In good spirits: Bourbon and the Commonwealth of Virginia

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Tom Gale toasts with a glass of Angel's Envy, a spirit rooted in 200 years of bourbon heritage. (Photo Credit: Tim Yantz at Emberlens Photography)
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By Tom Gale

Mark Twain once said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

How true this statement is for bourbon aficionados. Of all the spirits that exist in today’s world, I must admit that bourbon is my favorite, and I have a feeling that I’m not alone.

Louis XIII is a cognac produced by Rémy Martin. (Photo Credit: Tim Yantz at Emberlens Photography)

Bourbon has made a strong comeback in recent years and demand for it does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. In fact, many distilleries throughout the nation are investing heavily in the future of the spirit. The Buffalo Trace Distillery of Frankfort, Kentucky recently announced it is investing $1.2 billion over the next 10 years in facilities and rickhouses for the sole purpose of crafting and aging this fine product. I think it’s safe to say bourbon is here to stay.

At Virtue Feed & Grain in Old Town, we take pride in our selection of spirits. As do most of our fellow restaurants and bars in the area, we have everything from absinthe to Zacapa rum, along with a variety of different types of gin, vodka, tequila and Irish and Scottish whisky – both with and without the “e.” We even stock some handcrafted spirits from the good old Commonwealth of Virginia.

But of all the spirits Virtue offers, we are most proud of our bourbon selection. Not only do we have bourbon, we have some of the most difficult to acquire here in Virginia. Allow me to explain.

Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon can only be purchased in person, not online, at an ABC store.
It is limited to one bottle per person per visit, and that is only when it’s available. (Photo Credit: Tim Yantz at Emberlens Photography)

The Commonwealth of Virginia is what is referred to in the industry as an alcoholic beverage control state. This means that the state is the owner and operator of the business of selling spirits for consumption to the public.

Distilleries, for the most part, deal directly with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority of Virginia. Both private individuals over the age of 21 years and licensees – persons who operate restaurants, bars, etc. – must make their purchases of alcoholic beverages from ABC. I affectionately refer to this as a “blurse,” a blessing and a curse.

The state does a great job of displaying and selling, at a fair price, the items they have, and they operate a number of conveniently located stores throughout the state that are open seven days a week. The staff is friendly and accommodating, and they also offer online ordering for most items. They must be doing something right, because their sales were close to $1 billion last year. That’s a lot of revenue for the state.

Tom Gale, director of operations and bourbon ambassador at Virtue Feed & Grain. (Photo Credit: Tim Yantz at Emberlens Photography)

That’s the blessing. As for the curse, certain limited productions and highly requested items of the bourbon variety are not easy to obtain.

For example, Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon can only be purchased in person, not online, at an ABC store. It is limited to one bottle per person per visit, and that is only when it’s available. Others, such as E. H. Taylor Small Batch and Single Barrel, Old Weller and Angel’s Envy Port Barrel Finished Bourbon, fall under the same rule.

Beyond those, there are even more extremely limited availability items, so limited, in fact, that the state distributes them by lottery. The winners are not given the product, but rather the opportunity to purchase the item within a specific time frame. The amounts available can be anywhere from a couple hundred bottles to 12 or fewer.

Virtue’s bourbon pecan pie is made from scratch with a touch of fine bourbon. (Photo Credit: Tim Yantz at Emberlens Photography)

Just because something is difficult does not mean it is impossible. At Virtue, we are diligent and determined in our efforts to acquire the very best selection of bourbon. We work closely with our local ABC stores and travel to various ABC stores throughout the state in order to have the products our guests request available. Quite literally, we go the extra mile.

And bourbon is not exclusive to cocktails; we also place this fine spirit in one of our most requested desserts, Virtue’s bourbon pecan pie. We make the pie from scratch with a touch of fine bourbon, always under the supervision of Executive Chef Aldo Avilez. A true southern delight for any occasion, many enjoy this treat along with a cup of our artisanal coffee, maybe with a touch of our bourbon cream, after a wonderful meal.

I’ll drink to that. Happy holidays from all of us here at Virtue Feed & Grain.

Tom Gale is director of operations and bourbon ambassador at Virtue Feed & Grain. He invites anyone to stop by Virtue to discuss good spirits.

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