The Holladay House Bed & Breakfast
Orange’s Edible Food Fest: “Celebrating Food From Earth To Table” on August 9th 22 Jul 2014, 8:15 am
At last year’s Edible Food Fest I discovered that I love goat cheese. Previously I’d been unimpressed (and rather revolted, frankly) by the grocery-store variety, so I was initially dubious about trying it. Still, you can’t claim to love cheese without being willing to sample every variety, so I reached for a Romano-laden toothpick and gingerly nibbled off the edge. And, that quickly, I was hooked. There was just something special about it. Maybe it was the simple, straightforward way it was presented, or maybe it was just that it was amazing, flavorful hard cheese, straight from the brine. Regardless, it was mouthwateringly good: strong, salty, and pungent. Needless to say, I took home a package—and a business card, so I could reorder.
This seems to be a common experience of many who have flocked to the Edible Food Fest during the past two years. Whether it’s a homemade granola, a locally made cider, or a line of jams and jellies, most people find something new and exciting they want to take home and talk about. Also extremely popular are the chef demonstration tents (they’ve added a second one this year!) which late-comers find to be standing-room-only.
The fest is a great chance to meet fellow foodies and get a hands-on look at some of the best local, organic, and homemade offerings the area is producing. Among the vendors this year: Plantation Peanuts of Wakefield, Bees n’ Blossoms (raw honey), Croftburn Market (meats), Spring Mill Farm (goat cheese), Wildwood’s Hickory Syrup, and Family Ties and Pies.
Located within walking distance of the festival, the Holladay House is the perfect place to stay if you’re planning to attend this year. If you book two nights with us, we’ll even sweeten the deal and provide free admission to the fest.
Orange’s Edible Food Fest is scheduled for August 9, 2014, and will be open 10AM—6PM. See complete schedules and vendor lists at ediblefest.com.
Hops & Chops 2014 19 Jul 2014, 12:06 pm
Like fastidious cooks everywhere, the “Chef-In-Chief” of Holladay House’s annual Hops & Chops couldn’t help but regard the food with a critical eye. However, judging by the enthusiastic response (and the scarcity of leftovers!) at the July 5th event, innkeeper Sam was alone in his severe evaluation of his own cooking. The general consensus: 2014′s edition hit the mark yet again.
The family-style dinner went off without a hitch. Conversation flowed throughout the evening, the food selections were well-received, and the festivities wrapped up just in time for guests to venture out for fireworks.
The “chops” for this year were “cider-brined pork rib chops with dried cherries and apple chips.” Rounding out the menu were fresh vegetables from local gardens, such as “spicy honey-lime radish slaw” “just-picked cucumbers in a yogurt and fresh dill sauce” and an assortment of freshly baked breads – Sharon baked them “from scratch” and the aroma delighted everyone in the house! Wrapping things up were several types of dessert, including a blueberry cheesecake and Sharon’s freshly-baked “amazing all-american apple pie”.
Diners also enjoyed the beer selections, “hops”, complementing each course. All the beers were carefully selected to pair with the flavors of the meal, and all were craft microbrews from Virginia. Of special note was the Hardywood Park Cream Ale from Richmond, VA, picked for its distinctly American origins. Cream Ale has a long history in America. Until the late 19th century, British-style ales and porters dominated the US beer market. Then, in the mid 19th century, German immigrants began to arrive in larger numbers, bringing with them a tradition of their own: lager-brewing. Lager quickly became popular, forcing British-style ale makers to up their game. Their answer to the lager-craze was an all-new beverage, unique to America: cream ale. According to the menu, “this flavorful style of beer has the characteristics of a great lager, but is brewed like an ale.”
A quick (and probably over-simplified) distinction for anyone out there as unfamiliar with beer-brewing as I am: ale-brewing uses a type of yeast that performs best in a warm fermentation environment. Lager employs yeast that ferments best in a colder environment.
Also on the beer menu this year was the Chin Music Amber Lager from Center of the Universe Brewing (http://www.cotubrewing.com/) and the Woodbooger Belgian-Style Brown Ale from Strangeways Brewing (strangewaysbrewing.com). Sam grew up in Ashland, VA, (locally known to be the “center of the Universe”), and was eager to try this new brewery’s selections. Strangeways Brewing provides a unique and eccentric twist to the Virginia craft brewing business, and the Woodbooger brown ale was a favorite at the table, particularly during dessert.
