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- Modern Moonshine Techniques Bill Owens | Whisky | Distilled Beverages.
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How Distilling Works
This small distillery is housed in a former transmission shop. Peyton is a very resourceful tinkerer. With the help of a local engineer, he made his stills out of old gallon electric water heaters with columns made from lengths of copper pipe and condensers made from copper coils, all sourced from local home builder supply outlets. He now uses these stills to re-distill head and tail cuts and instead undertakes the main distillation in the equipment pictured above.
Three times a year, Peyton puts his law practice on hold and becomes a distiller. Peyton makes only one distillate but it is presented two different ways. One, Mountain Moonshine, is a colorless spirit bottled immediately after final distillation. The other. Old Oak Spirit Whiskey, is mellowed by soaking toasted oak wood chips in it for 30 days.
Peyton introduces corn grits into the home-built still, which also serves as his mash cooker and fermenter. It is heated in a hot water boiler fueled by waste oil that supplies hot water to external coils mounted underneath the vessel. He accomplishes starch conversion by allowing the mash to rest heated for a couple of hours and then adds enzymes.
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Once mashing is over, he attaches an external chilling loop to the vessel and cools the mash to fermentation temperature via internal coils. Once cooled, he adds brewing yeast and allows the mash to ferment for 4 to 6 days. When fermentation is over, he then heats the vessel again and distills the alcohol from the wash.
Technically, Peyton is not producing a traditional moonshine but rather a spirit whiskey. His corn mash-derived spirit makes up only 20 percent of his product. To produce the final spirit he blends his distillate with neutral grain spirits. His products are released to market at 80 and proof. When asked if he feels there is a market for his product, Peyton defers to a quotation from a recent newspaper article. I thought it was illegal. Unlike West Virginia Distilling, this location is tucked into a quiet mountain valley that makes it easy to picture that moonshine has been produced in this region before!
Shirley truly produces his moonshine. Southern Moon, the way it was done in this area for a long time. Instead of mashing milled corn, the raw corn is placed in straining bags and soaked in hot water. The bags are removed after sufficient soaking and cane sugar is added to the liquid left behind. For a still charge of 50 gallons he uses 50 pounds of corn and pounds of sugar. No, Shirley does NOT use lye!
The distillery ferments its wash in a group of reclaimed plastic barrels that are connected by a draining manifold that supplies the still.
Shirley charges the still with 50 gallons of wash and conducts a double distillation with the final spirit yield of 7 to 8 gallons at proof. The liquor is then diluted with filtered well water to 80 proof and bottled. It also allows the mini-distillery to advertise off- site. Because West Virginia Distilling was established prior to this law, it is the only distillery exempt from the ingredient sourcing provision. He plans to release a barrel aged version of a whiskey made from rye, malt and corn in Recently he has begun experimenting with making rum from sorghum molasses pressed from cane grown in Northern West Virginia.
Culpeper is a very quiet area of rolling hills with many farms and several well-regarded wineries. Chuck Miller, owner and distiller, is a consummate showman and quite a character. He opened up his distillery to us which is located in a large converted bam on his farm where he grows all the corn, barley and wheat that goes into his products. He also sells a version of Virginia Lightning in Japan, but its proof is reduced to 80 to cater to Japanese tastes.
Virginia Lightning is made only from corn, whereas Kopper Kettle Virginia Whiskey is produced from corn, barley and wheat. Both are twice distilled. Unlike Virginia Lightning, which is bottled just after distillation, Kopper Kettle Virginia Whiskey undergoes two stages of wood aging.
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