Two years from idea to fruition, the doors of MurLarkey Distilled Spirits, LLC opened just days into the new year of 2016 in Bristow, Virginia. Thomas Murray had completed a successful career as a high-tech executive and was thinking about his next best chapter. His cousin, Mike Larkin, had been toying with the idea of opening a distillery. Descendants of the Kellys, an Irish family that immigrated to the United States in the 1930’s, spirits were steeply ingrained in their family traditions. In fact, in Ireland whiskey is often called uisce beatha, meaning the “water of life.” It’s something the Murray, Larkin, and Kelly homes knew and loved. MurLarkey® was born, named for, and run as a family business.
A lot has changed in one short year. Licensed as only the 11th distillery in Virginia, there are now almost 50. But it is clear what started out as a small craft distillery is becoming something much bigger. On a whim, they entered their first competition, the 2016 Distilled San Diego Spirit & Cocktail Festival, one of the largest and most respected international competitions held each year in the U.S., with their Divine Clarity® Vodka taking the Bronze and their Justice™ handcrafted white whiskey taking the Silver against brands such as Crown Royal and Bulleit. They followed up with winning Virginia Moonshine Distillery of the Year for 2016 at the New York International Spirits Competition, as well as being the Bronze winner for their ImaGINation Gin™ and the Silver winner for Justice™ at that same competition. They were awarded five medals at the distinguished American Distilling Institutes (ADI) Craft Spirits Awards, taking Gold for Divine Clarity® grain-to-glass vodka, and bronzes for their ImaGINation™ Gin and three of their whiskeys.
Enter their doors and you’re instantly aware that they are smart, savvy businessmen. The tasting room is all wood, metal, bar stools, and festive strung lights—modern yet grounded in tradition. Take a tour and you’ll see their immigrant story and the history of potato vodka and distilled spirits come to life. You’ll learn that when the Irish first came to America they did not have their beloved potatoes, which were not indigenous to Northern America. So they turned to corn and a new American spirits business was born. An old copper still has a place of honor in a corridor, while in the operations center, their modern European distillery equipment is clean and sleek, stainless steel lined with copper with their signature crest poised artfully above. In their retail section, their spirits are available for sale alongside some great merch that captures the fun of your adventure. I’ll be sporting a great tank this summer that says, ”It’s Just Not a Party, Without a Little MurLarkey …Distilled Spirits.”
But, the real heart and soul of the company is reflected in their products. Jesse Puckett, their Head Distiller, has mastered the task of using the finest locally sourced, 100% natural, gluten-free corn and barley, Idaho potatoes known for their optimal moisture and high starch content, and local waters to drive the fermentation process to mash tank, on to the 600 gallon still, through distillation to the cooling condenser to produce the 160-to-190 proof vodka, gin, or whiskey base. A typical vodka is distilled four to six times in a run. MurLarkey’s® award-winning Divine Clarity® is distilled 16 times resulting in an incredibly smooth and pure spirit. The company is so focused on the quality of their ingredients and process that they have trademarked “Farm to Flask™.”
George “Papi” Zwetkow, is the creative genius behind the art of product development. What happens when you put a love of food (we’re talking gourmet cook here), fabulous “nose,” and a discerning palate together with natural curiosity and a hint of mischief? Great spirits. Papi has mastered the difference between what enhances the flavor of a gin or whiskey and what competes to its detriment.
I received an amazing short course in the use of chardonnay oak wine barrels to bring out the flavor in Clemoncy™, their finest whiskey infused with the highest quality dried lemon peels and zest, to be served chilled and neat or to form the base for a delightful array of crafted cocktails. Or the need for merlot oaken wine barrels to produce their cinnamon and brown whiskeys. Smoked or charred oak staves are added as needed to bring out the nuanced textures and flavors of their widening selection of spirits. Think gin is for old men or stuffy upper crust Englishmen? ImaGINation™ will change your mind. Forget any medicinal properties that might have lingered too long on your taste buds, this gin is delicately flavored with 12 botanicals including lavender, lemongrass, rosemary, juniper, ginger, and peppercorns amongst others, that delightfully grace your senses and can be served cold and up or mixed with grapefruit juice to form their “Floridian.”
What I found consistent throughout the tastings was whether the spirits were served plain or as one of over 14 signature cocktails available for sampling, the character of the spirit itself was never overwhelmed or lost. A favorite was the Irish Red Head, their Cincerity™ Cinnamon Whiskey combined with orange juice and ginger beer. Another was the Cinnamule™, Cincerity™ with sweet cider and ginger beer. Served warm during the fall will bring cheer and cheers from any crowd. Justice™ is aptly named as it is perfect with just ice, or served with Zing Zang Bloody Mary mix, available at ABC stores and some local supermarkets. George suggests garnishing with crispy bacon for a truly Virginian cocktail experience. Looking for the perfect summer libation? Try Clemonade™, a blend of Clemoncy™ Lemon Whiskey, fresh squeezed lemon juice and a touch of simple syrup topped with club soda.
Over the last year, MurLarkey’s® distilled spirits have become available at over 80 Virginia ABC stores and 70 restaurants from Fairfax to Virginia Beach. Several new whiskeys are in the approval process through the Treasury Tax Bureau and State Certification requirements, and they plan to launch their own line of bitters in the near future. As one of the fastest growing distillers in Virginia, they are not content to rest on their early success. The possibilities of every new batch, the thrill of discovery, and the satisfaction of their loyal and growing customer base drives them to expand on what can only be described as an astonishing year of accomplishment.
I really enjoyed getting to know everyone at MurLarkey’s®, and the tasting experience was delightful. You feel like you’re getting a wealth of knowledge on how to serve and savor each spirit in a relaxed and lively atmosphere. The familial pride and joy they take in making your visit a day to remember is evident at every moment. Make this part of your future plans. I know I will visit again very soon!
MurLarkey’s® is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from 1:00-6:00 pm. Tasting options include up to six ½ oz. samples of spirits for $15.00 or Signature Cocktails up to two cocktails containing 1.5 oz. of spirit for $7.50 each. Tours are Fridays and Saturdays at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 pm. Groups of 10 and above need to call in advance. Tours and Tastings or Cocktails cost $17.00 per person.
Private parties, corporate functions, rehearsal dinners, socials, fundraisers, and other special occasions can be celebrated in style at MurLarkey’s® for up to 60 guests. Their team of dedicated professionals will help you coordinate your special event.