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Ironclad Distillery


Article by Doc Ashby

Photography by Doc Ashby

“At twelve the whistle sounds again and Grog and Dinner is the order. The Grog is whiskey, and they give a Gil cup twice each day, and it is equal to a good stiff horn each time.” 

Nestled among the downtown historic block of Newport News, and shipyard, rests a nostalgic structure erected in 1913. Whiskey has long inspired many stories, and Ironclad Distillery turns out some serious whiskey. This spirited family operation, steered by Kara King and Owen King and founded by their father Stephen King, focuses on producing Virginia’s best bourbon whiskey. That’s it and that’s all. Inspired by the site of the historic Battle of the Ironclads, Virginia’s only distillery seated on saltwater provides a unique salted characteristic to any contemporary for miles. The cohesion of the distillation process, to the pour, to the richness of heritage found from pillar to post entreats an experience that embodies what the King Family envisioned at inception. With a gem of a building, that had been repurposed for a few businesses over the previous fifteen years, the S.W. Holt & Co. warehouse seemed the perfect fit to fulfill the retirement dream of Stephen King. After several small batch experiments, distilled by the father and son duo, the concept began taking shape. Owen’s sister Kara was an easy sell, as a single taste had her packing her bags from a marketing career in New York City to join the venture. 

Before patrons would sit at the beautifully nostalgic bar, fashioned from secondhand salvage and patched together masterfully, the fledgling spirit needed to be standardized. The still in the back, affectionately named after late grandmother Ruth, runs four times each week. Owen King says “We don’t hold it against her that her favorite drink was Old Crow. We just try to do a little better.” The still produces whiskey at 160 proof, 80% alcohol, and crystal clear. The char of the virgin oak barrels produce the caramel hue of the final product. The finish is derived from the combination of grain and the oak itself. Every variation of America’s drink that Ironclad produces highlights the characteristics of either the honey, peppers, coffee, or wine stored in barrels for a unique taste. Award winning corn is brought in from Charles City, along with grain from fields harvested specifically for the purpose of producing this choice spirit. The compost utilized in the fertilization of the land imparts flavor notes that are not revealed until the distillation process. A more sweet run of corn will unleash a bouquet of flowery characteristics once concentrated. While consistently familiar, each taste is one of a kind.

Mixologist, Robert Gregory, has shared his expertise to help craft some of the most exquisite cocktails. Swapping zip codes from a speakeasy in Suffolk (Fin & Tonic), his creations at the tasting room, or as part of the Iron Fist Cocktail Club produce a most memorable drinking experience. Iron Fist Cocktail Club Members enjoy a slew of perks to include exclusive event access, first dibs, and swag to accompany the latest concoctions suitable for home imbibing. The choice is clear on what to grab next time your close acquaintances call to “splice the mainbrace”... And if you’re not quite sure what that means, then stop in for a glass and a story.

124 23rd St, Newport News, VA 23607

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Horse’s Neck

1 1/2 oz Ironclad Bourbon

3 dashes Angostura Bitters or Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters

Good quality ginger beer

Fresh lime

Build in the glass with ice. Top with the ginger beer and a squeeze of lime. Garnish with a lime slice.