Virginia Distillers Association - September is Virginia Spirits Month

September is Virginia Spirits Month, and there’s no better time to celebrate the rich history and diverse range of spirits that make Virginia unique.

Let’s face it, Kentucky captures a lot of distilled spirits and bourbon headlines but when it comes down to it check your history, Kentucky was part of Virginia in the early days of the creation of bourbon.

Virginia: The Birthplace of the American Spirits Industry

Virginia holds a rich history when it comes to spirits; It’s the birthplace of the American spirits industry, home to the Prohibition Era “Moonshine Capital of the World” – Franklin County – and the home of the “father of bourbon,” Elijah Craig. Born in Orange County, Virginia, Craig was the first to age whiskey in new charred oak barrels at his distillery in Fayette County, Virginia which is now Scott County, Kentucky.

‘Birthplace of Bourbon’ Historical Marker

Fayette County, Virginia now Scott County, Kentucky.

Birthplace of Bourbon - Rev. Elijah Craig First Distilled Bourbon Whiskey on this Site in 1789
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“The Rev. Elijah Craig, Founder of “Craig’s Classical School”, first distilled Bourbon whiskey on this site in 1789. A pioneer from Virginia, the Rev. Craig set up his grain mill and used the fine limestone water of Royal Spring to develop the first sour mash process in the production of bourbon.

“The Rev. Craig is also noted as the founder of the city of Georgetown and operated the first fulling mill and paper mill west of the Allegheny Mountains.”

In Craig’s day, this area was part of Fayette County, Virginia which is now Scott County, Kentucky. This sign was erected in 1967 by The Bourbon Institute.

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Still looking for more proof that Virginia is the birthplace of the American spirits industry? In a letter dated December 19, 1620, George Thorpe reassures his business partner John Smyth that he and his fellow colonists remain healthy, despite widespread and largely accurate reports of high mortality both for Virginia’s Englishmen as a whole and for those who have settled at Berkeley Hundred. Some historians have suggested that the “soe good drinke of Indian corne” Thorpe mentions may have been the colony’s, and perhaps America’s, first batch of whiskey.

Here is the highlighted part. “…And wee haue found a waie to make soe good drinke of Indian corne as I [pro]test I haue diuers times refused to drinke good stronge Englishe beare and chosen to drinke that.”

If you still need more convincing, then you should visit the George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill at Mount Vernon where distilling takes place as it did more than 225 year ago. Yes, George Washington, the first president of the United States, owned and operated a distillery. His distillery was the biggest producer of Virginia whiskey during his time. The distillery site was part of a multi-year excavation project that began in 2005. The distillery was rebuilt as close as possible to its original specifications, including woodfired pot stills, and started distilling again in 2007. It is now open for tours during limited times of the year.

Celebrating Virginia Spirits Month

Virginia Distillers Association - Virginia Spirits Month pouring some Virginia Whiskey
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The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) has partnered with the Virginia Spirits Board and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) in celebrating September as Virginia Spirits Month.

In celebration of this special month, Virginia ABC and the Virginia Spirits Board present the Virginia Spirits Sale-A-Bration. This month-long sale features a 20% discount on more than 150 Virginia-made spirits, including bourbon, moonshine, gin, vodka, and ready-to-drink cocktails.

This designation also recognizes the commonwealth’s rich history of spirits and spotlights more than 100 licensed distilleries that call the state home.

“Virginia-made spirits are earning national and global recognition,” said CEO Travis Hill. “Virginia ABC is proud to support the present and future of distilling in the commonwealth.”

Virginia is the Birthplace of American Spirits. In 1620, during the early Jamestown settlement days, George Thorpe – after being introduced to corn by the regional indigenous people – used the crop in place of barley to distill the first batch of American whiskey. George Washington, the first president of the United States, went on to become the biggest producer of Virginia whiskey during his time.

“Virginia distillers have a very close relationship with the state’s agricultural and forestry industries. From purchasing grains and fruits from local producers, providing spent mash to farmers for feed and fertilizer, to purchasing barrel wood components that originate from Virginia’s forests, these industries play an important role in the production of Virginia distilled spirits,” said VDACS Commissioner Joseph Guthrie.

Virginia’s distilled spirits industry is a major contributor to the commonwealth’s economy. In 2017, the industry maintained nearly 1,500 full time jobs and had an economic impact of more than $163 million. Virginia distilleries have also become popular agritourism destinations as they attract thousands of visitors each year.

Virginia distillers’ source more than 70% of their ingredients from Virginia farms, including corn, wheat, barley, rye, potatoes, and fruits. Distillers in the state also source finishing components such as new barrels and bottles or used cider, wine, and beer barrels.

Virginia Distillers Association - The Virginia Spirits Trail, Explore Together
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“We are proud to celebrate the Commonwealth’s rich history of spirits production during Virginia Spirits Month alongside Virginia ABC and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services,” said Jack Gorman, executive director of the Virginia Spirits Board Marketing Office. “We are excited to spread the word about all of Virginia’s craft distillers and the quality products they make. As a bonus this year, the Virginia Spirits Board invites spirits fans to join in on the new Virginia Spirits Passport by checking in at each participating distillery they visit.”

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View all Virginia Spirits Trail distilleries.
View all Virginia Distilleries.

Virginia - The Birthplace of American Spirits, Trail map
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Click the map to see an interactive map with all Virginia distilleries.

Letter Source: Library of Congress American Memory. Original Author: George Thorpe. Letter Source: Susan Myra Kingsbury, ed., The Records of the Virginia Company of London (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1933), 3:418.

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