Lonely Planet Writer

Distill your own personal bourbon at this Virginia hotel

Fancy playing distiller for a day? How about an ongoing stint for the next eight years?

Cavalier Beach Club, Virginia. Photo by Ron Blunt Photography

Starting on 1 April 2019, would-be Bourbon makers can do just that in a new interactive experience at the only distillery housed within a U.S. hotel.

Tarnished Truth, the year-old facility located inside the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is launching a Presidential Bourbon Barrel Program where guests work alongside professional distillers over four days to create their own personalized Bourbon, developing a mash bill that they will ferment and distill.

Tarnished Truth whiskey barrel. Photo credit Marcus Holman Photography

The whiskey is then aged up to eight years in a barrel etched with the owner’s name. Every year the guest (or group) can sample their specially curated spirit to see how it’s evolving and also enjoy a night of complimentary accommodations in the tiny Presidential Suite at the historic hotel, which first opened in 1927 and recently completed a massive four-year renovation, melding its glamorous 1920s past with modern appointments. Their name will also be inscribed on a commemorative plaque in the tasting room.

“The experience creates a tradition for guests where they can create memories year after year when they come back to visit and taste their Bourbon,” says co-owner and operator Andrew Yancey.

Presidential Suite, Cavalier Hotel. Photo by: Mark Atkinson

But it’s up to each amateur Bourbon maker to decide that elusive sweet spot. A barrel aged for three years will be decidedly less complex but can yield up to 300 750ml bottles – plenty to stock home bar shelves for decades. One aged for eight years will be more rich, viscous and luscious, but thanks to the Angel’s Share (the liquid lost annually because of evaporation through the pores of the wood) hooch makers will wind up with half that amount.

“That’s the mystique of making Bourbon, you really don’t know how it is going to turn out until you try it while it’s aging,” Yancey says. Local climate plays a factor too, he adds; mild seasons equate to a longer optimal aging time. Membership of the Presidential Bourbon Barrel Club doesn’t come cheap and is priced at $25,000.