Bold Rock’s Virginia Draft hard cider rounded out the list, appearing not only in bottled form (“balancing soft sweetness with a bright apple taste”) but also serving as the main ingredient in the brine for the pork-rib chops.
All in all, a good evening with good people and good food. We’re looking forward to next year!
Shenandoah National Park, Part Two: White Oak Canyon 15 Jul 2014, 8:24 am
White Oak Canyon: Two Novices Take A Hiking Trip
First, here’s a disclaimer: this isn’t The Ultimate Guide to Hiking. What this is is the account of a pair of novice hikers (me and my husband, Timmy) who wanted to feel outdoorsy and athletic, enjoy the beauty of Shenandoah National Park, and get some quality couple time—all while still arriving home in time for dinner.
Preparing For White Oak Canyon: The Boring Logistical Section
Step one, obviously, was figuring out all we could about White Oak Canyon. Foreknowledge turned out to be pretty important, because, once we got into the mountains, our cell-service was no longer reliable (or even existent).
What we discovered is this: basically, there are two main ways to hop onto White Oak Canyon trail. We could either start at the trailhead at the top (across from Skyland at Skyline Drive Mile Marker 42.6), walk down to the first main falls, and then have an uphill return the way we’d come, or we could park in the lot off of Weakley Hollow Road, drag our tails up the side of the mountain, and then have a steep descent back to the car. A certain amount of Googling revealed that the “best” waterfall for our viewing pleasure was located closer to the top, so we decided to start at Skyland and hike down.
We found this link to be particularly helpful:
Our White Oak Quest Gets Underway
We got on the road before 8 AM, trying to avoid being caught out in the weather if a projected late-afternoon thunderstorm materialized. (It didn’t) We also made a point of going mid-week, as we’d heard the trail is popular enough to be fairly busy on pleasant weekends.
Our first stop was at Sheetz on Rt.15 to load up on a few extra liters of Aquafina to add to our stash of homemade sandwiches and snacks. If you want a picnic lunch without the trouble, check with Sharon before you head out. We do picnic lunches, made up for you fresh in the kitchen at the Holladay House.
We figured out pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be relying on GPS to get us there. (NPS.org even made a point of warning us about it.) Skyline Drive is old school: the entrance we needed to use, Thornton Gap, isn’t actually located at a GPS-programmable address. Instead, Timmy Google-searched directions to Skyland, which is adjacent, and we used our best sign-spotting skills to navigate.
Thornton Gap: Entering Shenandoah National Park
We made good time and reached the Thornton Gap entrance in about an hour and a half. We forked over $15 for a week-long pass, and accepted the complimentary map of Skyline Drive from the park ranger. We took a few photos along Skyline Drive (viewable in the preceding post) and made a quick pit-stop at Skyland before setting out.
White Oak Canyon: The Saga Begins!!
Parking at the specifically-designated White Oak Canyon Parking Lot, we hoisted on our packs and set off. For the first half-hour it was a stereotypical, Ranger Rick-style nature hike. Gravel crunched like granola-breakfast-cereal underfoot, birds twittered, squirrels chattered, and the sun slanted down through the fresh green leaves overhead. I’d heard accounts of encountering bears, but we actually saw not even a single squirrel.
It had rained a few days previously, and the path occasionally grew mucky. That’s something you’ll want to think about when choosing your footwear: plan for mud, and uneven, rocky segments throughout.
About 30 minutes in, we encountered our first inkling of water: a waterfall in extreme miniature, trickling down over the smooth stones at the bottom of the creek. Here our childhood instincts to puddle-hop kicked in, and we stopped to dabble for a few minutes.
White Oak Canyon: “View” Of The Falls
About one o’clock (about two hours after setting out) we veered to the left to cross a footbridge, and descended to a spot marked “View” with an obelisk. I trekked out onto the rocks above the falls and plunked down to take in the scenery: clear, cold water spilling down over the craggy faces of the boulders and disappearing again into the trees far below us. Timmy, who doesn’t care for heights, edged dutifully out after me, and sighed audibly with relief when we headed back for solid ground.
The “Getting Back” Part Is Always The Hardest
The trail turned out to be much steeper than I’d surmised on our original descent. I had to take a few quick breathers, but it wasn’t unreasonably taxing. Despite these delays, we halved our original time and made it back to the trail-head in about an hour. This was partially because I recalled seeing a chocolate bar in the gift-shop at Skyland, and it was sounding tastier the more I thought about it. Consequently, I set a brutal pace.
