J.H. BARDS is a name with great significance. J and H are the initials of the founders and proprietors, Jason Hardy and Jayson Hudson. “BARDS” came about as these Blacksburg natives returned to the New River Valley, renewed their high school acquaintance, and through spirited conversations, decided a local whiskey club was required. The Bourbon And Rye Drinking Society—BARDS was born. Conversations between a banker and bartender (with 30 years in hospitality) turned to starting a distillery to create a good whiskey in the New River Valley.
The timing of their LLC in 2020 was no coincidence; it was in response to covid and subsequent shutdowns. Jason states: “We thought something good needed to come out of such a hard year. Our tasting room opened March 27, 2021.”
The Hunt for Spirits
J.H. BARDS is in the Pulaski County Innovation Center in Fairlawn. They found this was the perfect spot to incubate and hatch their business, but now think the time is right to move into their own space, hopefully in Blacksburg.
Inside the nondescript metal building, a “barn” transports you to the Appalachian Mountain backwoods. The tasting room along the back of their space actually is a barn! Jason and Jayson dismantled an old Blacksburg barn board by board, using those to construct the tasting room they envisioned.
According to regulations, only three ounces of spirit samples or cocktails can be served to individuals. After all, this is a tasting room, not a bar! Cocktails include all-natural syrups that are created in-house. The Ginger Lime and Blackstrap Old Fashioned syrups sound yummy! They are bottled and sold under the J. Hudson & Company label in the tasting room.
How Local Is the Whiskey?
The company sources 90% of its ingredients in Southwest Virginia. “We use local ingredients, right down to the water naturally filtered through Southwestern Virginia limestone.” Malted barley is the only ingredient that is not from Virginia. A small quantity of barley is present in most of the spirits.
The guys get spirited when talking about what they do. “BARDS creates fine whiskeys and vodka (we called it VAdka because it is distilled in Virginia).” The barrels for aging are Virginian. “We happily get our barrels from Speyside Cooperage in Atkins, Va., just an hour down I-81,” Jason boasts.
By definition, to be called bourbon, a whiskey must be made in brand new barrels. Barrels can be reused to age other spirits, and when used barrels are ready to be shared, local breweries use them to age beer. They also make great furniture and bar decorations.
A few noteworthy observations:
• People are comfortable sitting with friends (and strangers)
in public settings
• American Single Malt has been accepted as a separate
• Young people (22-26) are learning to enjoy bourbons and
Crazy for Spirits
“Distilleries are becoming the next big thing,” Jason claims, “because whiskey, especially bourbon, was always intended to be a social experience.” People are encouraged to sip whiskey with friends and savor the journey. There are flavor profile similarities between whiskey and wine, so there is also a new appreciation among wine drinkers.
People love the Virginia Straight Bourbon, Maple Whiskey, and limited releases like Toasted Barrel High Rye and Port Barrel Bourbon. There is some seasonality with whiskey drinkers. Business increases during football season through New Year’s. Also, the in-house cocktail menu changes seasonally, with refreshing whiskey and vodka (oops, VAdka) drinks in late spring and summer.
J.H. BARDS has established five spirits and creates single-run limited releases. The company logo is a stylized 5-string banjo—five strings for their five spirits!
• Bourbon Whiskey—their flagship spirit
• Rye Whiskey—as old as the Commonwealth! Virginia’s
Berkley Plantation is the birthplace of Rye Whiskey
• American Single Malt Whiskey— if distilled in
Scotland this would be called Scotch; with Virginia’s
history and immigrants, it is an appropriate spirit to
celebrate the area’s heritage
• Maple Whiskey—bourbon blended with Bland
County’s maple syrup; that’s it—no chemicals, no
coloring, just two delicious tastes
• Vodka, err, VAdka—made from Virginia corn and
In 2022, J.H. BARDS’ Virginia Single Malt received Denver International Spirit Awards’ gold medal. Quite an accomplishment their first year!
In 2023, J.H. BARDS received second place in Virginia Living Magazine’s Best of SW Virginia, and received a Silver Medal at the Virginia Spirits Expo in Charlottesville. Those awards mean even more because the votes are cast by customers and peers.
When asked about their favorite recipes using the spirits: “We make the BEST Old Fashioned!!”
Text and Photos by Jo Clark
Jo Clark is likely in the kitchen, experimenting with some new recipe for creating a tasty beverage. See what she’s up to on Facebook at Have Glass, Will Travel, and on Instagram, JoGoesEverywhere
J.H. BARDS Spirit Company
Pulaski County Innovation Center
6580 Valley Center Dr., Bay 175, Fairlawn