For over four centuries, our forefathers have been producing fresh whiskey in the hills of Virginia. In the last 30 years, however, this once elusive drink is available for all to enjoy. “I’m preserving a piece of America and having fun doing it,” says Chuck Miller, Master Distiller and owner of Belmont Farm Distillery. Formerly a military pilot during the Vietnam War, and later a commercial pilot, Chuck now steers bottles of spirits in the right direction; along with help from his new Master Distiller (and son-in-law) Jay Durkee, who brings forth new flavors and ideas.
After his days of being a pilot, Chuck and his wife Jeanette decided to plant some grapes on their property in Culpeper County, Virginia. The site was not ideal for viticulture, so they pulled up the vines and planted corn and barley. There’s not a whole lot of money to be made in growing and selling corn and grains, “So I thought, my granddaddy made corn whiskey, why can’t I?” laughs Chuck. Don’t worry; Chuck produces everything legally!
In 1988, the Millers set out to take those grains to glass through fermenting, distilling and ageing spirits at their farm. After finding a 2,000-gallon copper pot still from the 1930s in Nelson County, they were off to the races. The 83-year-old still has been running ever since, which the Millers attribute the quality of their spirits to.
Chuck and Jeanette are trailblazers for Virginia’s burgeoning spirits industry. While beer and wine have always been available at retail outlets around the Commonwealth for off-premise consumption (meaning alcohol is consumed off-premise), spirits have been restricted to only being available through state-run ABC stores. In 2006 when there were only a handful of distilleries in Virginia, Chuck and Jeanette noticed the tourist traffic at local farm wineries, and thought that having a gift shop and tasting room at their distillery should be allowed. As a result, the Millers helped introduce a bill to authorize bottle sales and tastings at distilleries. There were some modifications to the initial proposal, but it allowed distilleries to operate as ABC stores for the sale of their products at distillery properties. The resulting bill passed later that year and was a game changer for the Virginia spirits industry; Virginia distilleries can now sell their product onsite!
Now let’s talk about what they’re producing today. At the heart of the Belmont Farm Distillery’s lineup is their Kopper Kettle Virginia Whiskey. Kopper Kettle features a mash bill of corn, wheat and barley, although Chuck and Jeanette keeps the exact ratio a secret. It’s aged for four years and bottled at 43% ABV. Kopper Kettle stands apart from other whiskeys for its unique process; where oak and apple wood chips are soaked in the new make unaged spirit. “What we do is take an apple tree and cut it down, and slice it up into thin slices and toast it,” says Miller. “Then we soak the apple wood inside the whiskey before we put it in the barrel. That gives it a little different flavor, smooths it out a little bit.”
Chuck also makes Kopper Kettle Vodka, and a range of moonshines and corn whiskeys, including Virginia Lightning Corn Whiskey. This is based on his old family recipe, and is bottled at 50% ABV.
Virginia Lightning Moonshine starts with the same spirit but is double-distilled, smoothing out the edges a bit and then bottled at 45% ABV. There are also flavored varieties, including apple pie, cherry, peach and butterscotch.
Chuck has partnered with others to produce moonshine, too. Most notably, Climax Moonshine (named after the town of Climax, Virginia) made in conjunction with Tim Smith of Moonshiners on Discovery Channel. The two met in 1999 after Tim had heard about Chuck and his distillery. Tim invited Chuck to be the guest speaker at his Moonshiners Jamboree in Chatham, Virginia, and the rest is history. They hit it off immediately and their similar passions have led to a great friendship ever since. A while later, the Discovery Channel caught word of Chuck and his distilling of legal moonshine. Intrigued by the history and legality of moonshine, the Discovery Channel would go on to find illegal moonshiners distilling and running moonshine in remote country areas. This, of course, led to what we now know and love as the show Moonshiners. Tim Smith happened to be one of the folks featured in the new Discovery Channel show.
When it came time for Tim to become legal, he naturally thought of his good friend, Chuck Miller. He and Chuck worked together to bring Tim’s famous moonshine recipe to the world. Climax Moonshine was officially born and began being marketed in the U.S. and overseas. Belmont Farm Distillery now produces a large amount of Climax products, and Tim still finds time to visit the farm to talk moonshine and the good ol’ days!
