TRAVEL: Tours and tastings available at Appalachian Distillery
Former coal miner Dwayne Freeman drew upon his mountain roots -- and family tree -- to launch the Appalachian Distillery three years ago, and business is still brewing and booming.
Located near Ripley and Cedar Lakes, Appalachian Distillery specializes in premium sour-mash moonshine, bourbon and whiskeys. The down-home, high-powered potables are crafted on site, from fermentation to distillation and bottling.
The “misty taste of moonshine” John Denver extolled in song is available in a variety of flavors at Appalachian Distillery. There’s a straight, 90-proof moonshine blend for purists, as well as lower-proof Orange Stuff, Caramel Apple, Apple Pie, Paw-Paw, Spit Fire, Peach, Blackberry, Strawberry and Strawberry Lemonade consumption options.
Freeman, a descendant of “Devil Anse” Hatfield of the storied, feuding Hatfield-McCoy clans, said that several generations of his family members made and marketed moonshine from clandestine locations in the Shenandoah and Appalachian Mountains; his grandfather was imprisoned for distributing “white lightning” years ago, he said. Freeman spent part of his childhood in Matewan, where he learned some of his ancestors’ secret recipes and techniques that he continues to apply to his now totally legitimate business.
He said many Appalachian Distillery visitors are surprised to discover the true nature of genuine moonshine’s content or “kick.” “This is part of our heritage. A lot of people think this is not real moonshine. They think it’s got to be 180 proof. No moonshiner ever made a 180-proof whiskey. That’s a misconception, that moonshine’s got to be 140, 150 proof. You can’t drink that -- although some people try.
“My goal is drinkability. I go for quality, drinkability, and I know where it tastes good, where you can drink it and not tear your head off or take your breath away, Freeman said in the article.
He has also become a master distiller to hone his craft and shore up his professional credentials. And so has another generation in the bloodline; his daughter, Taylor, earned her master distiller bona fides last fall.
Along with her father and stepmother, Sandra, Taylor is keeping the art of moonshine-making all in the family at Appalachian Distillery. A Ripley High School graduate, the 24-year-old South Charleston resident confided, “I really started out doing nothing here, to be honest. I didn’t know the process. I didn’t know how to make it. But, as I started learning things, it was really interesting. It’s a lot more than just making alcohol; it’s a scientific process, really.
“We found out there weren’t really many female master distillers around, so that just got me more intrigued. It’s really cool to have a job that nobody else has, doing something that nobody else really knows how to do,” Taylor said.
She said she is the youngest female master distiller in West Virginia, and to her knowledge, there are only five or six women in the profession around the United States.
Taylor obtained her master distiller certification upon completion of a week-long, advanced distillery course at Moonshine University in Louisville, Kentucky, in September.
“The master distiller has to know how to do everything,” she explained, “from the grain to the shipment process. I started from the bottom and worked my way to the top.”
Tours and tastings
Family tours are available at Appalachian Distillery, as are free tastings for those 21 and older, during regular operating hours. Tours cost $5 per person; the fee is waived with the purchase of merchandise. Taylor said the tours take, typically, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the wait time involved with the number of visitors.
The distillery’s expansive, country store-evoking gift shop features a number of moonshine-related items that make unique souvenirs and conversation pieces.
Adding to the distillery’s accelerating acclaim, Taylor said, a Travel Channel television crew came to Appalachian Distillery recently to film a segment that will air on the network this spring.
For more information, go to www.appalachian-moonshine.com, or call 304-372-7000 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.