With about 40 distilleries in the state of Virginia, we’ve got a gem right here in our backyard! I visited Chesapeake Bay Distillery, where their message is: buy local.
"I remember a lady came up to me and emphatically stated, 'You can't make vodka in Virginia.' Well, we were... we got a gold medal,” said Chris Richeson, who is a managing member at Chesapeake Bay Distillery.
Just a couple of blocks from the Oceanfront, the company started in 2005 in Virginia Beach.
"Virginia Beach was the only locality that had any interest in having a distillery. They welcomed us with open arms. We had a neat little spot. We just hung out for 10 years, honed our skills,” said Richeson.
And that they did! One of their first batches was a gold medal winner.
From whiskey to rum to vodka, they develop their own products and produce products for others.
“The beginning was brands that we created," said Richeson. "We infused the Blue Ridge Vodka with ghost peppers, and came out with 'Ghost Pepper Vodka.' A little spicy, [but] awesome stuff!”
Richeson took us on a tour, showing us where the alcohol was made.
“We start with the sub straight. We want to boil everything to sterilize it, to clean it, to remove any wild yeast. We reduce the temperature with the heat exchanger, and then it’s ready to go in the ferment."
And after fermentation...
“We pump from the ferment, filter and go into the distillation unit," Richeson said. "The purpose of the distillation unit is to remove water and other impurities.”
Richeson said the patrons who have supported them over the years enabled them to move into a bigger space.
“The new space enables us to produce more," he explained. "We’ve maintained product quality and maybe even improved it in some aspects.”
Richeson added it’s great to support Virginia products; buying a Virginia spirit provides a lot more economic opportunity for the Commonwealth than purchasing an out-of-state bottle.