Inherited Vision: The Secret to America’s Most Awarded Single Malt Distillery

How Courage & Conviction became an award-winning global whisky brand

June 15, 2023 9:31 am
Inherited Vision: The Secret to America’s Most Awarded Single Malt Distillery
Virginia Distillery Co.

In partnership with Virginia Distillery Co.

The Virginia Distillery Co. was founded in 2011 by Dr. George G. Moore. In a little over a decade, the Lovingston, VA, distillery had garnered hundreds of awards, including Distillery of the Year and Whisky of the Year designations from the 2023 London Spirits Competition, which honored the company’s flagship line of American Single Malts, dubbed Courage & Conviction

In the burgeoning world of American Single Malt whiskey, VDC is considered a thought leader and visionary. But interestingly, that vision took an unexpected turn early in the company’s launch — Dr. Moore unexpectedly passed away in 2013.

And from that fraught moment, it was up to the family to decide whether to continue the dream of Dr. Moore, a native Irishman who came to the U.S. in the 1970s and launched a successful business career before exploring his passion for whisky.

“We were just talking about that recently because it was 10 years since my father passed,” Gareth Moore, Virginia Distillery Co.’s CEO, tells me during a Zoom call in late May. “So it’s been a time to reflect. I remember him as a single malt enthusiast. We’d go over to Scotland and visit distilleries. He wanted the distillery to be his retirement project. He wanted to bring single malts to Virginia.”

Virginia Distillery Co. headquarters in Lovingston, VA.
Virginia Distillery Co.

When Dr. Moore passed in 2013, Gareth hadn’t been involved in the distillery. At all. “I had never been on site,” he says. “But I got down there and they were really far along with the construction. But even then, it took me a couple of months to grasp the scope of this project. It actually wasn’t a hobby or a retirement project. It was a real business. And that’s when I made a commitment to see the project through to fruition.” 

It helped that Gareth’s family was and is part of what VDC calls its “inherited vision.” His mother, Angela, is the company’s Chairwoman. His wife Maggie serves as the Chief Experience Officer. Together — and with the early help of whisky industry legend Dr. Jim Swan — the Moores and the VDC team finished construction on the distillery, located about an hour west of Charlottesville. And even then, with the stills up and running, they still had to wait several years for the whiskey to mature.

“It’s a challenging industry, more so than people think,” says Gareth. “But we have this poster in the corporate office and it says, “Think big, think positive.’ If you don’t think you’re going to achieve something, you’re probably not going to, right? It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. But we wanted to create a world-class product and a world-class brand. That takes a lot of time.”

But given the parent company’s name, this isn’t a “local” brand. As of today, the Virginia Distillery Co. is the largest independently-owned American Single Malt distillery in the U.S. While the company certainly makes use of its location — the dynamic climate provides ideal conditions for whisky maturation — this is a distillery that thinks far outside of its Blue Ridge Mountain locality. 

“It’s all really an American thing, isn’t it?” asks Gareth. “My dad was bringing single malts, his passion, to Virginia. But he wasn’t trying to copy the old world. We were giving it a sense of place. A big part of his plan, and ours, is to achieve something nationwide. I actually don’t think my father would think of himself as a Virginia success story. He came here on scholarship, made it big, and then decided to do something else after that. It’s an American success story.”

Virginia Distillery Co. CEO Gareth Moore.
Virginia Distillery Co.

It’s an ambitious goal and one that Gareth, Angela and Maggie (and the entire VDC team) have greatly expanded upon in recent times. This year alone, VDC announced three big initiatives that should not only cement the distillery’s reputation within the American whisky industry (FYI, they use “whisky” instead of “whiskey”) but also greatly expand its stature. The first of which is called Cask Society, a membership program for whisky enthusiasts to dive into private cask ownership of a bespoke American Single Malt, utilizing the distillery’s first-fill Bourbon, STR Red Wine Cuvee and Spanish Sherry casks.

That program actually has a family tale as well. “That was inspired by my mother buying my dad a cask of Aberlour,” says Gareth. “It was timed to ready for the Millennium. The distillery would send samples every year, and my father was a big fan of that. It just seemed natural that this would be part of our founding story. If that distillery hadn’t had this back in 1982, I’m not sure my father’s passion for single malts would have been to the same extent.” To that end, Cask Society will also provide samples as well as member-only experiences for cask owners.

As part of bringing all American Single Malts forward, VDC is introducing the ASM Academy, an online educational course centered around the burgeoning whisky category. The video series covers all aspects of whisky production and is designed for consumers, retailers, distributors and trade members alike. 

“Education on the category has been a big initiative for Amanda Beckwith, our lead blender,” says Gareth. “This isn’t Scotch, this isn’t bourbon. And with ASM Academy, we can go beyond that and talk about the category in a high-level way.”

A look inside Virginia Distillery Co.
Virginia Distillery Co.

And finally, there’s Courage Club, a three-tiered program for whisky fans to gain access to exclusive and new releases and purchase select whiskies from VDC’s growing library (coming soon: Double Cask Reserve and Visionary expressions), while also having priority for events and happenings at the distillery. As well, membership will include quarterly bottle shipments and various discounts; it’ll be free to sign up and quarterly cost will depend on membership tier and quarterly whisky inclusions. 

“That’s the one I’m most excited about,” says Gareth. “It’s a way for whisky fans to get together. It’s great when you find someone really connected with the distillery and who loves the juice and wants to be part of something bigger.”

So while VDC’s vision was inherited, it’s been the rest of the Moore family — and the extended family at the distillery — that’s seen that vision through and greatly expanded upon what Dr. Moore imagined back in 2011. 

This brings us to the name of Virginia Distillery Co.’s whisky itself: Courage & Conviction. It’s taken from a saying that Dr. Moore was fond of using, and it’s definitely not another whisky brand’s tall tale (“No, no, it’s true, we even have video of him saying it,” says Gareth). 

That saying — “Have the courage of your convictions” — still serves as the distillery’s credo and core principle. “We had already been putting it on the batch stickers for our early VHW releases,” says Gareth. “And when we were trying to come up with a name for this American Single Malt, the second someone said it aloud, we were all like, yeah, that’s it. That’s the name. That’s what we are all about.” 

Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky, 2023 London Spirits Competition’s Distillery of the Year and Whisky of the Year.
Virginia Distillery Co.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.