Bourbon in the Basement!

Dec 8, 2021 | 0 comments

Located in the former laundry facility of the historic Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach (c. 1927), you will find the first (and only) hotel-housed craft distillery in the United States. Here, a six-member team creates, bottles, labels, markets and sells thousands of bottles of award-winning spirits under the label, Tarnished Truth. While Tarnished Truth produces a bourbon mash moonshine, a handcrafted vodka, a delightfully fragrant gin, and a decadent bourbon cream, the real winners here are their “High Rye Straight Bourbon Whiskey” (aged 3 years), and their “Old Cavalier Straight Bourbon Whiskey” (aged 11 years in a single barrel). More on Tarnished Truth to follow, but let’s talk a little bourbon first!

Bourbon in Virginia? I thought it came from Kentucky!

While 95% of the world’s supply does come from Kentucky, it can be produced anywhere in America (and it is)! In fact, the federal standards governing the identity of bourbon dictate that it is a ‘distinctive product of the United States’ and that ‘the word “bourbon” shall not be used to describe any whiskey or whiskey-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States.’ Just as Scotch can only be produced in Scotland, so can Bourbon only be produced in the United States. In fact, and this might be difficulty for my KY friends to swallow, Bourbon Whiskey did, indeed, originate in Virginia!

Tasting Room at Tarnished Truth

Aren’t bourbon and whiskey the same thing?

This is a common misconception, and to get to the crux of this matter, we have to get to the ‘mash!’ For a whiskey to call itself bourbon, its mash (the mixture of grains from which the product is distilled) must contain at least 51 percent corn. The mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less, and the distillate must be stored in charred new oak barrels at 125 proof or less. Further, and this is a BIG deal, bourbon (unlike whiskey) must not contain ANY additives.

It all begins with a good grain ‘mash!’
Tarnished Truth’s Vendome Copper Still – where the magic happens!

Back to Tarnished Truth…

Not only does the team at Tarnished Truth REALLY know their spirits, they have done an incredible job at incorporating the history of the hotel that houses them with their brands. For instance, their “Fourth Handle Gin” is so named in honor of the luxurious fourth handle in the original guest room baths which drew fresh seawater for a spa-like experience. Additionally, the very name, “Tarnished Truth” is a nod to the hotel’s wide and storied past. With guests such as Richard Nixon and Al Capone, one can see where such colorful stories might originate.

Rumor has it that Richard Nixon actually burned incriminating documents in the fireplace of the Hunt Room!

Do I have to be a guest at the hotel to experience the distillery?

While taking up residence (even only temporarily) in the hotel would be my dream, it is not necessarily in my budget. Fortunately, the distillery (and gift shop) is open to the public, and anyone can schedule a tour. If you’re there after 4:00 pm, be sure to have a late lunch or dinner in the adjacent “Hunt Room.” There, you will really get a feel for the hotel’s history while being able to watch these master distillers at work.

The historic Cavalier Hotel – in all its recently renovated glory.
Tasting Flight
It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!

Written by: Teresa White Carver, Girl Camper Guide to Virginia

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