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  • The Women of Reservoir

    Reservoir is a small craft distillery established in 2008 in Richmond, Virginia. From the get-go, they specialized in a core range of 100% single-cereal mash bills from locally grown organic rye, corn, and wheat. Their whiskeys are aged in custom-made charred white oak casks. They also have a range of experimental bottlings in collaboration with other artisanal producers. Everything is painstakingly handmade from pot-still distilling to small-batch bottling. They've won dozens of prizes and accolades for the elevated quality and loving attention to the territory of Virginia. At Reservoir, we found three amazing specialists who contributed to change the image of women in the whiskey world. Get ready to meet them!

     

    Mary, you told me many times how you were quite fond of whisky well before working at Reservoir. In your opinion, what's the biggest difference between appreciating whisky as a drinker and appreciating it as a distiller? Does it become more difficult to fully appreciate other whiskies? Can you still simply sit down, relax, and enjoy a dram of whisky?

    I think making whiskey has allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for the spirit in general. I not only know the brands/types that I like, but I can understand some of the reasons I might prefer one to another. I can begin to identify the role that all the different parts play, be that grain type/mash bill, time or style of aging or any of the myriad other things that go into creating the final product. And I certainly have a greater respect for the amount of time and energy every company puts into crafting their final product. Working with the same product every day can skew your palate a little, I think. When we taste for a bottling or just to see where some of the barrels are in the aging process, we are always looking for that distinctive Reservoir flavor. I must remind myself when trying other things that I am no longer looking for something that tastes like Reservoir! That being said, I will almost always opt to try something I have never tasted over an old standby. I like to see what is out there and continue to challenge my palate and its preconceptions.

     

    Shelley, your job is one of the coolest. There's often a sense of “secrecy” about distilling techniques and styles, especially in the Scotch world, that make us wonder if you are not sometimes considered a spy. What does it imply to be always updated about the latest resorts in whiskey making? Do you have any colleagues out there?

    I wholly agree on the job description, and I pinch myself practically every day wondering if there's going to be a crushing “Damn, it was all a dream” reveal.  and i'd also agree with the “secrecy” aspect of proprietary information. Donkey’s years ago, as I travelled around Scotland and chatted with (read: plagued with questions) distillers and production operators, I found a consistent response: surprise that a woman wanted to understand the mechanical and substantive logistics of whiskey making, and the eyebrow raising question of “who sent you?” ultimately, I was typically fed some diverting but evasive answer period cagey to be sure, but their reticence only fueled my appetite. Over the years, and certainly within the last decade, the world of sharing information and offering education has bloomed—somewhat due to the growing resource library the Internet has provided. I definitely have a few “in the trade” doppelgangers out there, although the majority of individuals I work with outside of reservoir, that school me and help further the benefit of a distillery employing someone in a position like mine, are chemists, biologists, and engineers, and farmers. And once I grasp the complexity of the subject, I’m able to optimize that information into usable data for either our team or for the public as I aim to educate.

     

    Leslie, how did you build up Reservoir's brand image? Did it come up naturally, or did you struggle to position your name of “out-of-Kentucky bourbon” as a quality product?

    As the third distillery outside of Kentucky making bourbon, Reservoir’s story is what marketer’s dreams are made of—authentic, transparent, and true to its craft. So, my approach has always been the same—welcome people into the Reservoir family, tell our story, and get to know each other over a pour or two. I think consumers are much more educated about the fact that bourbon does not have to come from Kentucky to be bourbon—it simply must be 51% corn.  We really lean into the fact we are a Virginia-made product. It's a wonderful differentiator in a market that can be overwhelming. Our heritage and terroir are the foundation of everything we do--our grains come from within 45 miles of the distillery, the trees for our barrels come from within the state and we have incredible partners right in our neighborhood. Reservoir is sold in Kentucky and the locals have graciously welcomed us.

     

    Mary, Reservoir’s relationships with surrounding farms and grain producers are a big part of your image. Can you tell us more? How do you select and distinguish the quality of grain harvests and vintages? How do you see the concept of terroir developing in whiskey making?

