MEADOWS OF DAN, VA – Inside a former ice plant on the outskirts of town, Tommy Willis and Vince Puccio are bringing to life an old Virginia Blue Ridge tradition: making moonshine.
Specifically, they’re making steam whiskey, so-called because, instead of cooking the mash directly, they heat it with steam.
By using steam as an indirect heating source, the partners in Dry Fork Distillery believe they produce a product that is smoother and more flavorful than moonshine made from direct heating methods. There is also much less chance of burning or overheating the mash (which itself is a quality control technique).
Their stilling apparatus, made by a local welding company, begins with two connected tanks where fresh mountain water is boiled to steam, then the cooking tank, where the mash is cooked and the alcohol evaporates. It then passes through a filter and a condenser, set slightly at angle, which allows all of the condensate to flow out simply by the force of gravity.
Dry Fork makes clear moonshine at 100 proof, and a variety of fruit moonshines at 80 proof. Its fruit moonshine includes strawberry, damson, blueberry, blackberry and mixed fruit (which is a mixture of pineapple, mango, peach and strawberry).
The mash itself is mostly corn with some rye. “The recipe is the whole deal in making good liquor,” Willis said. The distillery will re-use mash multiple times, adding fresh grain and sugar to restart the fermentation.
After considering a winery, Willis — a tobacco farmer — teamed up with Puccio to start the distillery. He decided to pick up the necessary knowledge of the moonshine tradition from people in the area with expertise.
Dry Fork’s products are currently available in both Virginia and North Carolina. This year, Willis intends on making apple brandy as well. Having begun production last year, the partners hope to open their retail operation sometime this year.
Making good whiskey, Willis said, “is kind of like baking – the temperature’s got to be right, the ingredients have got to be right.”
Perfect those details – like Willis has – and you’ve got a recipe for quality moonshine.
“What I like to do is run some good whiskey,” he said.