The Civil War witnesses the destruction of many distilleries in the South. At the same time, the Confederacy passes prohibition laws, forcing southerners to give their whiskey up so that it could be used for medicinal purposes in the Confederate Army.
The Prohibition Era begins with the implementation of the 18th Amendment, which bans the production, sale and import of alcoholic beverages. Although this amendment was repealed 13 years later, the consequences of this law – including increased violence and organized crime, financial loss and more – would continue to challenge the spirits industry for decades to follow.
Virginia Spirits Today
Though historical events like the Civil War and the Prohibition Era deeply challenged the spirits industry, they also engendered distillers to organize themselves to advocate for the interests and concerns of the spirits industry. It is due to these passionate arms and individuals that more than five dozen distilleries across the Commonwealth are able to thrive today.
Offering Experiences for Everyone
From Bourbon and Whiskey to Vodka, Gin and everything in between, Virginia’s spirits industry is as diverse as the Commonwealth itself.
Spanning the Commonwealth
Wherever you are in Virginia, you'll find a community of distilleries making small-batch, craft spirits in every region: Central Virginia, Coastal Virginia, Northern Virginia, Southern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Shenandoah Valley and Virginia Mountains.
Crafting Spaces for Discovery
As distillers across the Commonwealth continue to produce world-class spirits, many have created spaces for curious community members and travelers to gather and learn about the storied tradition of spirits making in Virginia. Distillery tours, tasting rooms, events and more offer unique opportunities to learn about a craft deeply rooted in Virginia tradition.