Our process of making spirits begins with the most crucial ingredient: Karst Water from Bullock’s Cave in Greenbrier County, WV.
With the perfect pH and mineral content for making spirits, water from Bullock’s Cave is what truly sets our spirits aside – a true taste of West Virginia. To help preserve the water’s integrity we transport directly from the source, using copper lines and stainless steel tanks.
Next, we heat up our Karst Water in order to “cook” our grains. Depending on the type of spirit, we use different ratios of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley, sourced from West Virginia farmers. This ratio of grains is called the “mash bill.” Different grains in the mash bill are carefully added at different times and temperatures in the cooking process to ensure the grains get cooked enough for the yeast to feast upon them.
Once all the grains are cooked we cool the mash to around 90°F where we add or pitch the yeast. Yeast is a type of fungus that digests sugars from the cooked grains and produces a variety of compounds including ethyl alcohol. This chemical and biological interaction of the yeast interacting with the mash is called fermentation. Yeast does the work to make alcohol, now it’s the distiller’s job to extract the alcohol from the mash.
In order to distill or extract alcohol from our 500 gallon volume of mash we have to again heat up our mash. The process of distilling is done by exploiting the fact that different compounds turn from a liquid into a gas at different temperatures. Water undergoes this phase change at the boiling temperature of 212°F while pure ethyl alcohol has a boiling point at 173°F. Since the alcohol has a lower boiling point than water we can separate the two compounds by slowly heating up our mash in a sealed tank with the only escape being a small copper line at the top. The vapors that heat up and rise off of the mash have nowhere else to go but through this copper line. Eventually, the copper line turns downward and coils, often referred to as “The Worm.” The Worm is surrounded by chilled water to condense the hot vapor back into a liquid.
Naturally, during this distilling process we get a variety of compounds from the mash that travel up the copper line as vapor to be condensed in the worm. Acetone, methanol, ester alcohols, and fusel oils are some of the many other compounds produced by the yeast and get inadvertently distilled from the mash. Our distillers must make “cuts” between the Heads, Heart, and Tails. The Heads are the first vapors to get condensed and contain acetone and other compounds, and are unsafe to drink. The Hearts are “the good stuff” – ethyl alcohol. Lastly, the Tails contain many compounds, including a collection of alcohols called fusel oils that, in small amounts, can add interesting flavors and character to a finished product.
Now that alcohol is extracted from the mash we can distill it again to further improve the purity of the ethyl alcohol if necessary. This additional distillation can be in our column still if we are making vodka or our pot still if we are making whiskey. For the whiskey, once the spirits are up to our standards we dilute them using our beloved Karst Water to an ideal concentration for aging in a charred oak barrel. Lastly, we wait. Patience is a virtue that distillers must adhere to. We wait for any given barrel to taste ready before we bottle it. Some barrels may be ready in two years, others in 5 or 6 years.
Boy, it is worth the wait. But we will let you decide. So come see us, take a tour, and see what separates our spirits from the rest. Come sample a true taste of West Virginia pride.