Virgil Kaine -Chefs Find Success in the Lowcountry and Beyond
Author: Sarah Lipton | Photographer: MichaelHrizukPhotos.com
If you’ve spent any time in the Lowcountry, you probably have a list of favorite spots to dine and can appreciate the saying “eat local.” But can you also claim to “drink local?” For former chefs David Szlam and Ryan Meany, our area’s famed food and dining scene was a huge source of inspiration for their growing line of spirits, Virgil Kaine Lowcountry Whiskey Co.
Trained as professional chefs, Szlam, of Charleston, and Meany, of Hilton Head, were inspired by their years at the helm of restaurants in top culinary destinations such as Charleston and San Francisco.
Over the years, they discovered that nothing beats a glass of whiskey after a long night in the kitchen. Armed with an impressive repertoire, a passion for simple ingredients and a commitment to great taste, they set out to apply their culinary expertise to the process of spirit making. The result was a successful line of Southern spirits that’s rooted in the Lowcountry and continually capturing the eyes—and taste buds—of bourbon fans across the country.
Virgil Kaine’s award-winning debut spirit is Ginger Infused Bourbon, a full-bodied Southern bourbon infused with ginger, sourced locally from Spade & Clover Gardens on John’s Island.
“From the start, it was important for us to work with local farmers,” Szlam said. “We are passionate about our whiskey, and they’re passionate about their crops.”
The Ginger Infused Bourbon has a smooth, lingering finish and the flavor of warm ginger spice with hints of vanilla. Bourbon fans like to sip it neat, while cocktail enthusiasts enjoy it in what they call the “Charleston Mule,” with lime juice and ginger beer.
Following the success of their debut spirit, Szlam and Meany released two new whiskeys in 2015: Virgil Kaine High-Rye Bourbon and Virgil Kaine Robber Baron Rye Whiskey. They created the High-Rye Bourbon after repeatedly noticing that the true taste of bourbon they loved was lacking in many mixed drinks.
“If I’m making a cocktail, High-Rye Bourbon is my go-to,” Meany said. He says it will stand up to any drink you like, but his personal favorite is a Whiskey Smash with a bit of lemon and simple syrup. “I think of this as our take on a whiskey mojito,” he said.
Armed with an impressive repertoire, a passion for simple ingredients and a commitment to great taste, David and Ryan set out to apply their culinary expertise to the process of spirit making.
Their Robber Baron Rye Whiskey is a Southern twist on an old favorite. Made with a pioneering mix of two exotic whiskeys, Szlam and Meany set out to pair the spice of a good rye with the sweetness of bourbon. According to Szlam, this one is meant to be sipped neat or on the rocks, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’ll break the bank. “Who says a solid rye whiskey under $40 shouldn’t be sipped?” he said.
Their quest to create innovative spirits with an emphasis on flavor first—ahead of the tradition that typically surrounds whiskey—has resonated in South Carolina and beyond. The Spirits International Prestige Awards (SIP) named Virgil Kaine’s Ginger Infused Bourbon a “Distinguished Platinum Winner,” and Virgil Kaine has been featured in USA Today, Cheers! and on Liquor.com. The guys are fixtures at major events across the South (in the past year, they’ve personally poured Virgil Kaine for thirsty fans at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, Savannah Food & Wine Festival, Nashville’s Music City Food + Wine Festival and Euphoria Greenville). Add to that the launch of their own “Southern Coalition” gatherings, at which Szlam and Meany personally host fans old and new for a night of their favorite things—think cocktails prepped with ingredients sourced in the host city, barbecue fare and even their favorite outdoor games. “Our Southern Coalition events are some of our favorite to do,” Szlam said. “They give us a chance to really connect with the communities supporting our brand and to show people what we’re really about.”
Though schedules increasingly demand that they divide and conquer, Szlam and Meany plan to remain just as involved as they’ve always been as Virgil Kaine continues to grow in its reach and offerings. In the last few months, retail distribution has grown exponentially to include South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and New York, with additional states slated for later in 2016. Adding online distribution has also been a big step, allowing whiskey drinkers across the country to enjoy Virgil Kaine. A true labor of love, you won’t find Szlam and Meany lamenting the challenges of the industry or the long hours spent working special events. “We feel so lucky to have started Virgil Kaine here at home,” Meany said. “The Lowcountry is truly a hotbed of innovation when it comes to the culinary world, and we’re lucky to have so much talent and support right here in our backyard.”
For a list of local retailers and upcoming events, visit virgilkaine.com.
Virgil Kaine Hurricane
3 oz. Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon
.25 oz. simple syrup
.25 oz. allspice liqueur
.5 oz. grenadine
.5 oz. lime juice
1.5 oz. pineapple juice
1.5 oz. orange juice
Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Pour into a hurricane glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge, cherry and grated cinnamon.