In partnership with Virginia Distillery Co.
Not only is Courage & Conviction the most awarded American Single Malt in the world, it’s also part of a growing category of whisky that’s exciting to both spirits enthusiasts and everyday consumers who want to taste something new and a little different (and delicious).
You could buy a bottle — that’s easy enough to do through Virginia Distillery Company’s own website. But if it’s so good, why not purchase and age an entire cask for your own?
You can do that, thanks to Cask Society.
Once you join Cask Society, you’ll be able to select a specific cask type from VDC’s premium stock of casks from around the world, including Bourbon, Sherry and STR Red Wine Cuvée casks. They’ll fill your cask with their world-class distillate for maturation in the distillery’s cask houses. And then you’ll wait a few years (probably between three and seven) to get to the point where you can bottle the bespoke fruits — well, spirits — of your labor.
But there’s so much more to the process, as this writer discovered earlier this fall when I went down to Virginia to pick out a cask, part of an upcoming collaboration between Courage & Conviction and InsideHook.
First, let me say this: If you’re going to watch the leaves change color, there’s no better place to do so than in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. And there’s no better way to experience that autumnal glory than from a helicopter. And that’s how I was transported from Charlottesville — a cool college town with some real four-star dining — to the Virginia Distillery Co. in Lovingston, VA.
Now, you don’t have to take a helicopter to engage with Cask Society, but it’s certainly an ideal way to experience this unique private cask ownership program. However you arrive, the good news is that the C&C folks are not just flying you in and out. While itineraries may change depending on where you’re coming from and your schedule, the distillery makes cask selection a truly elevated experience.
You’ll receive a whisky cocktail and food pairing created by the Visitor Center’s culinary team upon your arrival. From there, you might get a tour of the facilities (including a whisky museum), have an interactive adventure (we got to fill a few casks), enjoy lunch and hit up the cask house, where you could taste something straight from a barrel (which involves a drill, which is always fun).
At some point, you’ll sit down with Amanda Beckwith, VDC’s Lead Blender, to begin the fun process of picking out your whisky. We should note that you can start the process from early on or do what we did and pick a barrel that’s already filled, matured and closer to being ready for bottling and consumption (we’re admittedly impatient).
Beckwith provided us with several (aged) samples and walked us through the selection process. We ended up choosing a Cuvée barrel, a 100% malted barley whisky matured in specialty Cuvée red wine casks. These casks undergo “STR” treatment, meaning “Shave, Toast, Re-char.” This process releases beautiful sugars and aromas from the wine casks, along with additional caramel, toffee and vanilla flavors.
“Cuvée casks, known in the industry as STR casks, were pioneered by the late Dr. Jim Swan,” says Beckwith. “In its simplest definition, this process consists of shaving, re-toasting and briefly charring used barrels before they get their second life aging whisky. The particular Cuvée cask selected by you came from a bodega in Spain and held Garnacha wine before the inner staves were shaved a few millimeters, toasted and given a level one char before aging our new-make American Single Malt for six years.”
Overall, the experience was highly memorable — it doesn’t hurt that the Courage & Conviction team is made up of some of the most knowledgeable and kindest people we’ve met in the industry. They’re truly like a family…and that makes sense, given that family was and is certainly part of the inspiration for the distillery starting a cask ownership program.
“Our private cask program was inspired by my mother buying my dad a cask of Aberlour,” Gareth Moore, Virginia Distillery Co.’s CEO, told us back in the spring after our first visit to Lovingston. “It was timed to be 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.”
Done with your pick? You’re leaving your cask in good hands. The distillery’s sensory team will monitor the development of your whisky over the near future and you’ll be able to sample the progression of your whisky at various points during maturation. When you’re ready to bottle, just let the distillery know and they’ll help you with bottling and fulfilling shipment through an authorized retailer.
As for our barrel: We have big plans for a Courage & Conviction / InsideHook bottle that you’ll be able to try in the very near future (hopefully in 2024), which will be our first collaborative whisky project. If the barrel ages the way it should, our single cask should represent the best of both Virginia Distillery Co. and also showcase the full potential of American Single Malts.
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