Bourbon distillery gives hope for downtown Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The bourbon boom happening across the country has made its way to the Virginia Peninsula. Soon, a 102-year-old building in Newport News will house a bourbon micro-distillery, which should help both the city’s economy and its goal of giving the downtown area a new look.

“Bourbon and rye are the only two alcohols only made in America,” said Owen King. “So, there’s nothing more American than bourbon, and it’s really nice to have something in downtown Newport News where the ship building is, where city hall is.”

Years ago, King’s father bought the 30,000-square-foot building on 23rd Street for his restoration company, but he always had plans to do more with it. One idea that kept popping up was to start a family-owned bourbon distillery. And now that idea is close to realization.

On Tuesday, found firefighters charting out emergency routes inside the building that will soon be Ironclad Distillery. The name references the 1862 battle that Mariner’s Museum officials say would have been visible from the distillery’s location.

Photos: Ironclad Distillery

City officials say this is just one piece of the puzzle for what’s in store for downtown Newport News. 10 On Your Side saw evidence of work to revitalize an area that many have said has been dead or dying for a long time.

“It certainly adds diversification to the area that’s primarily been known as a waterfront industrial sort of area,” said George Schraudt, Senior Economic Analyst for the city of Newport News.

“We think that it will help the perception that downtown is dying, that there’s nothing down here, and it will give it interest again,” said Tricia Wilson, Business Development Specialist for the city of Newport News.

Already, there are signs of change nearby: new apartments along 26th Street and Washington Avenue close to the new apprentice school. And there are plans for more growth in time.

“If they had a whole bunch of restaurants down here, it would not only be a place where you could tour a bourbon distillery, then go grab dinner somewhere,” King said. “That’d be a great thing on a Friday night to do.”

It’s clear there’s still a lot of work to be done before opening day at the distillery. While Owen works to towards a goal of 5,000 gallons of bourbon produced there each year, he has plenty of people rooting for his success. Ironclad Distillery is just waiting on one final inspection from the city. The business hopes to be operational by May and, at some point, add tastings and tours.

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