Rudy’s: The Best Pizza In Sperryville, VA
After my candy splurge, we went in search of real food and wound up at Rudy’s– combination grocery store and pizzeria. Our server’s t-shirt proclaimed that Rudy’s served the best pizza in Sperryville. Not sure if this was a boast or an ironic wink, because they arguably serve the only pizza in Sperryville. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed the pizza, and give them our thumbs-up. The restaurant itself was clearly well-loved, dinged and nicked around the edges, but we liked the gritty local-pizzeria feel. The menu was clever, featuring hiker-centric pizzas such as “the Old Rag” and “the White Oak Canyon.”
White Oak Canyon: A Summary…..
If you need a picturesque view to make your hike memorable, White Oak Canyon is your trail. Challenging without being overwhelming, and rugged without requiring extreme agility to maneuver, it combines all the best parts of hiking into one beloved old trail. If you’re like us, you’ll come back feeling “just enough” outdoorsy without being too exhausted to enjoy the rest of your evening.
Shenandoah National Park, Part One: Skyline Drive 4 Jul 2014, 5:22 pm
Virginia’s Chunk of the Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge Mountains are arguably one of Virginia’s most memorable natural landmarks, providing a panoramic background for most road-trips in the central part of the state. Clearly visible throughout many parts of Orange County, they’re every bit as much a part of “who we are” as farmer’s markets, local wineries, and Montpelier. They’re also easily accessible (Shenandoah National Park is only a little over an hour away) which is why I’m ashamed to admit that it took me 23 years to visit. However, that situation has been rectified, and I can now say: a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains needs to be on your vacation bucket-list.
My “Mission Statement”
In this post and an upcoming follow-up, I’ll be talking about my personal adventure to Shenandoah National Park. Part One will focus on an overview of Skyline Drive, while Part Two will delve a little deeper into our experiences on one of SNP’s most popular waterfall hiking trails, White Oak Canyon. The posts do overlap somewhat chronologically, so you’ll need to read both to get a comprehensive view of the trip.
Along the way I’ll try to share with you a few tips I found useful and a few places I found memorable, to help you in planning your own visit.
Your Journey to Skyline Drive
The best way to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains is to drive (or cycle!) at least part of the 105 miles of roadway that meanders up through the rocky ranges. Skyline Drive is best known for its annual display of crimson-and-gold foliage in the fall, but you won’t be disappointed any time of the year.
Here’s a link to the National Park Service site, which provides directions to the 4 entrances, ticket information, and other “rules of the road” you’ll need to know.
Speeding Through Sperryville (And Stopping, Too)
If you travel to Skyline Drive from the Holladay House, my recommendation is to take Route 211 up through Madison (a beautiful drive in and of itself) and enter through the Thornton Gap entrance. If you do take this route, you’ll pass through quaint downtown Madison and, later, Sperryville. When my husband and I went we encountered this little gift-shop in Sperryville, which fell on the spectrum somewhere between organic and groovy and made us wish we weren’t penniless newlyweds. The inventory was hugely varied, stocking everything from a treasure trove of Beech honey and jams to handmade jewelry and quilts, to Polish pottery and knickknacks. There was even a collection of bar soaps that were touted as being edible. If, you know, edible soap is your thing.
You’ll want to stop for a pint of their delicious apple cider, and a locally-made snack or two.
On Skyline Drive
Once on Skyline Drive (which will cost you $15 per vehicle) you’ll want to pull off into a few of the overlook lanes to take photos of the valley, which drops off sharply beyond the wall and stretches like a rumpled blanket to the mountain ridges in the distance.
Houses are strewn across the green expanse, spattered here and there like flecks of white paint from the brush of an Impressionist. This is how Monet might have painted the Shenandoah: at once both vague and vivid, shrouded in a hazy fog that softens the outlines and bleeds one color into the next.
There are over one hundred miles of such scenery to browse through, ranging from the domestic view described above to stretches of pristine wilderness. Each overlook lane provides a different panorama, so you’ll want to take in at least a few.
