Considering the frankly absurd length and detail that went into our guide to every single one of the almost 40 breweries in the greater Richmond, Virginia area, it seems almost inevitable that I would eventually get around to doing the same for the distilled spirits scene. Thankfully for my poor, aching fingers, there’s nowhere near 40 distilleries in the greater Richmond area … merely 9 of them! Despite that, these local distillers have crafted a genuinely eclectic lineup of small-batch spirits, some sourced and some distilled and aged in Virginia itself, across a wide range of styles.
That’s right, folks—Richmond is home to excellent producers of everything from vodka and gin to grappa, limoncello, bourbon, rye and Caribbean-style rum, and nearly all of them have a tasting room or cocktail bar where one can stop in to sample the wares.
To keep this guide significantly more simple than our craft brewery guide, I’ll divide these distilleries into only two groups: Those inside Richmond proper, and those in the surrounding RVA area. We’ll run through the specialities of each of these distilleries, and what they offer at their tasting rooms. They’re all presented below in alphabetical order.
These companies specifically fall within Richmond city itself, and range in style from moonshine and vodka to rum, whiskey and more gin than you’ll likely know what to do with.
One of Richmond’s best known and most widely available distilleries is also one of its most eclectic and unusual for the genre. As the name would imply, Belle Isle focuses exclusively on moonshine, although you can find the rare aged example that could likely be legally labeled as “whiskey.” Still, the name of the game here is almost entirely flavored moonshines, the most popular of which is no doubt Belle Isle’s Honey Habanero, which sounds significantly more fiery than it actually is. A variety of fruit flavors are also available, as are fanciful creations such as “Peppermint Patty” or “Lemon Lavender” moonshine. They also sell a wide array of canned cocktails and cocktail kits featuring their moonshine.
Belle Isle is also unusual in the sense that it’s not really built around a public tasting room experience unlike many small distilleries, nor do they really advertise visits to their Manchester production facility. Should you go, however, you’ll find a small bar where a Belle Isle employee will be more than happy to provide samples of their product lineup. One wonders if the company will someday open up a more visitor-focused space in the area, but in the meantime one gets the sense that the vast majority of Belle Isle’s product flows through local bars and the Virginia ABC.
Notable spirits: Honey Habanero Moonshine, Blood Orange Moonshine
Richmond really is home to some unusually specific distilleries—not many cities this size can boast a distillery that only specializes in moonshine, or only specializes in vodka, but RVA has both. Cirrus Vodka in particular specializes just in potato vodka, which they claim is superior to grain-based vodkas, possessing a “sweet, creamier flavor.” They sell their vodka alongside a variety of cocktail kits and various accoutrements that include shrubs, bloody mary mixes, and jars of pickled carrots.
Cirrus Vodka’s friendly tasting room pours a variety of vodka-based cocktails, several of which are available bottled to go, and also has the advantage of being located in the same building as Richmond’s Main Line Brewery. Obviously, this makes for a convenient, combined visit to both brewery and distillery.
Notable spirits: Cirrus Vodka (duh)
There’s no shortage of local gin in the Richmond area, but James River Distillery might be the local company that has most focused on gin as a specialty, producing not one or two but three different gin styles, in the form of their Commonwealth, Continental, and UA Navy gins. As the names might imply, the first is more of a modern/New Western gin, while the latter is your classic London Dry and the third is a stronger navy-style gin. In general, James River Distillery has focused on these sorts of clear spirits, although in a bevy of styles—they’re also known for being the area’s only producer of caraway-flavored Scandinavian Aquavit, as well as their collaboration vodka with the metal band GWAR. They even produce a pot still rum, in the form of Jackson & James Rum, but don’t currently put any of their products into oak.
James River Distillery does operate a tasting room, albeit one that doesn’t seem to have been in service recently, but their products are available for online purchase/pickup, and via the Virginia ABC.
Notable spirits: Commonwealth Gin, Continental Gin, Øster Vit
Most Richmond-based distilleries are not whiskey focused, but Reservoir is the exception to the rule, as whiskey is in fact all they do. They operate with an almost Canadian-inspired system of distilling mashes composed from single grains, meaning that they sell a local bourbon that is 100% corn, a 100% rye whiskey, and a 100% wheat whiskey. They’re then able to blend their proprietary corn, rye and wheat whiskeys in order to create entirely new products, which range from the affordable Hunter & Scott Bourbon and Rye, to the luxe “Holland” series of limited whiskey releases, which see secondary aging in various casks, including local Richmond beer barrels and rum barrels.
Many of those products can be sampled by visiting the distillery’s tasting room in Scott’s Addition. You might even get a chance to try some of Reservoir’s most experimental dalliances, such as the beers from various local breweries that they’ve distilled and aged. Certainly, of all the local RVA distilleries, this is likely the one most invested in the intricacies of blending.
