Bottles have been available to taste at the Summerhill LCBO’s tasting counter (small samples).
Customers could pre-order it from the Vintages department ahead of general listing. I ordered a couple of bottles a few months ago and they came in yesterday.
Tasting the whisky in normal-size measures, I am just as impressed as with the teaspoon measures of the sampling. Virginia Black is obviously bourbon whisky, even though not stated on the label, but dollars to donuts some kind of sweetening is added. In this case the effect is pleasant and works perfectly.
Under U.S. regulations for bourbon, it is not possible to flavour bourbon and call the result “bourbon”. Rye whiskey, provided it is not straight, is a different story, as are the various barrel-finished bourbons due to some hairsplitting IMO.
I speculate it was decided to call Virginia Black simply “whisky” to ensure compliance with these rules, but I don’t know for certain. It doesn’t matter, the whisky is a quality product and that’s all that matters.
I should add, Virginia in the name is neither a type nor source, the label states clearly the whiskey is not from Virginia. Virginia is simply a branding or trade mark here.
The back label refers to Lawrenceburg, Indiana which suggests the whiskey is sourced from MGP, an old distillery there – very old, it was started in 1847. The plant used to be owned by Seagram. MGP is a respected bulk producer, it has no brands of its own but supplies bourbon and rye whiskey to many non-distilling producers or others needing whiskey for a brand.
The whiskey hasn’t a hint of immaturity, that rubbery or detergent note two or three year old whisky can have. I’d guess the Virginia Black is four or five years old, but am not sure again. However it is put together, the people who formulated it did a great job.
Music and media star Drake founded the Virginia Black venture together with the creator of DeLeon tequila**, Brent Hocking. They came up with some nice packaging, too, the bottle is a ridged clear glass which evokes the 40s-60s. The VB logo has a 40s design feel as well but the blingy gold-plate of the label and cap offers a modern note.
Both in colour and taste, the whisky reminded me of a bourbon from the 60s-80s, Benchmark. Like Virginia Black, Benchmark was rich but not complex, easy to get down but tasting good. As it happens, that was a Seagram brand*. It all ties in…
* The name Benchmark has appeared on bottles of bourbon in recent years, a product of the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY (owned by Sazerac Company of New Orleans). Virginia Black tastes much closer to the original Benchmark than the latter-day one, IMO.
**Apologies to Virginia Black, I just was told that co-founder Brent Hocking developed DeLeon tequila, not another brand as mentioned earlier. Glad to be able to set record straight.