By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
There is both fiction and legend in Virgil Kaine Lowcountry Whiskey Co. Sipping their whiskey leaves me humming “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” In the song recorded by The Band in 1969, which as Joan Baez’s version was on the top five chart in 1971, Virgil Caine was “the name,” but he never served on the Danville train nor did he fight in the American Civil War. He was a fictional character of songwriter J. R. “Robbie” Robertson.
Virgil Kaine of Virgil Kaine Lowcountry Whiskey Co. is also a fictional and legendary character. He was created by two Southern chefs, David Szlam and Ryan Meany, and in doing so, they rebelled against traditional American whiskies by emphasizing taste and flavor profiles, rather than lineage and heritage. Every great whiskey deserves a story, and legend has it that this Virgil was a train conductor by day and bootlegger by night. He searched for choice ingredients by day and made whiskey over a hot still inside a train car at night until the government raided his still, leaving behind only a bullet for his troubles. But while recovering Kaine discovered what he had been missing: ginger. He then developed this handcrafted bourbon made with yellow Hawaiian ginger in South Carolina.
The two chefs wanted the bottle to be true to history even if the character is not. They studied bottles from the Civil War era in search of an authentic shape and dug up ones from the South Carolina distillery, the only one allowed to operate during Prohibition. Examining photos of old bottles, they found that they all had wide shoulders with a small base and a unique embossed glass, so drinkers caught in the act in the Prohibition era could strip the bottle and claim it was medicine.
Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon is infused with heirloom ginger and boasts notes of ginger, orange, sorghum, apricot, vanilla, and oats. It has a full mouth finish with slight tannins. Virgil Kaine High Rye Bourbon offers notes of caramel, butterscotch, orange, smoke, and oak, with pepper and tobacco on the finish. And Virgil Kaine Robber Baron Rye Whiskey reveals notes of sorghum, plum, vanilla, nutmeg, and oak, and finishes with dried fig and pepper. The whiskies are distributed in Alabama and poured locally at Little Savannah.
Train Car No. 001
3 1/2 Ounces Virgil Kaine
Ginger Infused Bourbon
1 ounce Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth
1 ounce Spiced Simple Syrup
4 splashes orange bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and pour over ice.
This recipe and others are available at virgilkaine.com/recipes.