Photos by Nick Davis
Joining the bustling row of urban eateries, office spaces and craft beverage joints that line Richmond’s Scott’s Addition is Virago Spirits, a must-try, rustic distillery owned by brothers Barry, Barton and Brad Haneberg. The newest Virginia distillery advances the flavors and methodologies of regional spirits by combining old-world techniques with modern ingenuity.
The Hanebergs had longed to open a family-owned business and Brad’s 30 years of homebrewing experience gave them a leg-up in the spirits industry. Recognizing Richmond as an incubator for craft beverages, Barry and Barton joined Brad and his wife, Vicki, in the Commonwealth’s capital as the four arduously researched distilling techniques, scoured for premium production equipment and served as understudies for various Richmond distillers to gain knowledge of the trade. “If there’s a book, we read it. If there’s a course, we probably took it,” explains Barry.
While Virago’s public tasting room is not set to open until late summer, the 11,000-square-foot facility on Rhoadmiller Street began production in May. Virago’s first release, Four-Port Rum, is a sweet and fiery blend of pot- and column-distilled rums from Barbados, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Panama. The blend, aged up to eight years, combines subtle flavors of dried coconut, pineapple and fig with smooth notes of vanilla and leather and underlying spices to create a lingering, smoky finish.
“Four-Port Rum straddles the divide of a British-style rum—which tends to be a little spicier and more whiskey-like—and the softer, sweeter Spanish-style rum,” explains Barry. “[It is] a great middle point and can be used to make great cocktails, or be enjoyed on its own.”
Four-Port Rum will be available for purchase through a special order catalog at Virginia ABC stores beginning July 1. The $32 bottle will also be sold at Virago’s distillery store.
Coming late summer is Virago’s first gin, followed by a port-barrel rum in the fall. The Hanebergs also have plans to distill fruit-based brandies made from locally sourced produce, eau-de-vies, herbal spirits and liqueurs.
Virago’s commitment to serve classically inspired and creatively interpreted spirits is made possible by its unique distillation process. The Hanebergs purchased a 150-year-old gas fired still previously used by Hardy Cognac in Cognac, France. The 2,500-liter, Charentais-style alembic still allows the Hanebergs to craft spirits with more intricate and prominent flavor profiles.
“Our distillation process is intentionally laborious and requires significant patience, skill and attention to detail, with a single distillation lasting upwards of 13 hours,” says Barry. “Just as direct-fire heating adds layers of depth and complexity of flavor, slow distillation maximizes our ability to separate alcohols and retain flavor.”
Plans for the tasting room and its unique offerings will be released later this summer.
Virago Spirits is located at 1727 Rhoadmiller St., Richmond. For more information about the Virago team and its products, visit ViragoSpirits.com