The Virginia Distillery Company, makers of Eades Single Malt Whisky, is at this point mostly just land, equipment and a dream. Seven 40-foot tractor-trailers’ worth of equipment and 95 acres of land ringed by mountains with woods and creeks running throughout, all of which will someday be where Chris Allwood, along with partners Joe Hungate and Brian Gray, will distill Scottish-style whisky. More than that, actually, for the dream is to build a visitor’s center, a British pub, events hall, spa, and to hold Scottish-style Highland Games on the premises. But for now it’s just a warehouse sitting on mud and newly seeded earth across the road from a Jehovah’s Witnesses church, down a gravel road near Lovingston in Nelson County where the sound of hunting rifles rings in the air.
Given that a neighbor just happens to have 150 acres of peat on her land in North Garden, perhaps Chris Allwood is right when he says, “Virginia feels like whisky country.”
To Allwood, who hails from the tiny isle of England, those 95 acres are “sacred.” To that end, his plan is to be as local as possible. The man has gone totally native. He’s going to dig a well for local water, grow his own barley, even harvest local peat—about which more presently. The whisky will be named for the road that leads to the distillery and the area where it sits, Eades Hollow. A former restaurateur and ad man, the longtime whisky fanatic also lives nearby. Over coffee at the Basement Bistro in Lovingston he talks about how much he loves it here and wants to support his new community. But local status doesn’t come easy. “The funny thing is nobody knows my name here,” Allwood says. “Everybody calls me The Whisky Guy!”
Scotch is a whisky made in Scotland using only three ingredients: water, yeast, and malted barley. The whole concoction is then aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Allwood will be making single malt whiskies, meaning they are made with a single type of grain at one distillery. Eades will produce six different “expressions” or types of whisky, varying things like the peaty-ness and the aging. And what is peat? It’s compressed, semi-decomposed vegetative matter that can be burned for fuel. When it’s used to dry the barley, it gives whisky a distinctive “peaty” flavor. Given that a neighbor just happens to have 150 acres of peat on her land in North Garden, perhaps Allwood is right when he says, “Virginia feels like whisky country.”
When Allwood first started working on the distillery, he got a call from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They wanted to talk. He went over and met the whole stony-faced congregation, who asked him what exactly he was doing out here.
“We’re going to make whisky,” he said.
“You’re going to make moonshine?”
“No, whisky. Scottish-style whisky.”
Pause. One chap points to another: “He’s going to be your best customer.”
Turns out the Jehovah’s Witnesses love themselves some good Scotch. Looks like soon everybody’s gonna know The Whisky Guy’s name.