Why You’ll Want To Go
You haven’t fully experienced Virginia until you’ve seen what it looks like from the top. If you’re looking for a place to pop the question, folks—I can’t think of a more memorable backdrop than this. It’s also perfect for a picnic, or (if you’re in serious shape) taking a cycling tour. If you’re looking to hike, Shenandoah National Park is also home to a medley of popular trails of different lengths and difficulties, for every skill level. (I’ll talk more about that in the next post.) There’s a something for everyone–you’re not going to find better drive-through tourism than this.
5th Annual Hops & Chops Set For July 5th 27 Jun 2014, 11:41 am
The menu is short-listed, the beer is delivered, and the meat is awaiting marinade. In a little over a week there will be a lot more crackling in Orange than just fireworks—and there’s still time to save yourself a seat.
Hops & Chops is our favorite way to celebrate Independence Day here at the Holladay House. For five years since 2009 (no, that’s not a typo; there was a hiatus in 2012) the Elswick family has pulled out all the stops every 4th of July weekend to share this holiday dinner with their family and friends.
Hops & Chops steps the traditional Independence Day meal up a notch, bringing to the table food that’s not only delicious, but strictly local. Everything on the menu was produced within the state, and most from within Orange County. From the medley of Virginia beers (many so up-and-coming they’re not yet available in supermarkets!) to the herbs (harvested from our garden out back) flavoring the locally-sourced meat, the celebration brings together our top picks of the area’s offerings.
The full menu isn’t yet finalized (local availability will play into that) but the sneak peek I received involved things like “Cider-Brined Pork Chops With Dried Cherries and Apple Chips” and “Holladay House Made-From-Scratch Buttermilk Biscuits” as well as a number of just-picked, garden-fresh sides. Complimenting the dinner will be a selection of beers chosen to pair perfectly with the flavors of each course.
Wrapping things up (my favorite part!) will be a selection of dessert favorites, including “Sharon’s Amazing All-American Apple Pie”.
Everything is served indoors, away from the humidity, sunburn, and pesky flies that normally go hand-in-hand with the holiday. Not to worry, though—you can still wear your flip-flops. We’ll be serving beer in the dining room starting at 6PM, and dinner just a bit later at 6:30. Afterwards you’re invited to attend the Celebrate Orange fireworks display, located just 10 minutes away at Booster Park. This family-friendly event showcases half-an-hour of “the rockets red glare/the bombs bursting in air” and begins at 9 PM.
July 5th—-come out for good food, great hospitality, and a laid-back, family-style atmosphere. Get to know everyone, celebrate our nation’s birthday, and, best of all—the kitchen clean-up is on us. Give us a call to check room availability!
Our First Crop of Herbs Is In (Or Should I Say, “Inn”) 27 Jun 2014, 7:00 am
When I walked into work today, I was greeted by the sight of Sam teetering on a step-ladder, stringing fishing line across the ceiling in the kitchen. Sharon supervised from the floor below, offering constructive criticism and ostensibly ready to catch him if a strong wind rendered it necessary.
I’ve worked at Holladay House for four years now and seen lots of projects underway, so I knew if I waited long enough an answer would come to me. When the answer arrived it came with a bag of goodies to take home with me–one of the best perks of working at the b&b.
To clarify: the first crop of fresh herbs came in from the garden today! The garden has been an ongoing labor of love here at the inn, so we’re very excited about it.
So far we have fennel, thyme, lemon balm, and winter savory drying across the ceiling, coloring the air sweet and pungent. We’re looking forward around here to seeing where the dried flavorings turn up. If you’re lucky, you should be able to catch their appearance at the breakfast table: maybe sprinkled across the ham-and-cheese quiches, or adding savor to Sharon’s already delicious Holladay-family-recipe biscuits. I’ve just heard from Sam that they’re definitely billed to make an appearance at our annual July 4th “Hops & Chops” event as well. (I’ll have info on that, and recipes to share, coming up soon!)
I, for one, am already eagerly awaiting leftovers to take home with me.
The smell of homemade biscuits . . . 24 May 2012, 4:39 am
Made-from-Scratch Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe from Orange, VA
When we bought the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast in Orange, VA, the Holladay family bestowed upon us the secret of their success: their family buttermilk biscuit recipe!
The Holladay family owned our home for over a century, from 1899 to 2000. In 1989, Pete Holladay (the grandson of Dr. Lewis Holladay) and his wife Phebe (yes, that is spelled correctly), turned his family’s Main Street historic home into a Virginia Bed and Breakfast. In a small historic town like Orange, Virginia, an innkeeper simply has no “street cred” unless they are capable of producing the best-tasting biscuits around. So, Pete kept his family’s buttermilk biscuit recipe alive, and these biscuits probably have been made in this house as long as his family owned it.
