Taking a drive through the Blue Ridge Highlands of Southwest Virginia, I eased into the lush landscape of the Davis Valley Distillery, an operation outlined by grapes used in the business’s longtime winery. The distillery opened in 2011 and has enjoyed rapid growth. Davis Valley Distillery currently produces about 50,000 gallons a year, thanks to the demand of its clientele, including legendary racecar driver Richard Petty, who hires the distillery to make his birthday bourbon.
Spirits Scene: Just off I-81 Exit 54, the Davis Valley Distillery deliciously anchors a 360-acre plot near the famous Appalachian Trail. Inside a large storage and manufacturing house, you can choose to sample liquor from the distillery or head to the winery for a variety (and free tastings) of reds and whites. Owner Rusty Cox, 69, opened the winery in 2000, but his distillery has since become the main business. “Wine goes bad; liquor never does,” Cox says. “We make good round liquor. We’ve got vodka, bourbon, whiskey, corn whiskey, maple whiskey, wheat whiskey and plain moonshine in four flavors: strawberry, cherry, apple and peach.”
Tasting Notes: Standard distillery tastings cost $5 for three, half-ounce samples. Among the choices: The smooth vodka called Frost (80 proof) goes down especially easy. The apple pie-flavored moonshine (40 proof) boasts a delightful mix of cinnamon spice and nutmeg while the 93-proof Owen Cox Heritage Bourbon (named for Rusty Cox’s father) possesses a smoky-oak and bold flavor. Yet my favorite of all is the unforgettable Owen Cox Mountain Maple (60 proof), a handcrafted, bourbon mash whiskey blended with Virginia mountain maple syrup. “It’s got a whiskey front and maple finish,” says distillery tasting room manager Misty Hedrick. “You can make cupcakes with it. You can glaze pork chops with it. You can drink it over ice, or you can mix it with anything.”
Favorite Finds: Rusty Cox’s deadpan humor—and dedication to producing an ever-growing enterprise—always inspires me to visit Davis Valley. But what was most charming? Meeting Frosty the cat. “She works here,” Cox says, as he led a tour of his stills and showed off barrels of bourbon. Frosty’s job? “Mouser.”
Hours and Events: Open year-round on Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; and Sunday, Noon–5 p.m. Closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July.
Davis Valley Distillery, 1167 Davis Valley Rd., Rural Retreat, 276-686-8855, DavisValleyDistillery.com