Why Become Virago Spirits?
What released the essence of Virago Spirits? What moves a lawyer, an investment banker and a sales executive to become a team of entrepreneurs? Not just entrepreneurs but founders of a craft distillery in the capital of Virginia.
One day the Haneberg family decided to distill spirits in Richmond, VA. Brothers Brad, Barry and Barton Heneberg—and Brad’s wife Vicki—made the group decided to become Virago Spirits.
In 2018, restaurants across the region began showcasing the first Virago Spirit, Four Port Rum. Cocktail Masters began crafting signature cocktails with Virago as the base. Rum enthusiasts started enjoying an Old Fashioned, a Jungle Bird or a Dark & Stormy. But do the “Brand Fans” grasp the road traveled by the Haneberg family?
What sparked the passion? What’s the story behind the road traveled to launch Virago Spirits?
The Haneberg family started from scratch. They did not buy an established distillery. As a matter of fact, they studied the market, multiple business plans and then decided to launch a distillery in Virginia.
Browse the brand’s social media feeds and you are provided a transparent timeline to the launch of the new business. From designing the brand image to building the distillery to boxing bottles by hand, this launch is a testament to the entrepreneur’s passion.
DW&S is the champion of Virginia entrepreneurs in the craft beverage and food market. The Virago story captured our attention, and we reached out to the Haneberg family. We traveled to Richmond to tour the distillery and taste the Four- Port Rum.
I want to introduce you to Virago Spirits. Let’s take a look Behind the Taste.
Kim: When did the discussion start? Were you sitting around the family dining table and decide to become craft beverage entrepreneurs? Was there a “Spark-Day”?
Virago: There wasn’t a single “spark-day” or “Eureka” moment. We had long dreamt of doing something together as a family, but our collective family/career/financial situations never quite aligned… that is, until 2013, when our life paths began to converge. It was then that we seriously considered translating the dream of a family business into a practical reality. The question was: what should that business be? While we each come from different professional backgrounds, we shared one interest in common: a passion for cocktails and the spirits that make them. Moreover, a distillery appealed directly to each of our Virago spirits – the spirit in taking a risk and doing something unexpected. And, so, a distillery it was.
Kim: I have to ask, what is behind the name Virago? What is the significance?
Virago: Virago is a Latin term that references women of extraordinary, heroic character: women who demonstrate the strength, courage, determination, and vision to pursue the impossible. And, it is that spirit of doing more than expected and pursuing the impossible that inspires us.
Kim: In the past five years, the Scotts Addition and Diamond region of Richmond has experienced a re-birth. The area has become a mecca for craft beverage lovers. Tell us about your decision to bring Virago to the region.
Virago: Over the past several years, Scott’s Addition and the Diamond district have indeed developed into an incubator of sorts for craft beverage and food-related businesses. At this point, there are some 12 breweries, 2 cideries, a meadery and 4 distilleries (including ourselves) – all within a few square miles of one another. We recognized rather early in our development process the importance of not only locating ourselves near similar businesses for collaboration possibilities but of being an active and contributing member of what we consider to be an up-and-coming craft beverage scene. For, as dense in talent and offerings as Richmond (and Central Virginia, more broadly) is, the quality of its producers is only beginning to be recognized on the national stage. We believe that that is going to change; and, we want to be part of that change. (That Virginia’s impressive agricultural industry, dense with orchards and vineyards, makes the state ideal for brandy production is an added bonus!)
Also in this edition, DW&S writer Paula Thomasson tells us about spending a day exploring Scotts Addition in Richmond, Virginia.
Kim: Tell us about your distillation philosophy and your Charentais-style still.
Virago: Our production philosophy blends a deep respect for time-honored, traditional production techniques with New World creativity, ingenuity, and innovation. We distill our spirits on a vintage, direct-fire, 2,500-liter Charentais-style alembic still – previously used by a 150-year-old Cognac producer in France and one of only a handful of such stills operating in the United States.
The process is intentionally laborious and requires significant patience, skill, and attention-to-detail. The results, however, are spirits and liqueurs of uncompromising quality, balance, and depth of flavor.
