Rural Missouri - May 2012 - (Page 8)

The art of handcrafting whiskey is alive and well at Copper Run Distillery Since 2009, Jim Blansit has created small-batch spirits, including moonshine, at his micro-distillery, Copper Run. by Jason Jenkins M oonshine. For most, the word conjures images of shifty, unseemly characters tending secret stills hidden deep in the hills. These backwoods bootleggers ply their craft under the cover of darkness, hiding from the law and the taxes that are part of a legitimate business. But not all moonshine is created this way. Just north of Branson is Copper Run Distillery, where since 2009, Jim Blansit has allowed the light of day to shine on the process of creating legal Walnut moonshine, which is an un-aged corn • whiskey. His award-winning, small-batch spirits have quickly earned him a reputation as an artisan distiller who is focused on quality above quantity. “Moonshine to me is something that is steeped in tradition,” says Jim, a member of White River Valley Electric Cooperative. “It has this mystique and is part of our American and Ozark culture.” Jim has a history of brewing and distilling in his family. Two of his great uncles were moonshiners during the Great Depression, and both of his grandfathers produced homemade wine. During his career, Jim has crafted both wine and beer, spending more than a decade working at microbreweries in California during the 1990s. After a stint in real estate that fizzled with the economy in 2007, Jim turned his attention back to his true passion. He realized that — like microbrewing and the local food movement — micro-distilling was another growing niche market fueled by Americans seeking a more meaningful connection to the food and drink they consume. “When I decided to do this, I really wanted to go back to the old style of distillation, the way the farmers did it hundreds of years ago,” says Jim. “We’ve adapted Shade those old techniques using modern equipment to produce the type of spirits they produced back in those days.” Jim says that in the Ozarks, there’s a rich tradition of making corn whiskey. Turning grain into liquor was a means of preserving a farmer’s crop in a form that was easily stored and transported. Often, liquor was used as currency. Ozark corn whiskey flourished With hands-on experience in both winemaking and brewing, Jim’s because, just as in parts of Kentucky entrance into the world of distilling was a natural progression. and Tennessee, the clear, cold Ozark water is perfect for producing spirits. “The water with the calcium and magnesium and lack of iron, filtered through the limestone, is the absolute best for making moonshine,” says Jim. While the actual process of distillation seems simple, creating a smooth, handcrafted corn whiskey is a combination of both science and art. Copper Run’s moonshine begins with a blend of 80 percent corn and 20 percent wheat. The grain is ground into meal and mixed with water to create a sour mash. This natural process allows the starch in the grain to be converted into sugar. “We then add yeast, and the yeast ferments the sugar into alcohol,” Jim explains, adding that the fermentation process takes about three or four days and results in a product that contains on average 5 percent alcohol by volume. “After that, we pump the mash into the still and begin heating it up.” Creating high-quality moonshine requires a double distillation process. The first distillation, known as the stripping run, removes all the alcohol from the mash and creates a product containing about 30 percent alcohol. “Then we clean out the still and put the stripped run back in and distill it a second time,” says the 44-year-old. “We call this our spirit run.” According to Jim, the spirit run is where the true art of distilling comes into play. During the fermentation process, the yeast creates not only alcohol but also substances known in industry parlance as “congeners.” These congeners impart both smells and flavors in the whiskey, some good and some bad. It’s the distiller’s job to separate them to create a smooth, pleasant tasting drink. Jim says the spirit run distillation breaks down into three portions: the “heads,” the “heart” and the “tails.” “The old-timers called it making the cuts,” he says. “The heart of the whiskey is what we’re after, so we separate it from the heads and the tails.” Jim uses his senses of smell and taste to distinguish when the spirit run changes from the heads to the heart and from the heart to the tails. He says the art is recognizing the changes but leaving a little bit of both the heads and tails. This gives the heart of the spirit run a bit of spice, a more rounded mouth feel and subtle nuances in flavor without making the whiskey harsh. The spirit run produces an alcohol content of 80 percent, which is too potent to drink. Jim adds water to proof the whiskey down to 40 percent, or 80 proof, which he says is perfect for whiskey. “It’s plenty strong enough without overwhelming your taste buds,” he says. “You can actually smell, taste and enjoy the whiskey.” Once proofed, the moonshine is filtered and then bottled by hand. At this point, it’s ready to enjoy. Jim says it takes about 800 pounds of corn to produce one barrel of whiskey, which is about 350, fifth-gallon bottles. “The great thing about moonshine is that we can take corn from the farmer’s field and have it in the bottle in nine days, so it’s very quick,” he says with a smile. “We like to say around here that Thursday was a great year.” While moonshine is Copper Run’s flagship spirit, 8 WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - May 2012

Rural Missouri - May 2012
Table of Contents
Moonshine mystique
Missouri snapshots contest
Curbing copper theft
Out of the Way Eats
The mandolin man
Knight for hire
Hearth and Home
The kid with the electric car
News Briefs
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - May 2012