I had to take a break from packing so I decided to go to the Virginia Wine Expo in Richmond. For 60 bucks I got a free glass and was able to sample wine and spirits from over 70 producers. I was amazed. I was amazed by the turnout of both people and vendors there. I was also amazed by something else; the bullshit.
Before I go any further, let me also explain that I have a two week rule before saying anything negative in a public forum. Yeah, I know that zero people subscribe to this blog, but I feel like a man should respond and not react. However, I'm not changing anything below the words "READ ON!. or above this paragraph. This is legit. I still feel like this company is trying to take credit for something that they don't give two fucks about. Yeah, this is the first time I've cussed on my blog but I mean it. These oxygen (and money) thieves are selling themselves as local guys but packaging a factory, button pushing, soul-less product. Kind of like the SOBs that run Clyde May's. Cylde Mays isn't even close to Alabama. They are L.A. (lower Alabama) or Florida. But that is another post that I'll save for later. READ ON
Before I start bashing on faux hipsters, let me point out what is "right" here in England's oldest colony. Virginia has some amazing wines. I seriously don't understand how California isn't going broke from a loss of interest in Virginia wines. I'm definitely not a wine aficionado but I have a pretty keen pallet. Everything that I tried that was "dirt to glass" Virginia was absolutely amazing. I come from Missouri, which is known throughout the wine industry for producing top notch Norton and Cynthia wine varieties. I've drank gallons of Norton/Cynthiana wines. I'm also ridiculously picky when it comes to alcohol; I've got a couple barrels of beer, maybe three barrels of wine (all for personal use), and a few thousand gallons of (documented) whisky sitting in my rickhouse at home so I don't ever need to buy anything. I also know a lot of folks back home that make some pretty top notch wine and beer back home. One of which is a cattle farmer that probably the best Chambourcin in the country. However, I bought a bottle of Norton. It cost me all of 22 bucks and buddy, it was worth it. I digress though. Virginia has some amazing wines and it's worth the trip to go and try some. Lets get back to our downtown craft distillers.
Let me explain. Among the hard working, salt of the earth, vineyard managers was one booth: Belle Isle.
Standing behind their counter were two young bearded beaus and another guy that just had a cool hoodie and pointy sideburns; maybe he just wasn't sure about the commitment of a beard. Like whisky, it's a potentially multi year endeavor. Luckily for him, Belle Isle is just selling "moonshine". Again, I think that is another story. READ ON
These gents looked like young urban distillers. Maybe best friends that decided to break Virginia's liquor laws one day and make their own hooch. Perhaps they worked out an SBA loan, hocked their Vespa scooters, opened up a craft distillery in a run down garage and have been scraping to keep the doors open while they hone their craft and create an artisan product. Looks can be deceiving though. These aren't the owners, distillers, or anything even remotely related to craft spirits. They are just selling bottles. Belle Isle doesn't make anything. Here is what Belle Isle actually "does": they buy grain neutral spirits from an industrial distilling plant. What is an industrial distilling plant? Basically it's a factory. By the way, factories suck. I worked at one the first couple of years that Misty and I were married. It is a soul sucking, 12 hour shit (sorry, shift) of waiting to go home so you can get drunk off your ass and forget that you wasted that much oxygen pressing a button and making sure that a piece of wire wasn't 1 millimeter too long. So after they have got their industrialized craft moonshine, they do something magical: they put it in a bottle with their “magical brand” glued to the front, and peddle it to hard-working stiffs that don’t yet know enough to realize they have been duped.
This is the type of industry that you support when you buy a twenty dollar bottle of Virginia's Belle Isle Moonshine. Belle Isle basically takes the grain neutral spirits out of the Industrial Bulk Containers (IBC totes) filled with liquor that they didn't make, add Kool-Aide flavors, and put a pretty label on it. So what is grain neutral spirits? Grain neutral spirits, according to the TTB, is "Spirits distilled from any material at or above 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof), and if bottled, is bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)" Let me break this down for you. This means that you can't "taste the grain", or there is no similarity to the alcohol and the grain that it was made for. It's neutral. That rubbing alcohol that you have sitting underneath your bathroom sink is neutral spirits. The only difference is that it was treated, or "denatured" so that it would be undrinkable. Wait.... I guess there is another difference. Belle Isle uses organic corn. Cool. So do I. My neighbor four miles down the road raises organic corn too. He is a dirt poor farmer that uses heirloom corn seeds and can't afford to buy commercial pesticides. and because he works two jobs, (one at a chicken processing factory), doesn't have the damn time or patience to get a certification to label his 16 acres of corn as "organic". But let's get back to the glorious entrepreneurs at Belle Isle.
I waited about seven minutes for my turn to get to the counter and asked them about their craft, artisanal, and hand made products. Did they make it? Did they bet the farm on their dream of creating the best USDA certified, triple macchiato, gluten free, polar bear friendly moonshine ever known to mankind. Not only no, but hell no. No, and according to the bearded sample master, the owners, whoever they are, don't have any plans to start producing their own products. The tall, bearded blonde said that their business is "blossoming" and that they "have expanded into ten states" and that "sales are strong." All this company has is a name, a filling line, and hipsters with beards. Hey, as long as folks are buying the story I guess they will keep selling "Virginia Moonshine".
So I'm keeping true to my word. This is what I wrote one hour after visiting with the bearded drink pourers. In a way, I don't blame Belle Isle. It's just that on the way home, I called my wife. I sent her back home to Missouri while I packed the apartment up. I'm headed to S. Korea in 3 weeks and my orders say I'm going to be there for two years. Misty told me about how our youngest daughter finally decided to start talking and how our oldest (just turned 5) woke her up at 3 am. She was crying because she had a bad dream. She said that "daddy didn't love her anymore". I just think about my deployments, missing the first year of her life, how I've put my family into uncertainty, and about missing TWO years of my children's childhood. I'm sacrificing the most. valuable resource that I have so that I can take this tiny ass, backwoods distillery from a holler in the Ozarks to maybe a shelf in Los Angeles. It is just really painful when you realize the actual cost of it all and I guess that deep down I feel like Belle Isle is trying to cut in front of the line. I mean hell, Evan Williams is a family owned business that has been making Bourbon since Methuselah was in diapers. They don't talk about culture, heritage, technique, and skill; they are living it. Evan Williams also makes one of my favorite bourbons in the world. I would prefer to see them than these bozos. Really, I have a bourbon collection that has it's own insurance policy; I'm not joking. I prefer Henry McKenna 10 year old, bottled in bond to some of the stuff that I have paid 900+ bucks for. Henry McKenna is just really old Evan Williams. Evan Williams paid their dues; they didn't sell out to a corporation headquartered in Japan, and they are making great bourbon the way they have always made it. That is the direction that I want to send White Mule Distillery. Lets walk the walk before we talk to talk. Fuck the hipsters.