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Friday, May 1, 2020 11 mins read
Friday, May 1, 2020 11 mins read
How a motorcycling professor with a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology is shaking up the craft community with his handmade Virginia spirits
What do you call the man who does it all?
In Charlottesville, Virginia, they call him Ian Glomski.
Because Ian Glomski can cure meat. He’s a fisherman, scuba diver and forager of wild mushrooms. A trail-running gardener that pickles veggies and makes cheese.
He’s an infectious disease specialist. A hunter that cultures his own kefir. Eagle Scout, cyclist and ultralight backpacker.
Ian Glomski is also the founder, head distiller and managing member at Vitae Spirits, a Virginia distillery making Virginia spirits from basic raw ingredients.
An award-winning amateur brewer of beer, and board member for two prestigious Arizona vineyards, Ian had already earned his beverage alcohol business stripes.
So, in 2015, the man who was already master of the microbe, embarked on a brand new mission.
Turning his full attention and varied skill set to running an independent Virginia distillery, Ian Glomski and Vitae Spirits started making craft spirits that reflect a unique combination of Central Virginia influences.
Virginia spirits the local community can gather around
The tasting room at Vitae Spirits distillery is perfect for corporate events, holiday parties or any social gathering.
In the world of winemaking, the French word “terroir” refers to the natural, physical environment of a region.
Roughly translated, “terroir” means earth, or soil. But it includes myriad factors like topography and climate too.
“At Vitae Spirits, we aim to redefine ‘terroir’,” Ian explains.
“What makes our products unique isn’t solely the influence of the region’s physical environment. But also their place within a community.”
He elaborates on this philosophy some more, “In one way or another, each liquor made by Vitae Spirits strives to reflect a unique combination of influences from those that call Central Virginia their home.”
Community is a tangible ingredient in all the pure Virginia spirits produced by Vitae Spirits.
Their Golden Rum, for instance, is made with fresh sugar cane grilled on house-made charcoal. A collaboration with their neighbors at Ace Biscuit & Barbeque.
Distiller’s Reserve Old Tom Gin gets finished in bourbon barrels from their neighbors up the road at Ragged Branch Distillery. And Vitae’s Orange Liqueur and Modern Gin are made using Hardy Oranges collected from trees around Charlottesville.
“Hardy Oranges are called ‘hardy’ because they resist frosts and thus grow as far north as Virginia,” Ian starts.
“They are quite seedy. And bitter. Sour. So, you don’t hear about them much. But they have a fantastic aroma that we capture in both our Orange Liqueur and Modern Gin.”
“We have a collection of trees around Charlottesville for which the land owners call us when they ripen in September/October. And then we sweep in and collect as many as we can for the coming year of production.”
Through Vitae Spirits’ ongoing collaborations with these mixed local businesses, Ian Glomski is making good on his claim to redefine the meaning of “terroir”. Where craft spirits are concerned, at least.
“It is all of these small contributions from a community that, added together, make
Vitae Spirits’ products unique. Not just the physical makeup of the ingredients,” Ian concludes.
A Virginia distillery and the water of life
Every batch number of Virginia spirits from Vitae Spirits distillery is handwritten by the bottler.
The roots of modern distillation technology can be traced back to 8th century Arabic alchemists.
They improved upon more crude distillation methods that were practiced worldwide before the Islamic Golden Age. And created the first alembic stills. Whose three-part construction would inspire the design of modern pot stills.
It didn’t take long for these refined methods and updated mechanics to reach, and spread throughout, Europe. Where people referred to distilled spirits as, “Aqua Vitae”.
“‘Vitate’ is Latin for, approximately, ‘life’,” Ian Glomski expounds.
The water of life.
“This got my head turning,” Ian remembers. “Then suddenly I saw ‘Vitae’ connecting so many aspects of my life and the production process, that the name just felt right.”
He continues, “In essence, distilled spirits are the purification of life force. Sunlight converted to sugars in photosynthesis. And my desire to open the distillery was connected to a mid-life crisis.”
“It can take a lot to move a person that is comfortable, stable and in a socially respectable position. 2012 was a year that made me reprioritize what really mattered to me.”
“A strange, perhaps fortuitous, string of events made me reassess and increase the value of the years I had left to live. Some events minor. Some not so minor.”
“However, it should not be overlooked that the web domain www.vitaespirits.com was also available,” says Ian with a wink and a smile.
A Virginia distillery that’s changing with the times
Ian offers Vitae Spirits distillery tours and two-day Introduction to Distillation courses at his Virginia distillery.
Turning 40 in 2012 was a real juncture for Ian Glomski.
In the course of just one year, he was faced down by a medical condition. Subjected to a nasty bit of jury duty. And trapped in the middle of a 24,000-acre forest fire.
Stuff like that can really make you ponder life.
“Reflecting on my career, I knew that if I stayed on course, I’d regret spending my limited years doing something that didn’t fill me with satisfaction at the end of the day.”
“The question was, ‘what would I change into’?”
With every new search, Ian found himself coming back to his roots in alcohol fermentation.
“I didn’t want to become a brewer. Despite some success winning a few amateur brewing awards.”
“From a business standpoint, I saw craft brewing somewhere much closer to a plateau. There are just so many craft breweries out there these days.”
Ian’s brother Eric was already a winemaker. So, Ian briefly considered the vintner’s life.
“But honestly, the farming, seasonality, need for acreage and exposure to the whims of a changing climate took away much of the luster for me.”
“What really started percolating in my head was distillation.”
“The way I saw it, the craft distilling world was in a much better place than craft brewing. It was young, just hitting its rhythm in the market, and drinking trends suggested that the cocktail culture was growing beyond a fad, into a real alternative to the beer and wine that had dominated in the past few decades.”
So, distilling Virginia spirits it was.
Independent Virginia spirits
Ian Glomski, together with his life partner and Vitae co-owner Zuzana Ponca, are committed to turning raw ingredients into exceptional Virginia spirits.
“No one has any idea what the face of the person that raised the cows for the burger in their Big Mac looks like,” Ian makes the comparison.
“Nor do they know if that person takes pride in that job or considers that burger to be a chore just so that they can afford the basics of life.”
“Independent distilleries are an important bulwark against homogenization and the separation of humanity from the production processes that keep us happy and healthy.”
But the job isn’t always an easy one for owners of an independent Virginia distillery like Ian’s.
“Cost pressure is really tough. Economies of scale force us to charge more for our bottles of spirits than mass producers. So, it is an uphill battle convincing customers that we aren’t gouging them. And that our spirits are worth the extra cost.”
Mr. Ian Glomski is a lot of things. A talented man with many abilities.
His vision for the future of the Vitae Spirits distillery is keen. And his goal is simple:
“I aim to be a successful regional brand that is loved by our customers for offering them thoughtful spirits that feed their head, heart, and soul.”
Congratulations, Ian. Mission accomplished.