    We are fortunate to be based in an agriculturally rich area. Most of the time, we can get all the grains we need from within an hour or two of our facility. We have been working with Virginia grains exclusively for about five years now. There can be something of a balancing act when selecting grain varietals. It is exciting and positively challenging to work with heirloom grains, but they can be costly and often do not yield as much final output as some more standard varieties. At Reservoir, we have the good fortune to work with the best of both worlds. We have the grains we work with day to day, which are more common, but still give a sense of place because they are all grown right here. But we can also branch out and try some fun side projects. I recently ran a couple of batches of an heirloom variety corn called Bloody Butcher in collaboration with some friends of ours at Autumn Olive Farm. The initial mash and distillate had significantly more earthy and floral notes than what we see with our normal bourbon. It will be interesting to see where it ends up. “Terroir” has certainly become a more predominant concept, especially with the advent of so many craft distilleries. Everyone is looking for a way to set themselves apart, and working with what you are given, where you are, is one of the easiest ways to get there. I think we have an extra leg up in “terroir” because we are sourcing everything as locally as possible, but we are also doing it while focusing on the single grain. With Reservoir, you are not only able to taste what “Virginia Whiskey” tastes like, you can taste what “Virginia Wheat,” “Virginia Rye,” and Virginia Corn (Bourbon)” tastes like.

     

    Shelley, we like to imagine that the reason behind your “continuous education” is that your colleagues at Reservoir want more and more stimuli. What are the new techniques and developments you have been considering? How are you facing the growing challenges of climate change and ecological transition? How important is the balance between technology and tradition for Reservoir?

    Curiously, I have not witnessed the phenomenon of ennui here at the distillery, and although I would love to attribute some of that to my efforts to help heighten our team’s level of understanding their positions and the processes they're contributing toward, I think Reservoir totally lucked out by hiring incredibly creative and inquisitive people. A simple lunchtime conversation, or a brief sidetracked tangent during a team meeting, is where I often find direction when pursuing either a fresh take on an old technique, or the need to research innovative developments within our industry to determine if they might apply to our work. We’re exploring and experimenting with everything from proofing techniques to stave aging, terroir-driven flavor (grain, water, wood), to taking advantage of seasonal meteorological changes within the warehouse. It's mind-blowing to realize the myriad opportunities we are presented with to create better whiskey. We've definitely faced climate change and environmental impacts over the most recent years, and they introduce a level of complexity to our operations that thus far have compelled the team to become more innovative. Everything from procuring Virginia grains—despite harvest hardships—to recognizing negatively impactful obstacles with our water, are now cropping up with increasing frequency. One of Reservoir’s principal goals is to provide the answer to the question “what does Virginia taste like?” Devising a method to produce that flavorful physical response requires profound relationships with our farmers, foresters, and water chemists. The world is changing, and we all must appreciate our roles for conscious and responsive adaptation. The tricky parts are mindfully using our resources and still creating a beautiful spirit in a balanced manner that does not compromise our patch of earth or the flavor we acquire from it.

     

    Leslie, Reservoir now has a strong and important brand image. What are the next challenges? Your core range is appreciated everywhere, but your top limited releases are still quite in a niche outside of the US. Are you going to expand to other markets as well? Did the global pandemic make it more difficult for you to reach other regions?

     Thank you! And yes, our limited releases, like our Holland’s Line (Holland’s Ghost, Holland’s Blade Rummer, and Holland’s Milkman), are less known but have a cult following for those in the know. We are hoping to start bottling more of them in the coming months. They will still be limited releases, but we may be able to start getting some of them to our distribution partners. The pandemic allowed us to look at what was working and what wasn't in terms of distribution. We brought in some new partners, launched domestically in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and internationally in Australia and relaunched in Germany. There is a huge American whiskey boom happening in Australia, and I am loving the creativity and energy coming from our distribution partners there! I’m not sure which market will be next, but I have a few folks reach out every few weeks on Instagram asking when they can get Holland’s Blade Rummer in Asia – I can’t wait to be able to give them a date.

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  • Bibliophiles and Bourbon Lovers? Treat Yo Shelves

    We're absolutely thrilled to be one of the fortunate few included in Ian Buxton's 2nd addition of his book 101 CRAFT AND WOLRD WHISKIES TO TRY BEFORE YOU DIE.
    We're sure you'll find countless other beauties within these pages, but we've posted Ian's kind words and review below. Enjoy!
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    By now you will have noticed there are no detailed tasting notes here and certainly no scores. As previously explained, that’s because you know what you like, can afford and already have it in your drinks cabinet much better than I do and, to the extent that I have philosophy, it’s that whisky is for everyone to explore and enjoy without my didactic pontifications (or, indeed, those of another ‘expert’). So, I was delighted to see this on the Reservoir Distillery’s website: “We believe in “creating your own tradition”, honoring age fact that everyone has a unique palate.” Amen! It’s almost as if they’d read this book.  

