Spirit Of The Week: ‘Courage & Conviction Double Cask Reserve’ American Single Malt

Virginia Distillery Company just dropped another stellar single malt whisky.

(Virginia Distillery Company)

“Something that seemed to set us apart from day one was the fact that our team recognizes and honors the why’ behind tradition, and then says, ‘How can we adapt and improve this?'” Amanda Beckwith says as we sit in Culver City’s Citizen Public Market while tasting her various wares.

One of the Virginia Distillery Company’s core practices, its Lead Blender tells us, is taking the very best of the old world Scotch-making traditions and adapting them to the modern environment.

“A great example is that by having a strong foundation when it comes to producing a high quality and consistent distillate, we’re able to focus on a truly unique maturation program that embraces primary maturation in casks that would more typically be seen as short-term finishing casks,” she adds, nodding to the trio of premier woods VDC is known for: first-fill bourbon, sherry and STR European red wine cuvée. 

Founded in 2011 by the late Dr. George Moore, VDC has from inception focused on crafting exceptional American single malt whiskies. The Irish immigrant built his distillery deep in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and poured the first white dog from his copper pot stills—hammered by hand in Scotland—in the autumn of 2015. 

After years of aging in the above-mentioned trio of excellent casks the first VDC whisky hit shelves in 2020, blending all three for their “Courage & Conviction Signature Malt.”

Along with the likes of Balcones, Few, Westland, Westward and four others, VDC co-founded the American Single Malt Whisky Commission (ASMWC) in 2016 to both protect the ASM category and help define its parameters. After years of red tape, the Commission scored a big W last spring when the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) finally formerly opened a query to recognize the wildly experimental whiskey category. 

“Out of all categories of whisky, single malts truly embody a sense of place,” continues the charming Lead Blender. “With ‘single’ literally referring to the whisky being produced at a single location, there are so many distinct [Virginia] touchpoints that make an impact on our whisky.” 

(Virginia Distillery Company)

She goes on to list locally grown two-row spring barley, blessed by Blue Ridge Mountain soil rich in nitrogen, and fresh soft water sourced from springs under the distillery. Beyond its firsthand effect on the flavor of the whisky during proofing, she underscores how the low minerality and neutral character impacts fermentation and its consequential flavor notes.

But more than anything else, Beckwith credits the “dynamic Virginia climate” for its massive impact on VDC’s delicious whisky. VDC ages their juice in two large metal-clad rickhouses which have witnessed wild temperature swings with highs hitting 108 Fahrenheit, and lows of minus 4. Compared to much milder Scottish climates that see angel’s share loss of around 1% per year, Beckwith says VDC loses on average 3 to 6 times more every year, with some angel’s share as high as 12%.

“It’s exciting to see so much depth of aroma and flavor being achieved so quickly, but the loss from the cask truly highlights that we aren’t operating on a level playing field.”

The results have spoken for themselves, however, as VDC racked up countless Gold medals, 1st Place Best of Shows, and other awards since launch. At this year’s London Spirits Competition VDC nabbed “Distillery Of The Year” and its Courage & Conviction Signature Malt won “Whisky Of The Year”—monumental achievements for an American distillery deep behind UK borders.

“We are certainly not the first or the oldest American single malt,” VDC Head of Advocacy Jenny Wren adds during our lunch, “but we are the most awarded.” 

(Virginia Distillery Company)

This autumn the team releases a Double Cask Reserve bottle which for the first time blends only two of the three casks to create a subtle new flavor profile from the VDC cupboard. For this limited edition blend Beckwith, who trained under the tutelage of legendary whiskeymaker Jim Swan, used a 55/45 ratio of first-fill bourbon to red wine cuvée to balance between barrel spice and rich fruit notes, only selecting casks that had aged a minimum of five years (one more than core Courage & Conviction line). She then made “a very slow” months-long blend and reduction until the whisky reached its 48% ABV bottling strength.

“As a blender I’m always excited to create new flavor profiles that tell a story, demonstrate complexity, and pair well with food,” Beckwith explains. “Double Cask Reserve is what one of our distillers termed his milk and cookies whisky.” 

As we sip the Double Cask Reserve in the warm LA afternoon, Beckwith highlights aromas of bright citrus, apricot, and butterscotch. On the palate, tart cherry mingles with milk chocolate, leading into a soft and lingering ginger spice finish. 

“A dram of this whisky neat has become my go-to dessert of late,” she says as we take a long, luxurious sip. “But it does pair beautifully with a fresh baked chewy molasses cookie.” $110

Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stetcher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday.