Friday Five Playlist: October 17, 2014

Why Whisky, Not Whiskey?

Here is the second installment from guest blogger, Phyllis Crosby.

 Anyone who drinks grain-based-spirit knows the answer.  Why are some dark spirits spelled whisky and others whiskey? It’s mostly by tradition, but there are some general guidelines. And of course, there’s history.

The word whisky comes from the Gaelic phrase Uisgi Beatha, or “water of life.” That was shortened to uisge, then evolved into whisky. The Scots have always spelled their national spirit without the “e”. The clever Scots also made hay with prohibition in America and sold lots of spirits to the Yanks. The Irish spelled their spirit with an “e” to differentiate it from the Scots who dominated the market. The Canadians stayed with their strong Scottish heritage and chose no “e” for their often rye-based whiskey. American bourbons and whiskies are always spelled with an “e” except for when they are not. Maker’s Mark, for example uses whisky. (The founder fancied himself a Scot.)

 Although not perfect, here is a general guideline. Whisky is never spelled with an “e” in Scotland, Canada, India or Australia (think Empire). Whiskey is generally spelled with an “e” in the U.S. and Ireland. The ones who really care are the Scots. The idea spelling Scotch whisky with an “e,” is unthinkable. So be careful around that lot.

 So why does the Virginia Distillery Company spell grain-based-spirit without an “e?”  Because VDC is bringing Scottish distilling tradition to their Nelson county distillery to produce authentic single malt, grain-based-spirit.  It just wouldn’t be authentic with an “e.”


Phyllis Crosby is a writer and social media marketer living in Charlottesville, VA  where she sips single malt whiskies on her terrace under the poplar trees.


Tonight’s the night in Richmond. Come by Saison for amazing cocktails with Virginia Highland Malt Whisky!

Tonight’s the night in Richmond. Come by Saison for amazing cocktails with Virginia Highland Malt Whisky!

Guest Blogger Phyllis Crosby Single Malt v. Bourbon Whisk(e)y

Charlottesville whisk(e)y drinker, Phyllis Crosby, starts her day with a taste exploration. Here’s what she found.

7:30 a.m.  The kids left for school and I’m sitting down to work.  Today I’m comparing scotch whisky to bourbon whiskey.  This is scary because I claim to prefer scotch over bourbon.  Will my stated preferences hold up under the pressure of proof?

7:35 a.m.  I have two crystal tumblers, a bottle of Virginia Highland Malt Whisky, and bottle of A Very Nice Bourbon Whiskey (Kentucky Straight Bourbon).  It occurs to me that maybe I should write this post after lunch.  I could always start with the post on rabid squirrels and move onto scotch later in the day.  But squirrels remind me of Kentucky, which reminds me of bourbon, which makes me push ahead with this assignment.

7:38 a.m.  I decide to do a little research. Malt whisky and bourbon whiskey are both grain-based spirits but they differ in significant ways:

Malt Whiskies

  • Can be single malt, vatted malt, or blend
  • Made from malted barley, water and yeast
  • Distilled in batches in copper pot stills
  • Aged in used oak barrels (usually bourbon) for 3 years and 1 day


  • - Must be distilled in the U.S. (not necessarily in Kentucky)
  • - Must be at least 51% CORN
  • - Must be aged in new charred oak casks
  • - Must be aged for at least 2 years

7:52 a.m.  I notice the distinction between MALTED BARLEY and CORN.  Essentially this is the difference between Grape-nuts and Corn Flakes.  I realize I haven’t eaten breakfast.  Corn is a much sweeter grain – will this affect my preference?

7:52 and 30 seconds.  I pour the whisky.  I try to make it a blind taste test but spill bourbon on my clean floors.

Virginia Highland Malt Whisky

  • Sight Test – Copper color
  • Nose Test - Glorious and inviting
  • Taste Test - Extremely smooth.  Could hold in mouth forever.  Forgot spitting bowl so have to swallow.  It tastes like winter nights, a picnic on the beach and sunflowers.  Not really but this is really good scotch.

A Very Nice Bourbon Whiskey

  • Sight Test – Golden color
  • Nose Test – Not trying to be harsh but it smells like paint thinner
  • Taste Test - It is surprisingly silky on the tongue.  It tastes much better than it smells.  Still not very good.  It tastes like chemistry class, an afternoon helping a friend paint his house and a ball peen hammer.  Really.

8:02 a.m.  I start the coffee maker and smile.  I really do prefer a nice malt whisky to bourbon.


Phyllis Crosby is a writer and social media marketer living in Charlottesville, VA  where she sips single malt whiskies on her terrace under the poplar trees.

