Travel Log: Cocktail Lessons, Whisky-Infused Chocolates and More at Virginia Distillery
In March, this writer spent a few days in Virginia as a guest of Virginia Distillery. We were there to taste the latest whisky from the American Single Malt brand: VHW Scholar’s Craft Coffee Cask. To read about the new whisky, our thoughts on it and Virginia Distillery’s new $100,000 scholarship for Appalachian State University students studying fermentation sciences, click here. To read our official review of the whisky, click here. If you’re interested in the rest of our trip, which included a cocktail class and delectable chocolate-and-whisky pairing session, read on.
Day 1: Arrival and Dinner
On Wednesday evening, I flew into Charlottesville, a quaint, charming college town. I stepped off the plane and was outside of the tiny airport less than two minutes later. I rode to the hotel in an Uber — a Kia Forte that smelled like cigarettes and played exclusively early Justin Bieber hits.
After checking into the hotel, I got ready for dinner and then headed down to the lobby and met the rest of the group — three other writers, a sizable group of PR folks and Virginia Distillery employees, cocktail expert Melissa Markert and New York-based chocolatier Milène Jardine.
From the hotel, we took a short walk over to Maya, a Southern-style restaurant that was serving cocktails made with Virginia Distillery single malts. I ordered the Blood & Sand: Virginia Distillery Courage & Conviction Sherry Cask mixed with Cherry Heering liqueur, sweet vermouth and orange juice. After that, I enjoyed a spectacular Manhattan made with the Courage & Conviction Sherry Cask along with dinner.
Our table shared pimento cheese fritters, roasted heirloom carrots and braised pork belly to start, and I went with the mushroom risotto served with pink peppercorn whipped goat cheese on yeasted cornbread for my entrée, with a side of shaved Brussels sprouts.
After dinner, we had a drink at a nearby dive and then walked back to the hotel to rest up.
Day 2: Whisky and Cocktails and Chocolate, Oh My!
On Thursday morning, we met in the lobby and shuttled over to the distillery. First, we embarked on a tour of the distillery, which I’ll walk you through with some photos:
After the tour, we headed back to the visitors center for a quick lunch out on the courtyard. We then witnessed the distillery present a $100,000 check to representatives from the Fermentation Sciences program at Appalachian State University for its scholarship fund. Next, we tasted the new Virginia Distillery Scholar’s Craft Coffee Cask American single malt whisky. To read about the scholarship fund and the new whisky, including our experience tasting it, click here.
A Mixology Lesson From a Pro
After the tasting, we went inside and sat down for a mixology lesson with cocktail expert Melissa Markert, a former bartender at The Dead Rabbit and Katana Kitten, a pair of highly regarded New York City cocktail bars.
With Markert’s guidance, we made two cocktails that she built around the Virginia Distillery Scholar’s Craft Coffee Cask. Since Virginia Distillery is a women-owned and largely women-led operation, the cocktails were named after two female pioneers.
The first cocktail was the Jane’s Good Call, named after innovative primatologist Jane Goodall, who is a big whisky fan. Markert incorporated banana liqueur into the recipe as an ode to Goodall’s pioneering research on primates, who famously love bananas.
For the Jane’s Good Call, we mixed the whisky with Amaro Nonino, banana liqueur and white vermouth and stirred all the ingredients together before pouring the concoction over ice. It was a solid, sweet cocktail. The coffee influence of the whisky mixed nicely with the banana, and the amaro added a different, welcome dimension to the drink.
The second cocktail, the Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait was named after renowned Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The coffee-cask-finished whisky is a fitting spirit to use in a drink named after Kahlo, who was famously a coffee lover.
To make the Frida Kahlo’s Self Portrait, we mixed the Scholar’s Cask with cinnamon syrup, lemon juice, mole bitters and Current Cassis (a blackcurrant liqueur). Since the rule of thumb is to shake cocktails whose ingredients include a juice and stir those that don’t, we shook this one, giving it a nice texture, and then double-strained it into the glass.
Both cocktails were nice, but the second was the clear winner. The Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait is a complex drink, with the cinnamon, coffee and lemon flavors complementing one another. Markert did well as an instructor, and it was cool to see the technique of a bartending pro up close.
The Final Dinner and Pairing Whisky With Chocolate
For dinner on our final night in Charlottesville, we ate in a private room in C&O, a French restaurant. I ordered Ricotta Gnocchi to start and Pan Seared Scottish Salmon with herb hollandaise, potato puree, wild mushrooms and asparagus for my entrée. The food was great, but the highlight came after dinner.
Jardine guided us through a whisky-chocolate pairing that consisted of four truffles, each infused with a different single malt whisky from Virginia Distillery’s core collection, Courage & Conviction, which it is meant to be paired with.
The signature malt truffle is a 70% dark chocolate ganache infused with Courage & Conviction. The Bourbon Cask Truffle is made with orange and ginger, pairing very well with the bright, fruit-forward whisky. The Cuvée Cask Truffle is a raspberry truffle, and the Sherry Cask Truffle is a hazelnut chocolate.
All of the truffles were of extraordinary quality and exquisitely paired with their whisky partners. Four-packs containing one of each truffle are available from the Virginia Distillery website for $18. Tasting these alongside each of their accompanying whiskies is a great experience that I’d highly recommend. If you buy the truffles and a four-pack of the whiskies (priced at $27.99 here), you can recreate the experience for yourself (or give it as a gift — Mother’s Day is coming up!).
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and departed the next day.
All in all, it was a great trip. We enjoyed excellent whiskies, delicious food and good company. If you’re ever in the Charlotteville area, the distillery is certainly worth a visit.
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