What do you get when you put together cousins, in-laws and Irish heritage? The answer is MurLarkey Distilled Spirits in Bristow, Va. Since opening its doors a year ago, the local distillery has built a reputation for its six classic distilled spirits including four whiskies, a vodka and a gin, as well as 10 unique whiskey infusions.
“Our fusions are naturally-infused products,” says cofounder Mike Larkin. “Those are the ones that have really put us on the map because not a lot of people are making banana, blueberry or pineapple whiskies.”
Justice, MurLarkey’s award-winning white whiskey, is the base for the no-sugar-added infused spirits, which also include honey, coffee, tea, strawberry and grapefruit. The whiskies are 95 proof, so adding a little bit of ice helps to break the surface tension.
MurLarkey uses old oak wine barrels, cutting a hole at the top to flavor and age the whiskies with a breathing method that involves stirring and oxygenating the products rather than smothering it with wood. It’s like drinking a glass of wine from the bottle, which is tight at first, but then as it goes through the decanter and sits for a while, really blossoms and opens up.
“We’re doing that right from the beginning of our fermentation and maturation [process],” Larkin says. “I think it really gives us a roundness and an age profile.”
With all five distilled bottled spirits sold at dozens of ABC stores in Northern Virginia, the distillery receives business every weekend with tours and five half-ounce tastings of its whiskey infusions. Tourgoers get to learn all about the family business and playful atmosphere starting in the “ready room,” where they get a glimpse of old Irish poitíns on display before being exposed to the massive, China-made stills that were imported through the Panama Canal, including a 750-gallon mash top. From crafting clever product names to discovering new recipes, the creative minds behind MurLarkey steer clear of corporate trends and strive for originality.
“We’re thinking way outside the box with the products we’re inventing, and we’re not looking at this through a standard lens,” Larkin says. “I’m not from Jack Daniels, and our distillers aren’t from Jim Bean Suntory. We’re not from the industry, therefore we’re not looking at our product stack through the eyes of a typical industry person. We throw all that out.”
Larkin and his cofounder, Tom Murray (also MurLarkey’s CEO), are first cousins. The pair started working on this project just a few years ago; the name MurLarkey is the combination of Murray, Larkin and Kelly. Kelly is the maiden name of their mothers, whose parents came to the United States from Ireland just before World War II. The cousins came up with the name MurLarkey over a few drinks, also stemming from the word “malarkey,” which is Irish for nonsense.
Larkin’s father-in-law, a Russian master chef from New York, works behind the bar and makes a mean blueberry whiskey martini, while Larkin’s college roommate Jim Curry also works for the business. Larkin and Murray’s mothers-in-law also play a part in the all-hands-on-deck process of the distillery by helping bottle the products straight from the barrel at 150 bottles per hour.
“I think just being family and working together says enough as far as how much we really honor our family’s name and what they did coming from Ireland,” Larkin says.
After an attempt to flavor the whiskey with Atomic Fireballs in the experimental stage, it was clear Murray and Larkin needed to focus on flavoring the spirits with organic ingredients. Two pounds of organic lemon peel go into one of the barrels for two weeks, and come out a perfect yellow color to create Clemoncy, the lemon-infused whiskey. For Cincerity, the cinnamon-infused whiskey, it’s the same process but with eight pounds of cinnamon in the barrel.
The distillery’s top seller at Virginia ABC stores, Divine Clarity, is a potato-made vodka mainly purchased for use by restaurants. And the top seller at the distillery is Clemoncy. Customers love that it’s light and mixable, and often end up buying a few bottles to take home. MurLarkey released a special edition product, Brutality, last fall. The fourth cask of this limited reserve, barrel-aged, dark whiskey rolls out early this month. Larkin and Murray are currently working on an Irish whiskey, Heritage, that should be ready to hit shelves by St. Pat’s.
Tours at MurLarkey cost $5 per person, and are given by appointment Monday through Wednesday, and on Friday and Saturday at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Larger groups up to 10 are encouraged to reserve their own tours, followed by tastings priced at $15 per person.
MurLarkey Distilled Spirits: 7961 Gainsford Ct. Bristow, VA; 571-284-7961; www.murlarkey.com
MurLarkey’s St. Patrick’s Day cocktail
Irish Red Head
Ditch the mimosas for your St. Patrick’s Day brunch, and swap them out for an Irish Redhead. This orange sunset ombre cocktail is a combination of ginger beer, Cincerity (cinnamon-infused whiskey), maraschino syrup and orange juice. The cinnamon doesn’t overpower the drink, and the light carbonation from the ginger beer is refreshing. Start drinking these early in the day to start celebrating the right way.
Whiskey at Five Area Distilleries
Catoctin Creek Distillery: 120 W Main St. Purcellville, VA; www.catoctincreekdistilling.com
Jos. A. Magnus & Co.: 2052 West Virginia Ave. NE, DC; www.josephmagnus.com
Lost Ark Distilling Co.: 9570 Berger Rd. Suite L, Columbia, MD; www.lostarkdistilling.com
McClintock Distilling: 35 S. Carroll St. Frederick, MD; www.mcclintockdistilling.com
One Eight Distilling: 1135 Okie St. NE, DC; www.oneeightdistilling.com