Products Currently Available from Belmont Farm Distillery
Kopper Kettle Virginia Whiskey: The first product in the Kopper Kettle lineup is their Virginia Whiskey. It starts off as a three-grain whiskey and then soaks for two months with charred Virginia white oak and Virginia apple wood. Then it’s aged four years in oak barrels. Many enjoy it neat or with a splash of water for a beautiful, relaxing, sipping whiskey.
Kopper Kettle Vodka: The second product in the Kopper Kettle lineup is Belmont’s vodka, which is 100% corn-based. They grow and process all of their own corn at Belmont! It truly is a grain to glass vodka that you won’t find anywhere else. Surprisingly smooth and easy to drink, they take great pride in it being their first “non-whiskey” liquor.
Kopper Kettle Golden Gin: Their Kopper Kettle Golden Gin is a unique experience. Soaked in leftover oak chips from their Virginia Whiskey, and barrel-aged to a perfect golden color, this is unlike any gin you’ve ever tasted! Smooth, light botanicals make for a clean, warm finish worthy of the best gin connoisseurs.
Kopper Kettle Dark Chai Spice Rum: This rum is a high-proof, hand-crafted revelation! Our Virginia forefathers made rum from sugar they grew on the Intracoastal Waterway, or bought it from the ships that came from the islands just a bit further south. Either way, Belmont Farm is reestablishing the tradition of pot-distilling sugar mash, sweetening the rum with brown sugar and adding an assortment of spices that can be found in the East Indies. What we westerners would call “Chai Spice” is something that has recently caught on as a popular taste.
Kopper Kettle Apple Whiskey: The newest product in the Kopper Kettle lineup, Apple Whiskey is like capturing fall in a bottle. A crisp, refreshing blend of corn whiskey, real apple juice and aged Virginia Whiskey, all you need is some colored leaves and a bonfire! Their four-year-old Virginia Whiskey provides a delightful base of aged whiskey, and then they top it off with a sweet and fruity hint of apple.
Virginia Lightning: As Belmont Farm Distillery’s original product, Virginia Lightning corn whiskey is where it all started. Almost 30 years ago, Chuck turned an old family recipe into a legal experience for all to partake. Using his own farm-raised corn, Chuck turns kernels into whiskey. At 100 proof, Virginia Lightning packs a punch, and brings back memories of grandpa’s moonshine.
Virginia Lightning Moonshine: Derived from their original Virginia Lightning, Virginia Lightning Moonshine is a more refined version of their corn whiskey. Distilled an extra time and cut to 90 proof, Virginia Lightning Moonshine goes down softer and is easier to sip. Perfect for mixing into any of your favorite cocktails!
Virginia Lightning Apple Pie: Nothing exemplifies the South more than apple pie except maybe moonshine, so they put the two together! Their Virginia Lightning Apple Pie Moonshine is made with real apple juice and bottled at 70 proof. A sweet-drinking ‘shine that’ll sneak up on ya if you’re not careful! Perfect as an apertif or as a mixer, it’s easy to see why this is a fan favorite around here.
Virginia Lightning Cherry: The perfect mixer! They believe that everything is better with cherry, so they created their Virginia Lightning Cherry Moonshine. Nice and sweet at only 50 proof, you can drink this a million different ways! Sip it over ice, make an “adult” cherry cola or complement your favorite cocktails with a splash of cherry goodness. You can even use it to add a juicy kick to your baking. The possibilities are endless!
Virginia Lightning Peach: Summer down South means fresh, juicy peaches, warm peach cobbler, and sipping ice cold peach tea on the porch. They’ve made things even better by bottling up those summer memories in their Virginia Lightning Peach Moonshine. Grab a rocking chair and your favorite sweet tea and experience the magic when you add peach moonshine. Don’t overdue it, or those memories might not be so clear in the morning!
Virginia Lightning Butterscotch: At first you may not think butterscotch would be an enjoyable flavor, but when that first drop of candy flavor hits your lips, you’ll be hooked! Their Virginia Lightning Butterscotch Moonshine is dripping with the rich flavors of caramel and toffee. It’s the element you’ve been missing in your favorite creamy cocktails, and the perfect addition to a cup of fresh coffee. Don’t blame them if you feel the urge to add it to your early morning joe or the office coffee pot!
Climax: Tim Smith’s original recipe! A classic moonshine distilled from corn, rye and barley malt. Clean and natural tasting with a subtle sweetness and a bold defiance.
Photo credit: Belmont Farm Distillery