Virago Spirits is a very young craft distillery, opening just two years ago in the hip Scott’s Addition neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia. The distillery was started by three brothers, Barry, Brad, and Bart Haneberg (seriously), with a focus seemingly on anything but whiskey, which is rare for a craft distillery but not exactly unwise given the saturation of craft whiskeys on the shelf today.
Their initial portfolio includes two different sourced rums, a blend of four different stocks, appropriately called Four Port, and, somewhat confusingly, a ruby port cask-finished version of that same rum. The only spirit currently made at Virago is their Experimental Series Gin, which is produced on their beautiful, vintage Charentais-style alembic still (the same style used in Cognac production). It’s fire-engine red, direct-fired, and one of only a few like it operating in the United States. We received samples of all three spirits for review. Let’s check them out.
Virago Four Port Rum – A blend of 4 to 8 year old rums from Barbados, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Panama. The nose is light, candy sweet, and fruity with notes of overripe pineapple, tangerine, and toasted coconut. There’s a bit of Jamaican hogo in the mix and an old leather note that balances out some of the sweetness. The palate is clean and bright with vanilla bean, Samoa cookies, and some subtle dried fruits. It’s not overly complex but nicely balanced with a bit of white pepper heat that lends warmth to the sweet, easy finish. 86 proof. A- / $32
Virago Port Cask-Finished Rum – This is the Four Port blend aged for an unspecified number of months in ruby port casks. The nose is quite different on this one, with a bizarre matchhead note that dominates pretty much everything else. A bit of red fruit finally emerges out of the soot as it opens in the glass. On the palate, the mouthfeel is a bit thicker, syrupy with a winey sweetness. The smoke and ash still dominate from the get-go with a bit of sour black cherry arriving on the mid-palate. The finish yields some tropical and red fruits with a good helping of wood tannins. 80 proof. B- / $40
Virago Experimental Series Modern Gin with Oolong Tea – The blend of botanicals in this gin includes juniper, coriander, Szechuan peppercorn, lemongrass, and oolong tea. The nose is complex and layered with the earthy peppercorns and pine resin giving way to more delicate incense and spice cabinet. It’s elegant and unique. The palate is sweet and creamy, initially citrus forward with orange zest and lemon peel. Those flavors evolve into black licorice candies and a rich herbaceous, dark tea note. The finish loses some of its sweetness and sees a subtle reprise of oily citrus and juniper. 90 proof. B+ / $38