We are happy to keep the tradition alive, and our guests are glad we are! Sharon has delighted many out-of-town guest as well as Orange, Virginia locals by learning this historic buttermilk biscuit recipe. While I get a chance to sleep in a little, she gets up early to bake these buttermilk biscuits fresh for our guests. As I said in my post on how to cook bacon, one should seek instruction from the masters of previous generations. For your breakfast-eating pleasure, we are passing this recipe along to you. Enjoy!
Holladay Family Buttermilk Biscuits from Orange, VA
2 cups all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter chilled, plus 1 T butter, melted
3/4 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
3. Cut in the 1 stick of chilled butter until mixture resembles large coarse crumbs.
4. Make a well in the center of flour mixture; add buttermilk all at once and stir just until dough clings together.
5. Gently roll out, fold over and roll out dough about 9 times on a floured surface.
6. Pat dough out to 1/2-inch thick. Cut dough with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or glass.
7. Brush biscuit tops with 1 T melted butter.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden.
A Game of Chess at James Madison’s Montpelier 13 Feb 2011, 12:53 pm
I used to joust with my college room-mate over a game of chess. We played for different reasons. For him, it was an intellectual challenge of strategy, an opportunity to demonstrate how victory (and bragging rights) could be secured through reason and endurance. For me, it was a chance to unwind and thwart the foundations of reason by asserting the supremancy of whimsy, blind luck, and psychology. My opponent’s turns usually lasted 20 minutes or more. Mine typically took about 2 minutes, and their completion usually invited a raised eyebrow of annoyance and disbelief from my compatriot.
More often than not, deliberation and reason prevailed, and I lost more than one pitcher of beer for my insolence. To the victor went the spoils
I had forgotten about these semi-frequent sparring matches until recent events at James Madison’s Montpelier conjured them from my mind. You see, James Madison was an avid chess player, and he frequently sparred with his friend Thomas Jefferson. Madison and Jefferson were both intellectual powerhouses–Madison was deeply learned and bookish, while Jefferson was more focused on breadth and application. A chess match between these two was undoubtedly a serious affair.
Around 1853, Jefferson’s granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Coolidge, wrote the following about her grand father: “So he was, in his youth, a very good chess-player. There were not among his associates, many who could get the better of him. I have heard him speak of ‘four hour games’ with Mr. Madison. Yet I have heard him say that when, on his arrival in Paris, he was introduced into a Chess Club, he was beaten at once, and that so rapidly and signally that he gave up all competition. He felt that there was no disputing such a palm with men who passed several hours of every evening in playing chess.”
What in the world does all of this have to do with Montpelier, and why am I writing about it here? Amazingly, archaeologists at Montpelier dug up fragments of chess pieces that once belonged to James Madison. The broken pieces were all that remained of his set, and they were discarded in a trash heap (archaeologists call them “middens”) on the Montpelier property. The chess set was a gift from Benjamin Franklin, also a brilliant chess player. Had Madison been alive when his estate left his family, he probably would have lamented the loss of his chess set.
But its loss was not permanent! The brilliant history detectives at Montpelier were able to use the recovered pieces to identify the chess set, and the Montpelier Foundation purchased an authentic match that dates to the same period. This antique ivory chess set is now on display in the newly restored mansion where it belongs!
According to an article published on 4 February 2011 in the Daily Progress, “The period set was unveiled this week in the fourth president’s Drawing Room, sitting atop one of Madison’s original gaming tables, discovered in 2009.
The hand-turned pieces are in the Old English or Washington style, known as such because George Washington also owned such a set, said Lynne Dakin Hastings, Montpelier’s vice president for museum programs.
The pieces are white and red, rather than white and black, and, as such, may seem a bit unusual to modern eyes. Both black and red pieces were in use during the period.
‘This particular style of set, this Old English style, was very fashionable and very popular at the time,’ Hastings said.
Montpelier officials consulted with chess scholars to determine the style of set that produced the small fragments, which were found in a trash pit. The officials concluded that Madison’s set had red pieces based on three surviving pieces at Tudor Place, a historic home in Georgetown. The pieces purportedly belonged to Madison and are said to have been given to him by Benjamin Franklin, Hastings said. Those pieces are white and red.”
