In good spirits: Ragged Branch is ready to pour

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Ragged Branch owner Alex Toomy runs a two-part operation at his southern Ivy distillery: bottling bourbon and raising cattle. The Black Angus cows feed on a mash mixture post-distillation, resulting in beef that pairs well with, go figure, straight bourbon whiskey. Photos: Jen Fariello Ragged Branch owner Alex Toomy runs a two-part operation at his southern Ivy distillery: bottling bourbon and raising cattle. The Black Angus cows feed on a mash mixture post-distillation, resulting in beef that pairs well with, go figure, straight bourbon whiskey. Photos: Jen Fariello

On a picturesque, 92-acre hillside ranch in southern Ivy, native Virginian Alex Toomy and two partners have launched an enterprise centered on a perfect pairing: bourbon and beef. Craft distillery Ragged Branch, now open for business after five years of preparation and two more of whiskey-aging, is poised to make its mark on the Virginia spirits industry with time-honored distilling practices using only locally sourced raw ingredients.

“I feel really good about what we’re making,” says Toomy, a real estate developer who has directed large local projects such as The Rocks, Ragged Mountain Farm and Old Ballard Farm. While his partners live in other parts of the country, Toomy directs the on-site activity as he carves a unique path in the Virginia bourbon business. “I’m a strong believer in not caring what anybody else is doing, I’m going to do it right.”

To do it right, Toomy first learned from a master. “I met with Dave Pickerell [former master distiller of Maker’s Mark] in Kentucky to get his advice,” says Toomy. “We talked for four hours, and I could hardly write fast enough to get it all down.” It was Pickerell who convinced Toomy to jump-start the business by producing the first batches in smaller (25-gallon) barrels, to age and sell after two years while the larger barrels continued aging for four. Pickerell now serves as Ragged Branch’s consultant and master distiller, selecting barrels to blend before bottling.

The distillery offers two varieties of Virginia straight bourbon whiskey—wheated and rye—with a straight rye also in the pipeline. Every part of the process is environmentally sustainable. All of the crops are harvested from their own land and a neighboring 800-acre tract leased by the distillery. One large cornfield grows on the ranch right next to the rickhouse where filled barrels are stored. “We grind all of our grain fresh every day,” says Josh Toomy, Alex’s son and graduate of Virginia Tech’s agriculture program, who oversees the day-to-day distilling. “Our water flows from a deep well, and it’s filtered multiple times through deionizers before being used to dilute the alcohol and then recycled as coolant in the cooker.”

The industry is taking notice. In April, Ragged Branch was given a state Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development grant for sourcing all of its grain from Virginia producers and creating new jobs in the industry and, in October, its rye will be featured as a Virginia ABC Chairman’s Choice product. The tasting room in the main house overlooking the distillery is perfect for parties and receptions, complete with an open kitchen, chef on staff and a wide porch with Blue Ridge views for sitting and sipping. Ragged Branch will hit local ABC stores in October.


A side of beef

Alex Toomy grew up riding cutting horses on his father’s 200-acre cattle ranch near Fishersville, so it’s no surprise that Bourbon Beef is also on offer at Ragged Branch. Toomy’s own Black Angus are kept on land leased nearby, plus a dozen finishing steers on fields at Ragged Branch. The cattle are fed a mash mixture derived from the distillation process after the alcohol is vaporized. “It’s like corn oatmeal,” says Toomy. “It has rye and wheat in it as well, and it’s 20 percent protein.” Mixed with hay and a little rolled corn, the feed gives the resultant beef a distinctive rich flavor and smooth texture. Fresh ground beef and a variety of prime steak cuts can be purchased from the distillery store daily.

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