Direct-fire adds layers of depth and complexity of flavor – much as with grilled food. Distilling “Low and Slow” – where a single distillation can take upward of 12-14 hours and a complete distillation cycle requires upwards of 48 hours – maximizes our ability to separate out the crude portions of the distillate and to concentrate flavor. Glycol-chilled water cooling allows for precise control over the temperature of the final distillate, providing for a smoother, more aromatic product.
Kim: What’s behind the name Four-Port Rum?
Virago: We knew, from early on, that we wanted our first product to be a truly distinctive aged rum. The challenge was that it would take years of aging before our own distilled rums would be ready for the market; and, we did not want to rush that process. Blending, however, provided the opportunity for us to craft a truly unique product, allowing us to mix rum styles and profiles that are not typically incorporated together. Through a long process of trial and error, we refined our product into Four-Port Rum – so named in honor of the four ‘ports’ from which hour blend is sourced: Barbados, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Kim: The Four- Port Rum is a blended rum. You created, tasted and tested a multitude of blends before deciding on the current recipe. Tell us about the process.
Virago: The first step was to have a vision of the product we were seeking to create. We knew that we did not want to simply recreate or mimic an existing Caribbean-style of rum, as there are wonderful examples of that already on the market. If we were going to offer a product, we wanted it to have a distinct personality. We wanted a product that defied traditional ‘rum’ definitions and expectations, a product that could work both as a sipper and hold its own in a cocktail, and – critically – a product that would appeal both to traditional rum imbibers as well as traditionally-rum-shy whiskey drinkers. A tall order, indeed! With that in mind, we worked together with a Master Blender to select and craft the ideal blend of rums from across the Caribbean. The result, after many, many iterations, is Virago Four-Port Rum.
Kim: DW&S readers have enjoyed trying and collection Virago’s cocktail recipes. For the latest recipe, see this edition’s, The DW&S Supper Party Guide. Virginia restaurants and bars are not only showcasing Virago signature Four- Port Rum cocktails, but you are custom-creating distilled spirits for industry partners. Virago is distilling small-batch spirits and creating signature products. Tell us about your small-batch spirits. Can you share any of your creations or plans? What can we expect to see in 2019?
Virago: In addition to our flagship offerings, such as Four-Port Rum and our upcoming gin, we will offer an ever-evolving line-up of small-batch spirits and liquors. These offerings will fill more niche product categories and, as such, may not have the same mass appeal of ‘rum’ or ‘bourbon’. But, they are products about which we are passionate and which command dedicated, if more circumscribed, consumer followings – French absinthes and Italian Amari, fruit Eau-de-vies, herbal and fruit liqueurs, and vermouth, among other products. In addition, we are developing a series of cask-finished expressions of Four-Port Rum – the first of which, a ruby Port cask finished variant, will be available mid-November. As we slide into 2019, consumers can expect a new product to be released every quarter or so, with an absinthe, an amaro, and an apple brandy among the first small-batch products to be released. All of our small-batch products will be available for sale through our on-site distillery store. Some may be available through Virginia ABC, as well.
The Heart of the Brand
Kim: Congratulations on the next phase of Virago, the opening of your fifty-seat tasting room. I believe that the tasting room is the heart of any craft beverage. It provides the experience of the brand. Tell us about your vision of the experience in your tasting room.
Virago: We could not be more excited about the opening of our tasting room! We do, of course, offer tours and tastings of our products, as one may expect; but, we intend our tasting room to offer a more immersive experience than a simple tour-and-taste. It is a representation of who and what we are, after all. Everything – from the sofas, chairs, and tables; to the lighting, the music, the imagery in the murals, and the cocktails themselves – is designed to encourage customers to let go of their everyday worries and stresses, if only for a brief hour. This creates an environment in which customers can truly relax and immerse themselves in their experience – whether that be a tour of the facility, learning about the nuances of spirit and liqueur production, sampling product from an ever-evolving cocktail list, or simply reading a book in one of our comfy chairs. We want our customers to not have simply tried us, but to have fallen in love with our products and our brand. All of that starts with the tasting room experience.
Well, with a spark of passion, a lawyer, an investment banker, a sales executive, and a family can launch a new Virginia distilled spirit. We have certainly enjoyed making and tasting your custom cocktails. Now, I need to decide which antique glass to use to make a Virago Old Fashioned.
To find Virago Spirits go to www.viragospirits.com