Dolley Madison, the famous First Lady, was also known to have played chess, and also had a love of loo, a popular eighteenth century card game similar to modern-day hearts. Thus, next to the chess display, visitors can see an in-progress game of loo.
Madison’s enthusiasm for chess brings his deeply intellectual personality to light in a profoundly visible way. In fact, he loved chess so much that he was even known to play on Sundays, which was a bit of a taboo in his day. According to Hastings, “gaming on Sundays really was not acceptable at all.” But perhaps, she speculated, Madison saw chess as something more. “Madison may have felt that chess was not so much a game, as an intellectual pursuit,” she said.
In that regard, James Madison and my former college roommate were kindred spirits. As such, I feel obligated to challenge him to a game of chess during his next visit to the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast in Orange, Virginia. Just for old times sake. And maybe a few beers.
Chef Cooper’s Whisky-rubbed Cured Salmon in Orange, VA 21 Dec 2010, 8:06 am
After writing my previous post about Virginia-made single malt whisky from the Copper Fox Distillery, I thought I’d continue the Virginia spirits topic with a recipe. I consulted one our region’s finest chefs, Randy Cooper, from Elmwood at Sparks. Elmwood at Sparks is one of several outstanding fine dining restaurants in our region, but it is the only one of its kind right here on Main Street in Orange, VA, just a block away from our Virginia Bed and Breakfast!
Our guests thoroughly enjoy Elmwood at Sparks. We have never recieved a negative review, and Chef Cooper puts his extensive experience with French and American style cuisines to good use. We recieve the best comments about the delectable sauces and scrumptious soups Chef Cooper crafts.
Since I have been exploring the many options for Virginia-produced whisky and other spirits, I asked Chef Cooper to recommend a recipe using whisky as an ingredient. The recipe below is what he provided, and I can’t wait to try it! Please try it yourselves, and tell me what you think!
“Whiskey Rubbed Cured Salmon”
2# Fresh Salmon
375 ML Your favorite Whiskey
4 oz ginger- sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1T black peppercorns
Cheesecloth as needed
- Combine in sauce pot over high heat : whiskey, thyme, rosemary, half of peppercorns, and ginger.
- Reduce by half- CAUTION- this may flame (remove from heat and allow to reduce over lower heat)- allow to cool.
- Wrap salmon in cheesecloth and place in a deep baking dish.
- Pour ingredients over cheesecloth-wrapped salmon and allow to marinade for up to 24 hours.
- Combine salt, sugar, peppercorns- blend thoroughly
- Remove salmon from marinade (reserve liquid).
- Using fresh cheesecloth, rewrap the salmon.
- Place a shallow bed of salt mix into deep dish- add salmon, cover with remaining salt mixture.
- Reserve under refrigeration for 24 hours; check salmon for firmness, when firm, cure is complete.
- Remove from curing mix and wash under cold running water; pat dry with paper-towels.
- Serve with Boursin cheese, fresh baguette and pickled red onions.
Single Malt Whisky Comes from Scotland—or Does It? 19 Dec 2010, 1:53 pm
Be prepared, dear readers, for this is my “coming out” day.
I’m a whisky man.
There– I said it. Out loud and in the heart of genteel Virginia Wine Country. This may come as a shock to Virginia Wine enthusiasts who have come to know our Bed and Breakfast in Orange, VA as a place that exclusively serves fine Virginia Wine from local wineries, such as Barboursville, Keswick, Old House, Prince Michel, Gray Ghost, and quite a few others. We’ve held Virginia wine tasting events, hosted receptions with Virginia wine, offered tours to Virginia wineries, tasted hundreds of Virginia wines ourselves, and generally do all we can to promote Virginia Wine, especially those crafted on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground and the Monticello Wine Trail.
But I prefer whisky. I’m sorry, I just do. Don’t hate me because I like spirits.
Barrel of Virginia whisky at Copper Fox Distillery, only about 45 minutes from our Bed and Breakfast!
In my formative years of alcohol consumption, a man of dubious character said to me: “If you’re going to drink, drink like a man.” He then handed me a bottle of George Dickel No. 12, suggesting that it was a finer beverage than Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7. I wouldn’t have known the difference at the time, so I took him at his word. The first sip went down like a razor blade, but after that my taste for alcohol was a whisky taste—George Dickel No. 12 in particular. Then, I made it my mission to educate my college roommate—God rest his soul—in the same tradition. He did me proud. I’ve tried to uphold that tradition ever since.