    So in that spirit I point you towards this single-minded Virginia distillery, established in 2008 by childhood friends Jay Carpenter and Dave Cutting. They only make single-grain whiskeys. The Bourbon Whiskey is 100 per cent corn, the Rye Whiskey is 100 per cent rye. And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, the Wheat Whiskey is 100 per cent wheat. 

    All of those grains come from within 50 miles of the distillery and they age in 13-gallon casks (US gallons that is, so just less than 11 imperial gallons) that they use only once and which have received a custom alligator char. That’s pretty much as deep as charring goes — Ardbeg did this in 2011 and, believe me, you don’t want to know what a bottle of that would cost today.  

    I also like the suggestion that you blend to your own taste: buy a bottle of each of their whiskeys and create your own personal blend. It’s not difficult and the worst that can happen is that you don’t like it. In which case, put in a drop more of your favorite and see what happens. Then splash out on your own cask (they’re available in a range of sizes) and try extra aging. Before you know it you’re your own Master Blender and you discover you have many new friends. You might even start a business.   

    They also employed a local mural artist to paint the front of their distillery, presenting a fresh and vibrant face to the world. Apart from being exceptionally cool struck me as an excellent metaphor for their entire weltanschauung. This reservoir is deep. 

     

     

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  • Yeaux Ho Ho! It's the Ho Ho Holidays!

    We're in the mood to raise some glasses!

    Black Friday is nearly here, and if you're one of the first 60 people to visit us in the tasting room on that day, we're offering our seasonal cocktail, the Yeaux Ho Ho on us.

    On Cyber Monday, be one of the first 60 people to come in and show us a receipt from your online shopping that day, and be rewarded with that same winning cup of cheer. 

    Yeaux Ho Ho!

    Whether you're in the mood to shop or not, come in for a visit. Our Thanksgiving week hours are: 

    Wednesday: 1 PM - 9 PM

    Thursday: CLOSED

    Friday: 11 AM - 9 PM

    Saturday: 1 PM - 9 PM

    Sunday: 1 PM - 5 PM

    We're looking forward to seeing you and toasting to the season!

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  • So Much to Celebrate! (and Toast with)

    It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

    To be a whiskey drinker, that is. This September we're celebrating Virginia Spirits Month, AND Bourbon Month!


    We're releasing 7--yes, SEVEN whiskies on September 1st.

    ~ Two new Grey Ghosts (distillery only!)
    ~ All three bottles from our Holland's Series 
    ~ Batch #3 from Maison de Cuivre 
    ~ Our Evil100 collaboration with Jens Pulver

    Be sure to scroll down for info on each release and Reservoir's Tasting Room hours!

    We searched the warehouse and came across a few honey barrels that emerged like rediscovered time capsules. We’re thrilled to release two very special Grey Ghost bottlings. (Available from distillery only for $124.99 each!)

    Our Wheated Bourbon Grey Ghost is a blended mashbill of 30% wheat and 70% bourbon, having aged nearly four and one half years in a five-gallon barrel. So not only is it a rare Grey Ghost, but a Bottled in Bond release as well.

    Nose: Light molasses, cornbread, crème brulee mix with butterscotch and southern pecans
    Body: Brightly citrusy with tangy orange rinds and pink peppercorns, chocolate and butterscotch mingle
    Finish: Warming hot cocoa and notes of black tea, with recurring scents of apricot
     
    Our second bottling is our Wheated Rye Grey Ghost—with a mashbill of 33% wheat and 67% rye, we blended each singular distillate into a five-gallon barrel and aged them together for three and one half years. This whiskey is as perfect a phantom find in the deep recesses of our warehouse as one could ever hope to stumble upon.

    Nose: Succulent prunes, dates, and raspberry jam with floral powdered sugar, malted syrup, and honey graham cracker scents
    Body: Rich sweet tea and heady pipe tobacco abounds, with honeyed rye bread, and golden graham cracker biscuits
    Finish: Tingling and long-lasting minty notes with lingering scents of rock candy, revealing headily spiced and mouth coating honey

    To further celebrate this unbelievable month, we're doing a rare releasing of all three of our most beloved Limited Time Offering bourbons—our Holland’s series. Available online and at the distillery for $124.99 each.



    With their familial mashbill of 15% wheat, 70% corn, and 15% rye, each Holland’s bourbon shows off their unforgettable and wholly unique finishing techniques.

