The last time I wrote about Black Draft Distillery, a little farm-based operation near Martinsburg, WV, they were just announcing their expansion plans. Well, the expansion is complete, and things are looking great.
Now three years old, the youthful distillery is still feeling its way into the big world of whiskey making and marketing. To their credit, they have not tried to expand capacity ahead of their whiskey-making ability.
Co-owner-distiller Glen Price exhibits no desire to become one of the big boys. His favorite spirit is bourbon, and all he wants to do is produce small-batch, barrel-aged spirits that he can be proud to drink and put his name on.
As a tiny yet growing bourbon producer, he still relies on his white whiskey sales to pay the bills while the bourbon ages. But even his moonshine is not your typical moonshine. It’s not a novelty; it’s a painstakingly-made, very drinkable white corn whiskey.
His wooden fermentation tanks are as much as anything an aesthetic proxy for the old-school approach he takes and believes in. Stainless steel just doesn’t give him the image he wants. To him, bourbon is a very personal thing. In his small distillery, handcrafted is not an exaggeration. As the sole employee in the still house, he truly does touch his product each step in the process.
The Black Draft Distillery staff is just Glen and his wife Tara, and she primarily handles the marketing and business side of the operation.
“We started making moonshine (white corn whiskey) in that 10 gallon still over there,” he said, pointing at a tiny vessel that would be dwarfed by most moonshiners’ backwoods stills.
That 10-gallon still output only about one gallon of usable spirits in each run. He used it to perfect his recipes and learn if distilling was really for him. Turns out, he loved it. He especially loved his customers’ reactions to the products he made.
So as orders kept coming in, he slowly expanded his capacity, taking small steps up. When he released his first bourbon, it sold out immediately. Now, his bourbons are subscribed for, and none has ever hit the open retail market Today, he is nowhere near making enough whiskey to keep up with the demand.
Retailer and customer demand outstrips supply
Retailers in Washington DC, Maryland, and a 28 WV counties have made Black Draft a staple on their shelves. Price will expand distribution only as increased supply allows.
Talking with Price, though, you’d never know that this whiskey shortage bothers him.
“We’re filling barrels as fast as we can,” he says, a comment that belies his commitment to staying within his production comfort zone.
His advice to those who want to try his bourbon is: get in line. The bourbon is only available at the distillery as each new batch is released. He recommends that people sign up for the distillery’s special mailing list to receive notification as soon as a new batch is ready for market.
More Black Draft availability coming
As he has stepped up the size of his stills, overall production capacity has grown. This year, with his two new 150-gallon stills, he went from 80 gallon runs to 300 gallon runs.
He stockpiled as many custom-made 15, 30, and 50-gallon, new white oak barrels as he could fit in his storage space. He uses the 15- and 30-gallon barrels, because the whiskey ages faster in the smaller cooperage.
So if he fills eight 15-gallon barrels per month, that’s only 1,440 gallons of whiskey a year. That is considered a tiny amount in the whiskey world.
Then the barrels have to age for two years or so before they become Black Draft Bourbon and be sold. (The 30 gallon barrels will age in about 3 to 3 ½ years, the 15s in 2, and the 50s in 4 to 5.). As you can see, whiskey making is a long-term commitment, and not an easy business venture for a small, family-owned distillery.
The next challenge coming will be the space needed to store all the aging barrels of whiskey. As whiskey production capacity increases, space is at a premium. Price said he will outgrow his current barrel-aging space (which is next to his tasting room and store) within a year. He is making plans on how to meet that challenge.
Staying true to your core values
Price stays true to his original commitment to keeping his whiskey local. To him, that means sourcing his grain locally.
“Corn is the essential ingredient to what we do here,” says Price.
He prizes his relationship with the Lyle C. Tabb Farm, only 8 miles away. The farm is the source of all his Non-GMO corn — the only kind he uses. The farm also raises wheat and rye for Price.
In a pretty unique arrangement, Price annually leases 35 acres from Tabb, upon which his grains are grown. He worked with Lyle Tabb, grandson of the Lyle C. Tabb remembered in the farm’s name, to select the best variety of non-GMO corn and how they would work together to produce it.
Tabb does all the tilling and planting, then harvests and stores the grain for Black Draft. The corn, which makes up the vast majority of the grain used, is delivered to the distillery as it is needed. Black Draft currently uses about one ton of corn per month.
Recent News from Black Draft Distillery
New Black Draft Mercantile
They are excited to offer a new mercantile room for you to browse and shop for gifts. In addition to Black Draft products, they will offer T-shirts, barrelheads and other branded merchandise, plus some quality handcrafted products from around WV.
Their next batch of bourbon whiskey should be released later this fall. With last spring’s batch selling out quickly, they are expecting this one to not last through the holiday season. Contact them at email@example.com if you would like to be notified as soon as it’s available.
Black Draft’s First Harvest Moonshine continues a sell steadily. Unlike many larger moonshine makers, Black Draft markets its whiskey primarily as a cocktail ingredient. They make only a few variants, including one flavored with local Black Dog Coffee, and a springtime flavored White Julep version. Visit their website for a long list of delicious cocktail recipes.
Barn Warming Open House: Friday, December 9th and Saturday, December 10th, 11am to 4pm
Tours and Tastings: Throughout the season tours and tastings take place Fridays and Saturday, 11am to 4pm. Call 540-686-0100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.