George Dickle no. 12 is certainly a fine beverage, and nary a disparaging word will be said about it in my written musings. Bourbon is still my drink of choice, preferably from Tennessee or Kentucky. Perhaps that’s my Tennessee mountain roots sprouting from within, I’m not sure (hmm…the thought just occurred to me that most folks probably do not know the difference between bourbon, whisky, or scotch—I guess that’s an excellent subject for a future blog). But, the subject for today is not Tennessee bourbon—it’s Virginia Single Malt Whisky.
We make every effort to serve local Virginia products any chance we can, and whisky has a long history here in Virginia. In fact, one of George Washington’s primary sources of income was whisky, which he produced at Mount Vernon (this casts the 1790 Whisky Rebellion in a whole new light). The generous researchers at Washington’s venerable home have been kind enough to rekindle Washington’s passion for spirits, and they now sell Washington’s whisky. Bless their little hearts.
Washington’s whisky used three grains: corn, rye, and barley. It was not a single malt. Traditional Scottish-style single malt whisky from Virginia has been hard to come by, even today. Until now.
A few weeks ago, I had the extreme pleasure oftaking a tour of a nearby Virginia distillery called the Copper Fox Distillery, where the Wasmund family has been making fine Scottish-style single malt whisky since January 2000. Single malt whisky is traditionally produced in Scotland. Like my own taste, America’s taste for whisky spirits tends to lean more towards bourbon. So, Copper Fox’s production of single malt whisky in the heart of Virginia wine country is kinda special.
The folks at Copper Fox perform all tasks by hand themselves, including the bottling and wax-sealing. Our guide, Sean McCaskey, showed us how they malt the barley, turn it on the floor with rakes, and then dry it in the kiln. The kiln uses a woodstove for heat, and the smoke from applewood, cherrywood, and oakwood adds some special flavor to the barley. They hastily avoided detailed discussions of the distillation process (so as not to reveal their secrets!), and then took us to their barrel racks where they showed us the used barrels in which their whisky ages (by contrast, bourbon must be made in new oak barrels, or it can’t be called bourbon). An important feature of Copper Fox whisky is that they add toasted applewood, cherrywood and oak chips to the batch while it ages, to give it a special flavor. This is particularly appropriate considering they are located in Virginia’s apple country!
Virginia law prohibits an on-site tasting (although you can get a nosing sample) but we did buy two bottles to savor in the privacy of our bed and breakfast in Orange, VA. Savor them, we did! We purchased a bottle of the Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky and a bottle of the Copper Fox Rye Whisky. The Rye Whisky is 2/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley, while the single malt is obviously 100% hand-malted barley. The Single Malt came from Batch 46 (the latest batch), and the rye whisky was freshly bottled on 28 October 2010.
At 96 proof, the single malt has a bold flavor, but not obtrusive one. Whereas most whiskys of a similar proof I have tried are nothing but “burn,” Wasmund’s had rich, complex, and identifiable flavors that make it pleasant to drink. My theory is that this comes from the fruitwood chips used during the aging process. Undoubtedly, the bold, pleasing auburn color comes from this as well. This single malt whisky has some excellent characteristics worthy of recommendation.
The Rye Whisky is similarly strong (90 proof), but is slightly lighter and more amber than the single malt. Although it has some bite up front, the finish has some definite earthy flavors. The rye has discernable toasted grain flavors, whereas the Single Malt had more of a charcoal/wood characteristic.
Certainly, one would not mistake these excellent Virginia whiskys for Appalachian-style bourbons. They have their own unique taste, and both would pair excellently with a Virginia-style barbecue, chocolate mousse, or even a pot of home-cooked beans (I know the latter is true because I just had that for lunch—black beans and lentils slow-simmered in a cast iron pot with a country hambone, salt, and pepper—simple, wholesome, and delicious).
The next time you visit our historic bed and breakfast in Orange, VA, be sure to ask for directions to the Copper Fox Distillery. Even if you are not a self-proclaimed whisky drinker like I am, a discerning palate will appreciate the complexities of this fine local spirit. We also have it available to our guests for a winter evening toast by the fire!
Of course, there are a number of other Virginia whiskys one should try, and even a legal moonshine produced right here in Culpeper, Virginia. In the future, I’ll write more about each and every one of them.
Now, I think I’ll have a drink!