    For more info, click on each bottling.

    Holland’s Ghost

    Holland’s Milkman

    Holland’s Blade Rummer

    As an extra bonus to bourbon lovers, we’re offering up our finally ready to release Maison de Cuivre—our 100% corn bourbon finished in Burgundy Grand Crew Meritage casks.

    And lastly, we can’t skip over our very special bottling of Evil100—a collaboration we did with American retired professional mixed martial artist, undefeated boxer and kickboxer, and the inaugural UFC Lightweight Champion, Jens Pulver. For Tasting Notes, click HERE.

    How about, to make this month even better, we throw in a one-day discount, September 19th, where at any of Virginia’s ABC stores, you can purchase our 375ml bourbon with a 20% discount?

    And finally, our tasting room is finally open!

    We’re so excited to welcome friends and fans back to our distillery. Hours will be:

    Wednesday to Saturday: 1:00PM - 9:00PM and Sunday 1:00PM - 5:00PM.

     

    We can’t wait to see you all back in person!
    Happy September everyone!

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  • Barreling Through the Speyside Bourbon Cooperage

    I never miss an opportunity to visit historical museums or villages set up to recreate bygone days. Seeing people dressed in antiquated clothing performing essential tasks with obsolete tools is not an experience I scoff at, rather I find I’m reflecting on the great advancements made over the short decades behind me.

    Last week, our team traveled southwest to Atkins, Virginia to visit the Speyside Bourbon Cooperage—one of Reservoir’s highly esteemed barrel makers. And it was here we all had the privilege to meet Josh Chandler, Speyside’s plant manager and tour guide extraordinaire. And it was also here that we were educated as to just how advanced the coopering industry has grown since the days when highly skilled craftsmen practiced the trade by hand.

    We here at Reservoir impress upon our customers the strength and influence of provenance, as all our ingredients—i.e., anything that influences our flavor—comes right from our little patch of earth. Virginia has a singular taste, and we capture every drop, scent, and organic compound that allows us to say our whiskeys’ flavors are “terroir-driven.”

    A significant part of that distinctively place-based flavor comes from the organic compounds deep within the wood of each barrel, as the staves that comprise a five, ten, or a 53-gallon barrel are rich with lignins, which break down into vanillin, eugenol, furfural, and lactones—all flavor molecules that give our spirits their spicy, fruity, nutty, and buttery profiles. And as the majority of trees Speyside Cooperage utilizes come from Virginia forestland, we grow increasingly enthusiastic to share what we now recognize as true Virginia bourbon flavor.

    We pride ourselves on highlighting Reservoir’s unique process of ‘grain to glass’ whiskey making, but we’d be remiss if we did not back farther up—a step or two behind where that timeline begins. I’ve written before about one of our stave mills—The Ramoneda Brothers in Culpeper, Virginia—and Speyside operates several of their own mills as well, but I’ve yet to take you on a tour of how our barrels are assembled. It’s an eye-opening peek into a marvelous carpentry journey you shouldn’t miss.

    Founded in Scotland in 1947, the Speyside cooperage has impressive lineage, coming from a long line of traditional and highly skilled barrel makers. Estimates of remaining coopers worldwide are around 1,500—2,000.

    And for as lovely the venerable and time-honored practice of coopering by hand is, where barrel makers apprenticed for approximately seven years before being capable of raising seven casks a day, Speyside has applied, in their words, “state of the art technology and modern manufacturing principles to the age-old craft of barrel making.”

    Here in Virginia, those new design principles allow them to utilize equipment safer for the environment and their employees, use less energy than older manufacturing processes would require, create less waste and pollutants, and build stronger, better barrels than ever before.

    Not only are the barrels they produce casks of the highest quality, but the company concentrates on their overall footprint left behind after manufacturing their product. Speyside has been recognized for their sustainable log buying practices, and every scrap of byproducts is either sold to other manufacturers or utilized inhouse via recycling techniques.

    So, we here at Reservoir feel fortunate not only to partner with a company whose gilt-edged product helps to make our whiskies shine with a depth and breadth of flavor we’re determined to offer our customers, but also because their level of standards resonate deeply with ours: Offer the world the best you have.

    And there you have it. Another glimpse into our process. I hope it will serve to educate, entertain, but more important, enrich your next sip of whiskey. Let’s all raise a glass to these men and women of great skill. Because they’re building better barrels, we’re bottling beautiful bourbons!

    ~ Shelley Sackier

    Director of Distillery Education

     

     

     

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