May’s Cocktail of the Month

Everytime I post a cocktail recipe, someone insists that I’m “ruining” good whisky. More on that later, but for now, I give you May’s Cocktail of the Month:

Pour Virginia Highland Malt into a glass.

Pour Virginia Highland Malt into a glass.

Add ice cube or two.


Shrubs – Who Knew Vinegar Would Make Great Cocktails!

Bartenders are using more exciting, fresh ingredients than ever before and adding tons of flavor. The most basic is sugar or a simple syrup made with sugar water and maybe an herb or fruit infusion.  Combined in a cocktail with sweeter spirits (whiskies, liqueurs, brandies) and fruit juices, the sugar overload can be a bit too much. Enter the shrub.

A shrub is a lesser known cocktail ingredient that combines equal parts fruit, sugar and vinegar. The use of acid, here in the form of vinegar, provides a tart and refreshing counterbalance to a cocktail’s sweeter ingredients, while still conveying delicate fruit and/or spice flavors. Shrubs can be made with almost any type of fruit, whatever sugar you prefer, and a variety of vinegars. You can experiment to find the best combinations. You can also add depth to shrubs by infusing them with complimentary spices such as cinnamon, cardamom or star anise.

One of our favorites that we recently concocted is a pear-allspice shrub. It takes a little time, but it’s definitely worth the wait.

Pear-Allspice Shrub

Combine 2 cups diced pear and 2 cups of sugar in a large airtight container. Mash the pear into the sugar a little and then let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Add 2 cups of apple cider vinegar and 15-20 cracked allspice berries, stir, and return to the fridge for a week, stirring once every day. Strain out the solids using a fine metal strainer or cheesecloth and prepare the delicious cocktail below.

Naturally, we designed with shrub with Virginia Highland Malt in mind. Here’s how to use it for a refreshing springtime drink:

The Highland Pear Crisp

In a highball glass filled halfway with ice cubes, combine:

1.5 oz Virginia Highland Malt Whisky

1.5 oz pear-allspice shrub

Fill the glass with club soda, stir gently to combine and garnish with a lemon twist.

Join VDC and some of the finest mixologists in the Commonwealth all to have fun and help a great cause FeedMore Richmond. FeedMore provides food through it’s food bank, community kitchen and Meals on Wheels.

Join VDC and some of the finest mixologists in the Commonwealth all to have fun and help a great cause FeedMore Richmond. FeedMore provides food through it’s food bank, community kitchen and Meals on Wheels.

Choosing a Wine Finish for Virginia Highland Malt

We at the Virginia Distillery Co. first learned about wine finishes from Bruichladdich Master Distiller, Jim McEwan. Jim, a master with wood and whisky, figured out that a few months in a wine barrel contributed tremendous flavor, color and nuance to whiskies far beyond what simple aging can accomplish.

Based on the way we saw wine finishes transform Scottish single malts, we decided to make wine finishes central to our Virginia Highland Malt — a Highland malt whisky we imported from Scotland. The first decision we made was to choose a fortified wine. After some discussions and tastings, we narrowed it to port-style wines.

A number of Virginia vineyards are making ruby port-style wines with nice flavor profiles. The Norton grape that thrives in Virginia is often part of the wine mix along with the usual port grapes. (They tended to have a similar taste profile except for the King Family port. It is finished in bourbon barrels and has heavy notes of the whiskey. Not what we were looking for but really interesting if you get a chance to try it.)

We wanted to be exceedingly careful about our choice; so we started a test barrel and sampled it weekly. The first sample was pink. Pink like rose. Not what we hoped for, but we stayed the course. Each week the color became more copper and the flavor notes more pronounced — adding berry, tobacco, chocolate and other desirable flavors. After month three Virginia Highland Malt Whisky had the taste of Virginia. Here is the before and after photo.

March Cocktail of the Month

March’s cocktail is named for the Virginia Distillery’s hometown of Lovingston, Virginia. It’s a drink that’s easy to make but with a really complex flavor profile. Enjoy!

The Lovingston Cocktail
2 oz Virginia Highland Malt Whisky
1/2 oz orange blossom honey syrup (equal parts water and honey warmed and stirred to combine, then cooled)
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass and serve up.
February Cocktail of the Month: Virginia is For Lovers
Here’s the drink to make for your Valentine or yourself to enjoy a bit of chocolate, a bit of cherry and lots of Virginia Highland Malt.

In a shaker, combine:
2 oz Virginia Highland Malt Whisky
0.5 oz Creme de Cacao (clear)
0.5 oz Cherry Heering brandy
1 oz heavy cream
1 generous dash Peychaud bitters

Shake ingredients WITHOUT ice for 15 seconds, then add ice and shake vigorously for another 10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a pinch of shaved dark chocolate and a  pinch of fine grain sea salt.