History in a bottle with Indian Creek Distillery

first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest It is not easy putting history in a bottle, but Joe and Melissa Duer are have resumed a very old family tradition that allows them to do it at the Indian Creek Distillery in Miami County.“Making whiskey the old fashioned way — not the industrialized way — is an art and flows out of passion and intuition which makes for a very artistic process,” Melissa said.Melissa (Staley) Duer comes from a long line of millwrights and distillers by trade. Her forefathers moved from Lancaster, Penn., and settled in New Carlisle before Ohio was even recognized as a state. The Staley brothers built their own mill and distillery on the “Staley Trail” along the Indian Creek that was finished in 1820. Back then, millers often got paid in grain. This resulted in an excess supply and there was very little demand for the grain itself. With the United States being the world’s largest whiskey exporter in the 1800s, the Staley family decided to capitalize on the opportunity to use the extra grain they had to make whiskey. Staley Rye Whiskey became known for its quality and customers traveled for miles to have their jugs filled. The family has letters from Civil War soldiers requesting that Staley Rye be shipped to them during the war. The business flourished until Prohibition put a halt on whiskey production in 1920.With the foresight and hope that they might distill again someday, the Staley family decided to keep the equipment and buildings on the farm while they were forced to find other forms of work.“From 1933 until about 15 years ago, you could not build a distillery in the state of Ohio, but recent law changes have allowed my husband Joe and I to bring the family distilling legacy back to life,” Melissa said. “But most important was that my great-grandfather, George Washington Staley, saved the stills.”The Duers have a modernized facility on a beautifully preserved property where the distilling takes place, but they operate with an “old school, old rules” mentality making whiskey like the Staley forefathers, including use of the original double copper pot distillation stills that are the oldest working stills in America today, and among the oldest in the world.“We try to keep everything local or American-made as much as possible. The grain is all locally grown — rye and non-GMO corn raised by Greg McGlinch, a farmer in North Star, Ohio who has become a great asset to our operation. We are planning to start using heirloom corn that will bring us even closer to how it was pre-Prohibition. The only grain not locally grown is barley because it is not grown in the quantity we need it in Ohio,” Joe said. “We used to only produce rye whiskey, but with the demand we needed to increase production. We got into bourbon, which is a corn-based whiskey that in turn increased our demand for corn usage. Right now we use about 600 bushels of rye and 600 bushels of corn a year, but that is always changing with the increase in demand.”One likely reason the Staley brothers originally settled on this land was the high quality of the spring water.“The spring water here is perfect for making whiskey because it has no iron and is high in calcium,” Melissa said.The Duers follow an old, open-top mashing and fermentation recipe that uses a very slow drip process instead of more modern production methods that are used at a typical large distillery. With open-top containers, the weather plays an important role in the process.“There are limitations with open-top fermentation and mashing. You run into weather considerations because changes in the weather give you different yields. The reason being,  in mashing — which is the conversion of starch to sugar with the mixture of grain and hot water that takes three or four hours — if there is a drop in the barometric pressure, the yield of sugar is reduced,” Joe said. “In fermentation, which is the conversion of sugar to alcohol, there can be situations where there is electricity in the air from thunderstorms that will stop the action of the yeast being used. Once the storm is passed, the yeast can be reactivated but that can delay fermentation and the production of alcohol. All of these limitations and problems could be solved by not doing the open-top fermentation but that’s not the way the old boys did it, so we aren’t doing it that way either.”After the three- to four-day fermentation process, the whiskey is brought into the copper stills and heated up to the temperature of about 175 degrees. The heat source is no longer wood, like it used to be. Generating the proper temperatures took about a cord of wood a day in the former production of the distillery and that is not practical for modern production.The heat is crucial for the final steps of whisky production.“It goes from a liquid, to a vapor and then back to a liquid,” Melissa said. “The final step is to filter the whiskey and bottle it.”There were numerous challenges in the process of figuring out how to make whiskey the way it was done pre-Prohibition. Joe did most of the distilling when they first re-opened in 2012 and he had a tremendous challenge re-learning what the Staleys used to know.“It was a steep learning curve because we were recreating history, and there was no one here to talk with about that,” Joe said. “We had to interpret old letters and recipes where the initial guidelines were to ‘heat your water and cool your water.’ That was very interesting to me because I did not know what that meant until I found that heating the water consisted of being able to hold your hand in the water for one minute and cooling the water meant bringing it down to the temperature of fresh milk out of a cow, which proposed an issue, because I did not have a cow.”Melissa and Joe Duer are have resumed a very old family tradition that allows them to make old fashioned whiskey at the Indian Creek Distillery in Miami County.The former generations of Staleys never bottled whiskey at their distillery. They sold it all by the barrel or straight from the still to the jug. Joe and Melissa are the first generation to take pre-Prohibition spirits and sell them by the bottle.They sell an aged and un-aged types of both corn and rye whiskey. Straight from the still, the whiskey is clear and looks like water. Storing it in barrels, as it was done in the mid 1800s, ages the whiskey that provides its color and softens some of the harshness of the potent straight-from-the-still product.Indian Creek Distillery products are sold in the distillery itself, 150 different state stores or agencies in Ohio, and two locations in Kentucky. They have entered two international tasting contests and received medals of excellence. The Duers’ also offer a premium maple syrup that is made in their aged whiskey barrels and is currently sold to Whole Foods and local stores.They have a “mixologist” on staff who invents different mixed drinks and does on-site and off-site tastings for events.“The distillery is open five days a week and attracts three types of people: historians, whiskey people, and whiskey historians,” Joe said. “I have applied everything I have learned in my life to this career because being self-employed can bring surprises. We knew coming into this we needed two things to make this work. Those being a good product, and most importantly, we needed a story, and we have that here in spades.”The story not only involves the history of the Staley family, but part of Ohio’s history and national history.“Our national history is a very personal one, at least it is for me,” Melissa said. “The Staley Mill Farm tells the story of our country and of my family, one generation at a time. This beautifully preserved pioneer agricultural/industrial complex is a remarkably intact view into a vanishing landscape. My husband Joe and I share the past, the present and the future of our true heritage, timeless history and the spirit of liberty. We are preservationists by choice, pioneers by birth, dreamers of things to come and we are proud to produce America’s spirit, a true sip of history in the old school method.”last_img

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