HAMPTON—The third annual Virginia Bourbon Invitational was held at the Historic Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club in Virginia Beach on November 6. Caiseal Beer & Spirits Company was crowned Best Virginia Bourbon of 2021 by a panel of judges that included Erik Owens, President of American Distilling Institute; Ashley Horner, Owner, American Brew; Eric Kozlik, CEO, Modern Bar Car; Larry Ebersold, Former Master Distiller at Seagrams; and Markus Schmidt, Editor of VA Living.
Randy Thomas, owner of The Vanguard Brewpub and Distillery, which makes Caiseal Beer & Spirits, couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. “They invite all Virginia distillers to compete,” said Thomas. “They have others there like Maker’s Mark and Rabbit Hole, but for the competition, only Virginia distilleries can compete. It’s a really nice event. They do it out on the front lawn of the Cavalier. It’s a ticketed event, so we do tastings, sell bottles, and introduce people to our products. You work really hard trying to do this stuff and everyone thinks their product is good, so it’s nice when you get that validation.”
What’s the secret to their success? “We do things a little bit differently,” said Thomas. “We are a brewery and distillery, so all of our whiskey washes are made in the brew house, and we treat them just like beer. We brew the wash in the brew house, then we ferment it with our ale yeast, which is a little bit different. Most distilleries will use a distiller’s yeast or a champagne yeast—something that generates a high alcohol content for the wash. We prefer the flavor profile that we get from the yeast that we use making some of our beers. That’s probably the biggest departure from most distilleries.”
Caiseal Beer & Spirits Company also recently won a gold medal from the American Distilling Institute (ADI) for their aged gin. Thomas feels fortunate to have recently won two substantial awards and is happy with the products they are making, so the public can take comfort in the fact that they don’t have plans at the moment to change up their recipes. However, bourbon drinkers may be seeing a new label soon.
“The recipe is going to stay the same,” said Thomas. “We’ve been very happy with it. It is a four-grain recipe. It’s corn, malted barley, rye, and wheat. However, we recently got a new label approval. We are going into our fourth year, and we now have a lot of our bourbon reaching the three-year mark. So, we’re going to start packaging and shifting all of our products to what I’m referring to as Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It’ll get a new label.”
Participating distilleries in the third annual Virginia Bourbon Invitational included Blue Sky Distillery, Caiseal Beer & Spirits Company, Chesapeake Bay Distillery, Copper Fox Distillery, Deep Creek Distilling, Ironclad Distillery, Jefferson’s Bourbon, KO Distilling, Maker’s Mark, MurLarkey Distilled Spirits, Ragged Branch Distillery, Rabbit Hole Distillery, Reservoir Distillery, Revered Spirits, Tarnished Truth Distilling Company, Three Crosses Distilling, Virago Spirits, and Vitae Spirits.