By Angela Blue
What do 21st century guys do when they retire? For Bill Dodson, it’s opening a 17th century-inspired distillery.
The 57-year-old endodontist still has a few years of work left at his Newport News practice, Dodson Endodontics, but he’s already got a new venture on the horizon. “As I age I’m looking at, ‘Where can I play checkers?’” he says, gazing around the distilling room. “And I thought … this is a real good spot.”
Williamsburg Distillery is a colonial-themed craft distillery that’s temporarily located on Merrimac Trail, sharing a space with a church. A permanent facility is in the works, but for now, the building is decorated to reflect the Historic Triangle’s spirited past.
Distilling along with Dodson is 45-year-old Mike McDaniel, a former tugboat captain and current instructor for the Army, who brings some experience with home-brewing beer. The two Gloucester residents (who just happen to be church friends) spend their nights and weekends preparing to launch the distillery.
Once open, patrons can embark on tours and even participate in the process by grinding corn to be used. The tasting room and gift shop will feature accessories, such as glassware and whiskey stones, and most importantly, bottles of the three liquors that make up what Dodson and McDaniel have coined the Historic Triangle series: Yorktown Rum, Jamestown Gin and Williamsburg Bourbon—each based on the history of spirits in the Historic Triangle during colonial times.
The names aren’t the only historically-based aspect; so are the recipes. Bourbon and gin will be crafted with period wheat and barley as well as Indian corn that’s grown along the Rappahannock River. Rum will be made with organic molasses, just as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries. Using molasses (which they’re getting from the U.S. instead of the Caribbean) is more expensive than sugar but is important to the vision of the distillery—being authentic and supporting local.
“We knew that we wanted to be here in Williamsburg,” McDaniel says. “And we both love history,” Dodson chimes in. Dodson practiced re-enactments with the living history performance group Blackbeard’s Crew, and both men have re-enacted with The Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown. They plan to bring their experience to the distillery during tours, where they’ll portray characters that had a part in the Historic Triangle’s alcohol history, including the Poor Potter of Yorktown and Rev. George Thorpe, who created the first American whiskey using corn in 1620 at today’s Berkeley Plantation.
Williamsburg Distillery is just one of several distilleries popping up in Coastal Virginia; others include Ironclad Distillery coming to Newport News; Three Brothers Distillery coming to Chesapeake; The Great Dismal Distillery, which produces SilverFox Spirits, in Norfolk; and Chesapeake Bay Distillery, which produces Blue Mountain Vodka and Chick’s Beach Rum, in Virginia Beach.
However, Dodson says he doesn’t consider it competition among the businesses; he envisions everyone working together to create a distillery trail, boosting tourism for the region. Now, that’s the spirit.
Williamsburg Distillery is located at 7218-C Merrimac Trail, Williamsburg. Call 757-676-7950 or like them on Facebook for more information.