LEE COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – A Southwest Virginia distillery has been nominated for USA Today’s Best New Craft Distillery in the country. The family-owned business says they hope Axe Handle Distilling brings pride to the region.
General manager Bryan Hogan told News Channel 11 that the distillery management learned of their nomination from a colleague.
“We actually had a person contact us last week. Actually, it was the manufacturer of the barrels we use, Speyside Cooperage,” Hogan said. A manager of the plant in Atkins told Axe Handle management that they had made the list.
Hogan said while he wasn’t familiar with most of the other distilleries on the list, he had been to City Gate Spirits in St. Augustine, Florida.
“I think everybody’s pretty excited,” Hogan said. “I mean, all our staff here and Heather and Judy and I, we’ve been working really hard for the past year. We haven’t been open for quite a year yet, so we’ve been working really hard to get things up and going and get some national recognition.”
While the distillery is located in Pennington Gap, Hogan said Axe Handle is hoping to be a point of pride for all of Southwest Virginia.
“When you live in a rural county like we do, it’s more of a regional thing,” Hogan said. “Right now, we are getting grains from all of Southwest Virginia, which is pretty awesome. No one around here really says they’re from Pennington Gap or they’re from Duffield. They’re from Lee County or Wise County or Scott County or just Southwest Virginia as a whole.”
Hogan credited the entire region for the success that Axe Handle has seen.
“It’s really been an effort from everybody in the community and we recognize the fact that we could not be where, doing what we are without the help of our entire community,” Hogan said. “It’s been great and I think the community has been very responsive, they feel like it’s a part of them as well. They’ve got some real connections to the distillery.
The distillery created nine new jobs when it opened in late September of 2020. Hogan said throughout the entire pandemic and all its challenges, no one was laid off at Axe Handle. As the company grows, Hogan hopes more jobs will continue to be added.
The distillery is an outgrowth of Old Virginia Log Homes, which was started by Hogan’s wife’s grandmother, Judy Williams, 40 years ago.
“We knew that we needed to diversify,” Hogan said. “Our community is economically challenged for a lot of things that we could do. So we needed to have an idea of what we could do that could be exported to other areas of the country and would help create jobs and help protect our staff here for having jobs when we couldn’t always count on the housing industry.”
Hogan said after considering many different ideas for expansion, the family chose to use their love of whiskey as an avenue for growth.
“It occurred to us after doing some research that maybe this was something that we wanted to do,” Hogan said. “It quickly spiraled out of control, and we opened up a 3,600 square foot facility, big wrap-around porch.”
The business also boasts a large amphitheater-style stage and features live music on a regular basis.
Hogan says Axe Handle Distilling plans to branch out to East Tennessee and Eastern Kentucky. They plan to have products at Virginia ABC stores in October.
The USA Today nomination is just one way that Hogan hopes the area can gain recognition.
“On all our labels, we have Lee County, Virginia on every single label that we produce. All our T-shirts say Lee County, Virginia,” Hogan said. “I think it’s one thing folks in the area can take pride in.”
You can vote for Axe Handle on the USA Today list by clicking here. Voting closes at noon on September 13. The winners will be announced on September 24.