Vitae Spirits Distillery: Meet Virginia Makers

Vitae Spirits Distillery is a craft distillery in the heart of Charlottesville, Virginia. It was founded by Professor Ian Glomski, a former member of the faculty at the University of Virginia Medical School who specialized in microbiology and infectious diseases. In a fit of mid-life angst, the time came to indulge his long-time interest in beverage alcohol production by applying his scientific training to a more celebratory pursuit. By applying laboratory techniques proffered from the biomedical realm Vitae Spirits develops novel spirits that stand out from their peers with their quality and inventiveness.

If the bulk of the crowd choses one path, we will chose the path less travelled. We see ourselves as leaders, rather than followers. Innovation isn’t born from doing what everyone else does. We prefer to see ourselves as pioneers pushing into the unknown frontier of flavor so that we will always be able to offer our customers something unforgettable.

With this ethos as our guide Vitae Spirits aims to be part of a place; incorporating pieces of our surroundings to make something unique that wouldn’t have existed were it not for the serendipity of all of the components coming together at a unique moment in time. When people think “local” they often focus on the ingredients being raised “x miles away,” and forget about the cultural incubator that defines a locale just as much as the soils, sun, and rainfall. At Vitae Spirits Distillery, we show our Virginia spirit by capturing the one of a kind multifactorial essence of Central Virginia in our spirits.

Here’s a few examples to illustrate what we mean:

The story of Vitae Spirits Golden Rum

Vitae Spirits Distillery is lucky to have Ace Biscuit & Barbeque next door. We regularly hang out at each other’s places, enjoying some scrumptious pulled pork on a house-made biscuit or sipping a cocktail. One day the owner of Ace, Brian Ashcroft, mentioned that he used to use sugar cane as skewers for his kabobs because people could chew on the smoky-sweet stick after they ate the kebab. BING (light above Ian’s head)! Smoky caramelized sugar cane sounded like one heck of a great flavor to try to capture in a spirit. From there, Ian and Brian started a collaboration to grill fresh sugar cane stalks on Ace’s house-made hickory and oak charcoal, which is ultimately infused into our molasses-rum base to make our widely acclaimed Golden Rum. A new type of rum was born from the chance convergence of all the right things being in the right place at the right time in our humble little corner of Virginia.

The story of Vitae Spirits Orange Liqueur

From the second story of Vitae Spirits Distillery, we can see Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Not the house and grounds per se, but the hill that it adorns. Atop that hill lies our third president, and just feet from his grave is a thorny shrub with waxy dark green leaves that produces golf ball-sized yellow fruit each October.
Monticello takes great pride in their historical horticulture, having restored many of the vegetable gardens, orchards, and ornamental plants and trees that Jefferson noted in his extensive journals. Thus, the docents run regular tours through Monticello’s grounds educating visitors about both the biology of plant life as well as their historical context.

One fall day, Ian was on a tour that brought the group down to Jefferson’s gravesite, and there was the shrub with yellow fruit at the peak of ripeness. The shrub was unusual looking for Central Virginia, so he asked the guide what it was. Lo and behold, it was a type of citrus commonly called the Hardy Orange (Citrus trifoliata). It is the only member of the citrus family hardy enough to survive the Virginia winters, and is commonly used as a hedgerow since it poses a significant barrier with its long thorns. Upon tasting, its fruit was shockingly bitter and sour, and there was very little pulp among the seeds, but the aroma of the zest was an enticing resinous fruity musk. BING (light above Ian’s head again)! Aren’t triple sec liqueurs made with a combination of sweet and bitter orange zest?
With a little networking of friends to find enough Hardy Orange trees to supply the zest, Vitae Spirits Distillery was soon filling their still with the zest from the bitter Hardy Orange and the sweet Navel Orange to produce a new type of orange liqueur. It was yet another example of serendipity in Central Virginia; all the pieces came together at the right time in the right place to make something new and special.

The tales above are just a few examples of our world in Central Virginia awash with opportunities for those seeking them. We invite visitors to join us and become part of the creative process. Take a tour, chat with the Vitae staff while tasting a cocktail, buy a bottle, let it sink in, and let us know where our spirits guide you. We consider our tasting room and distillery an open forum. Our customers are who we build our spirits for, so your input on current or future products is a major guiding force to help us focus and refine our spirits into something that pleases both the palate and soul.

Tasting Notes:

Orange Liqueur:
Made with Virginia-grown Hardy Orange, a perfect sipper or compliment to a cocktail that brings citrusy brightness to your mixed beverage creations.

Reminiscent of European anisettes that have relatively high alcohol content with less sugar and a slight touch of citrus, our Anisette carries a brightness that lingers on the palate. Just close your eyes, taste, and envision basking in the sunshine at a café along the Mediterranean.

Platinum Rum:
The simplest expression of the art of distilling. Just Louisianan cane juice molasses, yeast, water, and the loving touch of our distillers. Loaded with caramel, pineapple, and vanilla.

Golden Rum:
Born from a collaboration with the BBQ joint next door, this unique rum is infused with hickory and oak charcoal-grilled fresh sugar cane, yielding a smoky rich rum that pleases both the pallet and eye.

Modern Gin:
A step forward from the classic London Dry gin, our gin is made from premium molasses spirits and is dominated by Virginia-grown herbs, fruit, and spices with a more subtle juniper experience.