Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Barrel House Distillery

The Barrel House Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky opened in 2008.  It is tiny operation, five staff members, only a couple of them full time in less space then the average home.  They are located in part of the long closed Pepper Distillery - Pepper quit distilling in 1958 and emptied the aging warehouse in the mid 60's. They started with rum.  Why rum, white rum requires very little aging and can generate cash flow.   They are currently selling three products, an Oak Aged Rum, a good quality vodka, and Devil John Moonshine.  They have bourbon aging, for release sometime in the next year.  

They mix and cook in a stainless steel tank, with a power stir, and ferment in plastic totes holding 300-400 gallons.  They use a traditional copper pot still that was made in Portugal.  They fire with natural gas - very rare - most distilleries heat the still with hot water or steam - the good stuff boils off below the boiling point of water.  

So what are the differences in the products?  
The primary sugar for rum is sugar cane.  They import sugar cane juice or molasses from the south, ferment, distill, and age in oak. Currently they are selling an oak aged rum, with about 4 years in oak.  It is mellow and smooth.  Rum is run through the still twice.  It is bottled at barrel strength - each batch varies in proof. 

Vodka can be made from almost any starch source. Vodka will have some flavor difference based on the starch source.   Barrel House makes a grain based vodka, using wheat and corn.  It is distilled four times, bottled at 80 proof and is a very nice craft made vodka. 

Moonshine is an American term for an un-aged whiskey.  The tradition in the Appalachian regions was for un-taxed - illegal whiskey to be made at night.  Hence the term Moonshine. Devil John Moonshine is made with an old family recipe of corn and cane sugar. It is distilled twice adjusted to 100 proof and bottled.  The first sip has a little bit of a bite, then it is smooth.  It is slightly sweet and has a mild floral scent.  Moonshine is undergoing a renaissance in  the US.  I have never sampled the illegal kind, but a lot of legal distilleries are selling un-aged whiskey.  Last summer I bought an un-aged Rye whiskey from the Mt Vernon distillery - it would qualify as moonshine. There is no legal definition for moonshine in the US.  The grain mix can vary widely and with it the flavor and aroma.  Distilling is part science and part art.  The first vapor that comes out of the still, is dangerous and potentially lethal.  I would be uncomfortable with a back yard distiller, the pros know then to cut from heads, to hearts, and tales.  You want hearts. 


  1. GREAT POST!!! I am a Kentucky Bourbon fanatic, though I am branching out to Irish Whiskey and Scotch (Scotch sucks). Moonshine isn't great. I prefer the oaky, smoky flavor of Bourbon.

    Peace <3

  2. Moonshine used to be quite gauche; not it is chic.