By Brandon Martin
The apples of Henry and Patrick counties could soon be found in the form of brandy sold at Smith River Spirits, a new retail operation in Ridgeway.
Alan Black, who serves as the county attorney in Patrick, along with Kevin Nelson and Wes Mills formed a corporation in October 2019 to distill brandy, according to information presented to the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals. The board later approved a special use permit for the corporation.
“What we are offering is a high-quality brandy,” Nelson said, and added the distillery offers two flavors, called Apple Black after Black.
Black described his signature brandy as “the drink that you’ve never had before” or “you had to pay big bucks to get it.”
“We’re not making bootleg or anything like that. Most of our products are going to places like Primland and other restaurants, bars, and establishments,” Nelson said, and added the new retail portion of the distillery will be a 10’x10’ area outside of the building.
“The retail location is a Virginia ABC store. It’s a government store,” Nelson said. “It has a government number just like every other ABC store. We will only be selling three products. We’re not looking for high volume. We’re just looking for a location in the area where people come off the river.”
Nelson said the license only allows for the creation of up to 5,000 gallons a year, which encompasses all three products.
With the distinct apple colors on the label, “the red is like an old fashioned, traditional apple brandy” made from “a combination of three apples, the main apple being a gold rush apple,” Nelson said. “The green label is Alan’s selection of apples we can get now that just make an amazing product.”
Nelson said the brandy is 85-proof.
“We make an extremely high-end alcohol,” Nelson said. “It’s very low production based on the efforts and the products. We are just taking what mother nature put into the product and converting that, then doing the distillation.”
Eventually, Nelson said distillery plans to add tastings as an on-site option. Currently, the distillery has a peddler’s license, which allows for the delivery of its product to customers.
According to Nelson, the venue won’t be a gathering place for clientele.
“Due to the product that we make, if a customer came in for a tasting, then we couldn’t serve them more than three ounces in a 24-hour period,” Nelson said. “We’re not doing a venue for live music or anything like that. It’s to drive up, purchase and exit the property.”
Along with the brandy, Nelson said 6,000 tanker loads of wine are transported across the country from Washington.
“They are real nice, finished wines,” he said. “I distill the wine and we actually age that in charred oak barrels for a year or two and possibly longer.”
Nelson said winemaking is a hobby he has shared with Black for more than 20 years. Due to the ability to buy wine cheaper than making it, Nelson said the vineyards have been “torn up” and replaced with apple orchards.
“We’ve planted two apple orchards on different properties in Patrick County, and we started two in Henry County where we will eventually be growing our own apples,” Nelson said. “Presently, we are getting apples out of Woolwine and Winchester, Va.”
A final hearing on the special use permit will be heard by the Board of Supervisors this month.