Virginia Distillery Co. reached a milestone recently with the release of Prelude: Courage & Conviction, the first single malt whisky made entirely at the distillery in Lovingston, Virginia. Up until this point, each release was a blend of the distillery’s own young single malt and sourced stocks from Scotland. Prelude won’t be a permanent addition to the portfolio, however. As the name implies, it’s just the beginning, a sneak peak of the eventual flagship brand Courage & Conviction. Prelude is only three years old, but drinks older owing to the differences in climate between Virginia’s hill country and Scotland. It’s aged in a mix of casks, mostly ex-bourbon with a smaller amount of sherry (oloroso, Pedro Ximenz, and fino) and cuvée wine casks. Let’s dive in!
The nose on this one is burly and rich with roasted malt and doughy pastry notes. It’s quite unlike the more delicate blends of in-house and sourced whisky that have comprised many of Virginia Distillery Co.’s previous releases. As it opens, Honey Grahams arrive, along with a bright sherry note, sultanas, some powdered sugar, and sweet oak. The palate returns somewhat to the distillery’s classic, subtler flavor profile but with a more generous, syrupy mouthfeel. Toasted malts, arboreal honey, and toffee pudding form the backbone while the occasional dried fruit and barrel spice note emerges here and there. The finish is medium-length, a little drying, and gently warming with honey candies and slivered almonds.
While it’s not uncommon for craft distilleries to release small, early runs of a future flagship product for their fans, the only difference is typically age. In this instance, Courage & Conviction will likely be distinctly different from its younger predecessor. That’s because there’s very little of the cuvée cask in Prelude, but Courage & Conviction, when it releases in spring of 2020, will be a whopping 25% cuvée cask, as well as a full year older. On a recent visit to the distillery, I was actually able to taste from one of the cuvée casks, and it was remarkable stuff, sweet and rich with big dark berry notes. That component and a little more barrel time could really elevate this single malt from its already very respectable debut.