I’ve written about Virginia Distillery Co. a few times now, but it continues to be novel to see an American spirits company bring this level of focus (and resources) specifically to the arena of single malt whisky. From their large, beautiful distillery grounds to their reach into more than 20 states at this point, VDC continues to pursue their goal of building the brand into the most recognizable of American single malts. I’ve had a chance to taste a variety of their products over the last few years—the flagship Courage & Conviction, as well as versions matured exclusively in bourbon casks, sherry casks and what the distillery labels as “cuvée casks” and the industry typically terms STR casks. As I wrote about those unique casks previously:
This company’s use of what they dub “cuvée casks” is one of the most interesting things about Virginia Distillery Co., as these particular types of barrels are a newer innovation that hasn’t seen a lot of use in the American market just yet. These are European red wine casks, possibly French oak, which have aged wine before being “re-energized.” They don’t simply get filled with whisky after being dumped—rather, the interior is gently shaved to remove the top layer of wood, before being re-toasted and re-charred. They’re known as STR casks, standing for “shaved, toasted and recharred,” which results in a cask that retains some aspects of the wine barrel, while also being in some ways similar to newly charred, “virgin oak.” It’s an increasingly popular style of cask that is seeing use in the malt whisky industry in particular, so it makes sense that Virginia Distillery Co. would be interested. They typically use about 25% of this whisky in their flagship Courage & Conviction.
One of the only things I haven’t tasted from VDC at this point, though, is cask strength whisky. And that is about to change for some fans, as the company has recently released a new series of “Cuvee Single Cask” selections that are presented at cask strength. Specifically, the company chose seven single casks for this release, the details of which can all be looked up individually on their website. According to the company, bottles “will be released in a rollout of several batches over the comings months,” heading to limited locations in Virginia, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Texas.
This is essentially the same sort of liquid found in the company’s typical Courage & Conviction Cuvee Cask bottles, but presented at a much more robust proof. Whereas the standard Courage & Conviction strength is typically 46% ABV (92 proof), my particular sample from Cask #1253 (Fill date, April 23, 2017) is 59.2% ABV (118.4 proof). Suffice to say, this is a pretty massive jump, especially in the world of American single malt, which are not often found in cask strength expressions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this also results in a big jump in MSRP, from $85 for the standard Courage & Conviction Cuvee Cask, to $150 for the Cuvee Single Cask. Such is the expectation, when it comes to cask strength whisky in 2021, I’m afraid.
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting and see how this much-amplified version of VDC’s whiskey stacks up.
On the nose, this one immediately comes off as very rich and fruit forward. I’m getting sour cherry and chocolate-covered banana at first blush, along with pronounced spicy oak, which is similar to how I’ve perceived these STR barrels in the past—they seem to make the spicy elements of the oak pop with greater intensity. The chocolate notes are quite significant as well, pairing nicely with the barrel spice and a suggestion of salted caramel.
On the palate, this one is very sweet and syrupy, announcing itself as very much “dessert whisky” from the first taste. Bright red fruit syrup leads the charge, with notes of raspberry and strawberry, along with chocolate and coffee cream, into toasted oak. It also brings pretty substantial heat, but that makes sense for the proof point. The flavors are intense and flashy, and I have a feeling that they might make this a “love it or hate it” type of selection. If you find yourself gelling with the fruity intensity and sweetness, this might register as the ultimate after-dinner sort of dram, although it’s probably not the sort of whisky to drink in quantity. At the same time, there are definitely drinkers out there who would find this simply too unbalanced in favor of the bluntly sweet and fruity flavors. Situationally, I think this would be an excellent bottle to break out for guests with specific tastes, but it’s certainly not what I would have someone sample as their first experience with American single malt whisky.
It is, however, an excellent example of the kind of experimentation that Virginia Distillery Co. is continuing to conduct with their STR barrels and array of different aging techniques. If you’ve sampled the company’s Cuvee Casks in the past and found them to your liking, you’ll want to keep an eye out for this much-amplified version.
Distillery: Virginia Distillery Co.
City: Lovingston, VA
Style: American single malt whisky
ABV: 59.2% (118.4 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $150 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.