Tasting Report: Virginia Spirits Expo 2023

Now in its second year, the Virginia Spirits Expo is expanding to include four different events across the state. I attended the first of these in Charlottesville over the summer where more than two dozen Virginia distillers were on hand to share their labors of love. It was unseasonably warm at Ix Art Park that Saturday, but smartly almost every booth seemed to be offering at least one refreshing cocktail option. As much as I wanted something iced, there was only so much of my palate that I could spare. I was there to taste the unadulterated stuff, after all, and there were over 150 different spirits to choose from. While most distillers were naturally showing off their whiskey – and there was a lot of whiskey, much of it cask strength – I also discovered a smattering of impressive gins and rums, even a notable amaro and agave spirit. Some brief thoughts on most of what I tasted follow.


Deep Creek Distilling Reserve Bourbon – Tasting young and straightforward but exceptionally approachable with pronounced notes of cream corn and toffee and an easy finish. B
Deep Creek Distilling Royall Rye Whiskey – A bourbon and rye blend clearly elevated by the rye with notes of black pepper, mint, and baking spice. Just as approachable as the bourbon with a soft and sweet black tea finish. B+
Filibuster Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon – An impressively well-built bourbon from top to bottom. Caramel and barrel char on the nose give way to a rich palate of orange zest and chocolate sauce followed by an easy, warming finish. A
Five Mile Mountain Aged 105 Rye – Having sampled the unaged 105 Rye many years ago, I found the barrel had created an earthy, almost smoky, aroma while the palate was sweet and spicy with a warm baked bread profile. B
Copper Fox Sassy Rye – A fun and really unique rye with dark cola, licorice, and subtle smoke on the nose. The palate is warming and oily with baking spice and pipe tobacco. Finishes spicy with dark cherry and wood smoke. A-
Copper Fox Peachwood American Single Malt – Another fun expression with a unique stone fruit note on the nose. The sweet, malty palate is rounded and well-spiced with more bright fruit and a well-integrated lacing of smoke. A-
J.H. Bards Toasted Barrel High Rye – Sourced six-year rye finished in a toasted barrel. A mild oak-forward nose with chocolate mint and graham cracker. The palate is gentle and grassy with dried herbs, notably dill, and a honey sweetness. A bit thin on the finish with Honey Grahams and muddled mint. B+
KO Single Barrel Straight Rye – Aged 5 years. Elegant and easy drinking with a soft, mint julep nose and a well-balanced palate of caramel-covered green apple and chocolate mints. KO continues to impress. A
Lost Whiskey Club High Wheat Cask Strength Bourbon – Sourced wheated bourbon from MGP bottled uncut and unfiltered. A luxuriant nose of chewy caramel, buttery toffee, and pralines. The palate is bold but approachable for cask strength with pepper, dark caramels, candy apple, and dry baking spice that transitions nicely to a sweet woodshop finish. Impressive. A
Lost Whiskey Club High Rye Cask Strength Bourbon – Again MGP-sourced, uncut, and unfiltered. The nose is expressive and sweet with rye spice, clove, and dark cherry. A well-balanced palate offers up fruited syrup and peppered bacon before a long, spicy finish of oak, char, and flamed orange peel. A-
Ragged Branch Wheated Bourbon Cowboy Cut – A barrel proof expression of Ragged Branch’s wheated bourbon. Impressively approachable with a doughy aroma of honeybuns and a sweet, rounded palate showcasing butterscotch candies, orange peel, and salted caramel. The finish is warm with pepper, raw honey, and oak. B+
Virginia Distillery Co. Cuvee Single Cask – A familiar one from the folks at Virginia Distillery Co. still bursting with red fruits. Perhaps a darker, deeper raspberry profile than I’ve tasted in other bottlings and seemingly the most easy drinking expression yet. A
Reservoir Grey Ghost Bottled in Bond – Made from a 100% rye mashbill and aged 5 years in an alligator char barrel. The nose is big and fruity with dark berries and licorice. The palate is oily with dark spice and Szechuan pepper before a finish of oak and black cherry. A-

Other Spirits

Virago Madhu Barrel-aged Gin – Virago’s Modern Gin with Oolong Tea matured for 8 months in an ex-Port cum ex-Rum cum ex-Mead barrel. A light and sweet nose packed with exotic spices, green tea, and lemon oil. The palate is silky with sweet lemon and lime peel, coriander, and mild juniper. Finishes pretty and soft with white pepper and star anise. A-
Virago Cognac Cask Rum – A mix of sourced rums aged 7-8 years and finished for 15 months in 30-year-old ex-Remy Martin casks. The nose is dry and elegantly restrained with Bajan brown sugar and grilled tropical fruit notes. The palate is soft with banana, cotton candy, and gentle baking spice before a clean finish of Demerara syrup and clove. A-
Mt. Defiance Extra Anejo Agave Spirit – Distilled from Blue Weber agave and aged for almost 3 years. Vanilla custard on the nose with a mild vegetal edge. The palate is clean with a vanilla bean sweetness and restrained agave notes, warming and round with a creamy, custardy finish. B+
Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin – Still one of my favorite offerings from Catoctin Creek. An expressive aroma of florals and juniper berry gives way to a silky, round palate that’s minty and warming with a licorice finish. A-
Copper Fox Amaro Y Aroyo – An elegant tribute to Averna. Loads of dark spice, dry citrus, and a mildly bittered finish that lingers with black tea and licorice. Impressively-balanced with a restrained sweetness that makes it as ideal for cocktailing as it is for after-dinner sipping. A-
KO Battle Standard 142 Navy Strength Gin – A surprisingly easy drinking navy strength gin with lots of spice on the nose and a big burst of orange citrus on the palate that lingers. There’s juniper in there somewhere. B+

Besides the bevy of impressive craft booze, live bands performed for most of the afternoon, and a variety of food trucks kept me well-fortified for the grueling “work” of spirits sampling. Distillers were able to sell bottles on site (which occasionally led to a bottleneck at some booths), so if you’re planning to shop bring a bottle carrier. Future Virginia Spirts Expos for 2023 will be held in Richmond (September 9), Fairfax City (September 30), and Norfolk (October 14).


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