Last week I got a phone call from the good folks at the Blue Ridge Distilling Company based in Golden Valley, North Carolina. We started talking about local grain production, craft distilling, and the challenges of running a small business. By the time the conversation was over, we were both excited about the idea of producing local spirits, and I made plans to visit their facility the following day. I also realized that I had a fair bit of googling to do!
While the differences between bourbon, whiskey, and rye might be “old hat” to most folks in this part of the country….there is a new wave of craft distillers that are exploring new recipes, ingredients, and production methods. For example, Blue Ridge is planning to produce a “single malt” vodka, crafted with 100% malted barley (as opposed to a blend of corn, wheat, or potatoes).
I arrived late the following afternoon to discover a newly constructed barn with close to 100 acres of prime farmland wrapped around it. While I’ve seen plenty of high-end brewing equipment, I must say this was my first glance at a modern distillery, and it was pretty impressive! The picture below shows a “hybrid” system that allows for traditional pot stilling techniques in the center vessel or multi-chambered distillation through the column on the left. The bulbous feature on the pot still is referred to as the whiskey helmet. This design element provides more surface area during the distillation process, resulting in a smoother tasting finished product.
Tim at Blue Ridge and his team brought me up to speed on their plans to produce vodka, gin, whiskey, and an array of brandies. Turns out, they have been developing this business for almost two years and are eager to begin distilling and packaging in early 2012!
Following our meeting, we sent them home with 100 lb. of our heritage malt to conduct some testing. Who knows, local vodka could be just around the corner!
As for the whiskey, we will have to be patient….extremely patient….it has to age a minimum of 3 years. Call Blue Ridge to reserve your own barrel now!