Notable spirits: Reservoir Bourbon, Holland’s Ghost, Hunter & Scott Rye
This is a very small distilling operation, with a tasting room located inside Richmond’s beloved Bombolini pasta shop, which is really more than enough of a reason to stop by all on its own—grab some dried pasta, sauce and wine, and taste the spirits while you’re there. Trial and Error specializes in both classic Italian spirits and lightly aged spirits of other styles, varying from rum, to gin, to even malt whiskey.
The pasta shop makes their choice to produce both grappa and limoncello seem quite apropos, but their rum exploration simultaneously ranges from silver and lightly aged gold rum, to spiced rum and bottles of rum infused with orange, lime, grapefruit and lemon. At the same time, there’s also multiple varieties of gin, as well as a malt whiskey that seems to be rounding into form over time. All in all, the distillery can boast a significantly more varied product lineup than you’d probably expect from their very humble setup.
Notable spirits: American Grappa, Limoncello, infused rums
There’s a handful of Richmond-area rum producers, but none that specialize in the tropical spirit anywhere to the degree of Virago, where rum is the heart and soul of the business. Their flagship Four Port is a delicious (and surprisingly affordable) blend of sourced Caribbean rums that can compete against anything on the shelf, while one can also taste the distillery’s own funk-forward distillate via the unaged 151 proof rum, a perfect extra punch for tiki cocktails. Further rums include variants of Four Port that are finished in port or sherry casks. In addition to rum, however, Virago also has a passion for gin, as they produce both a modern gin with oolong tea, and a proudly ruby hibiscus gin.
All of Virago’s spirits, including a few additional liqueurs (chocolate and coffee) can be sampled from the distillery’s beautiful attached tasting room, which offers full cocktail service in addition to spirits tastings and bottle sales, ensconced in murals from Richmond’s HerrSuite. The attractive tasting room is one of the most alluring aspects about Virago as a brand, as the seasonally updated cocktail list frequently makes for a compelling argument in favor of leaving with a bottle of their rum or gin.
Local rum fans continue to patiently wait for Virago’s owned aged rums and brandies to arrive.
Notable spirits: Four Port Rum, Virago Rum 151, Kali Hibiscus Gin
These distilleries aren’t located in Richmond proper, but instead in the smaller towns that surround it. You can consider them to be the extended family members of the RVA distilling community.
Located west of Richmond in Maidens, Virginia, Hilltop Distillery is quite close to the nearby Courthouse Creek Cider, which makes for a very convenient double feature of both hard cider and spirits. Focusing primarily on moonshine, whiskey and flavored spirits, Hilltop Distillery has the feeling of a younger company still getting its feet beneath it, but their bourbon continues to age and mature every day. They offer a variety of whiskeys, matured in both newly charred white oak casks and re-used bourbon barrels, along with a popular line of “Gooch Hooch” flavored moonshines that refer to Goochland County.
The distillery tasting room is small but homey, with an outdoor area and picnic tables where one can enjoy a few cocktails and mixed drinks. It will be interesting to see how their whiskey in particular continues to evolve in the coming years.
Notable spirits: Gooch Hooch Moonshine, Hilltop Vodka, Hilltop Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Sleepy Fox is located in the small tourist town of Ashland, north of Richmond, and has existed in tandem with several other local businesses over the years. Most recently, local BBQ restaurant chain Salty Pig Smokehouse moved into the Ashland location in December of 2021, giving Sleepy Fox a new partner in the process. As a result, this location now features an array of sandwiches and beer taps in addition to the spirits.
As for the liquor, Sleepy Fox primarily specializes in whiskey and a large array of flavored moonshines. Clear moonshines are available at a respectable 90 proof and bracing 150 proof, while flavored moonshine varieties such as apple pie, cherry, peach and cinnamon are instead a very approachable 40 proof. Sleepy Fox also produces straight bourbon whiskey, with their pride and joy being the single barrel Ole Fox Bourbon expression, which clocks in at 110 proof. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be widely distributed via the Virginia ABC, so visiting in person is the most likely way of trying these spirits for yourself.
Notable spirits: Flavored moonshines, Ole Fox Bourbon
Like the earlier mentioned Reservoir, Three Crosses Distilling Co. is a whiskey-focused distillery defined largely by their iconoclastic approach to production, as they’re specializing in a product distinctly unlike most everything else on the market. The flagship Three Crosses American Whiskey is for all intents and purposes bourbon, but the fact that it’s pot distilled rather than column distilled, and then aged in a solera system rather than individual newly charred barrels, makes for an entirely different outcome. That whiskey is available at both 80 proof and a barrel proof of 114, but it’s just the start for this lineup, which also features house-distilled (not sourced!) rye whiskey, pot still rum, vodka and modern American gin.
The Three Crosses taproom, meanwhile, is a lovely little bar in Powhatan, Virginia, with a solid lunch menu, where visitors are free to sample to their heart’s content, or try the company’s spirits within a range of cocktails and mixed drinks. It makes for a pleasant weekend excursion, especially when combined with some of the plentiful hiking trails on the west side of Richmond.
Notable spirits: Three Crosses Whiskey, Noble Hound Rye, Crossed Rifles Rum
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.