By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Oct. 7 — After Alex Colby suffered his second heart attack at age 45, the Fairfax County firefighter asked himself a simple question
“I said ‘What am I waiting for?'” he recalled. “How can I make my own whiskey?”
So, on Friday, Colby gathered with a few dozen friends and local leaders to cut the ribbon on what had been planned as a retirement business for life after firefighting. Instead, his passion has now inspired the recent opening of Blue Shepherd Spirits, a new distillery on West Main Street.
“Nothing makes me or the council happier than to see a new business, especially in an old building,” Mayor Jerry Dofflemyer said. “We certainly support things related to our tourism and anything to encourage people to stay longer, although I’m sure locals will enjoy this too.”
Colby and his wife Sara have lived in Luray for five years. They purchased the former Tutt’s Autos building on Sept. 1, 2021 in order to have more room for storage, a workout area, and space for Alex’s distilling hobby. Initially stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it then took nine months to work through the federal permitting process, four months with the Commonwealth of Virginia, and another three months to secure local permits.
The oil and grease that used to coat the concrete floor have been replaced by a mesmerizing mixture of blue, grey and black apoxies. A fallen sweet gum tree at a buddy’s house provided the wood Alex used to craft the tables sitting around the tasting room. He even poured the concrete bar himself.
“This has been a labor of love for a year and a half,” said distiller and owner Alex Colby. “I’m a firefighter by day and she’s a nurse, and we’ll keep our jobs.”
Blue Shepherd Spirits officially opened its doors on Aug. 26.
“Thank you so much for investing in Page County and Luray,” Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce President Gina Hilliard said. “This is such a nice place for locals and tourists to enjoy.”
Colby, a Fairfax native and Army veteran, said the pace of life in Luray was an attractive feature to relocating here. He seems proud of the mile-and-a-half-long driveway that now winds up to his home off Dry Run Road.
“It was more land, more space, and a slower pace…I fell in love with it,” Colby said. “We lived in Manassas for a while, and we just got tired of the hustle and bustle. You were always in traffic, whether it was 5 a.m. or 5 p.m.”
The new distillery earns its name from Bruce, a Blue German Shepherd who Alex and Sara took in to help work through “some severe behavioral issues,” according to their website. While Bruce won’t be visiting his namesake, there are photos and a full bio on the walls for customers to see. The couple has routinely taken in challenging dogs in order to rehabilitate them.
“Our mission at Blue Shepherd Spirits is to give the people of Luray and its visitors a place to come and enjoy artesian crafted spirits,” the website states. “All of our spirits are created in house, in extremely small batches. We are a nano distillery that uses local grains and goods to make our spirits and cocktails.”
Blue Shepherd offers a rum made of molasses and sugar cane, infused with fruit and spices for six weeks in stainless steel. “Imagine a spiced rum without the bite,” according to the website. Their vodka is made of local corn and sugar, distilled at 180 proof, then “proofed down to drinking strength.” Described as not “any normal vodka,” it has a “hint of corn flavor and sweetness so you get to know where it came from.” Their gin has a hint of juniper and several citrus fruits, with the same mash as the vodka, but run through their special mix of botanicals. Whiskey is currently absent — but “coming soon.”
“We’re so happy you chose our town to be a part of,” Luray Downtown Initiative Program Director Jackie Elliott said. “This is amazing.”
Both the full-time firefighter and the nurse recognize the importance of the local crowd in addition to the area’s seasonal tourist influx.
“I have been overwhelmed with local support,” co-owner Sara Ellis said just prior to Friday’s ribbon cutting. “I’m very pleased with the support of other businesses sending people our way, and we are going to need a lot of local people.”
Both Alex and Sara enjoy traveling and visiting small breweries, distilleries and wineries.
“Both of us have a particular liking towards distilleries, tasting their spirits and seeing what particular flavors we can pull out of them through smell and taste,” they stated on the website. “No two distilleries create the same flavors and even those change from batch to batch. The process is fascinating and we always loved learning more and more from every place we went to visit.”
All cocktails are $8, with 1 ounce of liquor. Colby reminds customers that, “We’re a tasting room, not a bar” — and by law, they are limited to serving only 3 ounces of liquor per person, per day. However, visitors are encouraged to purchase a bottle for off-site consumption.
Blue Shepherd currently does not ship or deliver its spirits, but they have plans for growth in the future.
“It’s been a long endeavor for a little bit of profit,” Alex said, “but hopefully we’ll grow soon…and have bottles in stores and local restaurants later on.”
Blue Shepherd Spirits is located at 622 West Main Street in Luray and is open noon to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit BlueShepherdSpirits.com