by Lee Graves
From the snowcapped heights of Ben Nevis to the enduring insights of poet Robert Burns, Scotland’s charms have captured the hearts of many men.
Chris Allwood is among them. A native of Yorkshire in England, he has devoted decades to sampling and learning about fine Scotch whisky. Now the seeds of that passion are bearing fruit in Nelson County.
Allwood and two business partners — Brian Gray and Joe Hungate — are developing a distillery and barley fields on about 95 acres in a spot off U.S. 29 called Eades Hollow. Their dream is to produce a line of single-malt whiskies, but you’ll find the Eades name on “anticipation” double malts already on shelves in Virginia and six other states.
The three Eades blends — Speyside, Highland and Islay — drew a crowd to the Beer Run restaurant in Charlottesville in March for a sampling. “The nose is quite different from the palate on the Highland,” said Brendan O’Neill, vice president of investor relations, as he poured thimble-size samples of the amber-colored whisky.
Capturing the complexities of fine malt whisky is what Eades and its parent, The Virginia Distillery Co., are all about. “These are wonderful, very diverse, complex, well-balanced drinks that are not for quaffing down like beer or cheap wine,” says Allwood. “These are to be treated with respect, to be savored and explored. Whenever we do a tasting, that’s the angle we come from.”
Single-malt whiskies such as Glenfiddich, Lagavulin and Glenmorangie are prized, in part, for how their character reflects local ingredients and methods. Eades’ “anticipation” series, developed and produced in Scotland, blends two single malts from a specific region. The Highland, for example, contains 85 percent Ben Nevis and 15 percent Clynelish single malts. Bourbon barrels and wine casks are used in the maturing process.
Allwood anticipates selling 900 to 1,000 12-bottle cases in eight states during the coming year. Two of the whiskies earned “exceptional” ratings in blind tastings last year by the Beverage Tasting Institute.
While the “anticipation” blends are produced in Scotland, the envisioned single malts, to be aged a minimum of five years, will be distilled in Nelson County in stills imported from Scotland. Look for the first batch in 2015.
Producing these whiskies fulfills a dream that dates to Allwood’s first taste of fine whisky years ago. After a marketing photo shoot in Japan for duty-free spirits, he ended up with several leftover bottles of various single malts. “I couldn’t believe how smooth and complex they were,” Allwood recalls. “That was it. I was sold on the stuff.”
You won’t find any Scotch single malts among the top 50 spirits sold in Virginia. The entire Scotch whisky category, which includes blended products such as Dewar’s and Johnnie Walker, accounted for only 3.8 percent of the 2008 market share, according to the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
But those who have acquired a taste for the nuances of single malts are willing to pay top dollar. A bottle of 25-year-old Macallan, from the venerable Speyside distillery, lists for $659.95 (the 12-year goes for $52.95).
By definition, Scotch whisky (be careful not to spell it “whiskey”) is a spirit at least 40 percent alcohol by volume made from a mash of cereals matured in an oak cask in Scotland for a minimum of three years. Blended whiskies combine spirits from more than one distillery and can use grains other than barley. A single malt comes from a single distillery that uses only malted barley.
Scotland’s whisky tourism organization, ScotlandWhisky, reports that more than 1 million tourists visited distilleries in 2008, up 12 percent from 2007.
Johnnie Walker: The world’s best-selling Scotch whisky. A blended whisky with numerous brands, begun in Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1820. http://us.johnniewalker.com
The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich: The world’s best-selling single-malt Scotch whiskies. Both are Speyside distilleries (in the northeastern region of Scotland around the River Spey and Strathspey). http://www.theglenlivet.com and http://www.glenfiddich.com.
Whisky tastings often are a part of Scottish festivals, such as the Williamsburg Scottish Festival, Oct. 2-4 (http://www.wsfonline.org), and the former Richmond Highland Games and Celtic Festival, now the Meadow Highland Games and Celtic Festival, Oct. 24-25 (http://www.richmondceltic.com).
For a schedule of Eades Whisky tastings, go to http://www.eadeswhisky.com.