Brews & Bites: Spirits, History, Passion

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The 8 Shires collection of rum, gin and whiskeys. (WYDaily/Ben Mackin)

WILLIAMSBURG — It would be an immense oversimplification to say that 8 Shires Coloniale Distillery just makes and sells distilled spirits. What 8 Shires and its small staff also deal in is the history of early American distillation.

There is a history lesson in every aspect of the distillery’s operation right down to its name. 8 Shires refers to the mandate King Charles I handed to the Virginia Territory in 1634 to divide into shires or counties. Some of the names for those shires are still used today such as James City, Charles City and Henrico.

The small batch distillery on Merrimac Trail has been quietly yet doggedly carving out a place for itself in a competitive distilled spirits market since 2014. On the surface, their product line of liquor looks to be standard, but a closer look and taste shows that 8 Shires is anything but standard.

When it comes to making their assortment of gin, rum and whiskeys, the staff at 8 Shires stops at nothing when it comes to keeping the product as historically accurate as possible.

“We do our best to emulate the recipes, the methods, the ingredients from the Colonial era,” Distillery Manager Tucker Casanova said. “Some people might think that is limiting, but really there is a lot of room to experiment and find stuff. We do a lot of research and talk to a lot of experts. There is room to make some outstanding spirits.”

No detail is too small if it will help produce the most historically authentic spirits. For instance, the molasses used to make the distillery’s three varieties of rum is made from sugar sourced all the way from South America because that is the only place they could find that produces sugar using 18th-century methods.

The distillery’s pride and joy, the Jamestown 1608 Single Malt Whiskey, takes attention to detail to a new level.

Using water found at the bottom of a 17th-century well discovered on Jamestown Island, along with the same kind of malted barley settlers would have used and reproductions of stills found near the well, 8 Shires was able to produce an extremely limited batch of museum certified backwards aged whiskey.

Going forward, 8 Shires is primed for growth with its wide array of products gracing the shelves of Virginia ABC stores across the Commonwealth. Bottles are also with restaurant bars as unique flavor profiles of the old New World make for a cocktail that is anything but ordinary.

“It’s an experience and a story,” Marketing Director Charis Hutton said. “With every one of our local restaurant partners we try to emphasize the story they can tell that adds to the experience. Even if it’s as simple as having a table tent out that talks about 8 Shires rum and how it was used back in the day.”

Adding on to that, Tucker said that the story helps 8 Shires appeal to a wide variety of customers.

“Our product appeals not just to people walking into the distillery and trying the product for the first time, ” he said. “It also appeals to people who want to be engaged with their spirits and cocktails.”

The tasting room at 8 Shires is open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Distillery tours are free and start on the hour, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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