Category Archives: Distilleries

Articles on West Virginia distilleries and whiskey.

Heston’s conundrum

Sometimes a crazy state liquor law forces you to do strange things as a workaround. That’s why Heston Farm’s Foxfire Restaurant owner Mickey Heston is getting out of the restaurant business, so to speak. It’s Heston’s conundrum.

Heston's conundrum
The Foxfire Restaurant operates on the second floor of the Heston Farm winery/distillery building and outdoors during the summer months.

Misguided law causes Heston’s conundrum

An illogical provision in West Virginia’s alcohol law will not allow Heston to obtain a liquor license for his Foxfire Restaurant, simply because he is also the owner of the tiny Pinchgut Hollow Distillery that is located on the same Marion County property. Yet almost any other Tom, Dick, or Harry with a pulse can get a private club liquor license for their places and compete against Heston’s restaurant with the advantage of selling mixed drinks and cocktails, which Heston can’t.

Let’s get real here. Mickey Heston is the one who  built this new industry in his county, invested scads of his own money in Heston Farm, developed a popular tourist attraction, created dozens of jobs,  and brought the state new tax revenue—yet he is the one who is penalized by the law. In his restaurant, he can’t sell you a drink of the whisky he makes in the rear of the building. This is so wrong in so many ways.

Heston’s workaround is to first close his restaurant, then restructure the ownership, removing himself as owner, and reopen it with a liquor license.  It’s crazy. The need for these legal shenanigans has its roots in West Virginia’s embrace of something called the three-tier system.

Heston's conundrum
Mickey Heston has built the best winery/distillery tourist attraction in the state at Heston Farm, but he can’t sell the whisky he makes in the distillery’s restaurant.

Unproductive remnant of three-tier system

The three-tier system (TTS) is a Depression-era concept, developed at the end of Prohibition, that divides the beverage alcohol business into three levels: manufacturer (or importer), wholesaler, and retailer. In its pure form, TTS holds that an individual may not operate in more than one tier at the same time. So if you get a distillery license, you may not also be licensed as a wholesaler or a retailer (restaurant/bar or package store). In its pure form TTS requires manufacturers to sell only to wholesalers, wholesalers to sell only to retailers, and retailers to sell only to consumers.

To its credit, West Virginia has deviated its law from a strict TTS for many years. For bottled liquor and wine, WV law allows distilleries and wineries (manufacturers) located in the state to also act as retailers and sell their bottles to consumers for off-premise consumption.  The WV brewpub and brewery laws allow breweries in the state to also be retailers and sell their product directly to consumers for both on-premise and off-premise consumption. Both WV farm wineries and small WV breweries may bypass the wholesale tier, if they choose, and sell directly to retailers. From the 1930s until 1990, the state government itself did not adhere to the TTS, acting as both a wholesaler and a retailer for liquor under the old state store system.

But for little West Virginia-based distilleries who want to sell their own products in a cocktail or mixed drink, the three-tier system is still strictly enforced. There is no logical reason for this other than the legislature has just overlooked it.

When the legislature updated our distillery license laws a decade and a half ago,  it made possible a new West Virginia industry that has firmly taken root and is now developing into a true job creator and tax revenue producer. Today, the state has 14 small distilleries—all businesses contributing to their communities. In the past few months, four new distilleries (Flying Buck, Wicked Spirits. Elkhorn Mountain, and The Sweeter Side of the Feud) have opened in rural areas  of the state where not much other business growth is seen.

Fix this flaw

Brilliant Stream encourages the state legislature to fix this flaw in our distillery law and allow distillers, who choose to, to sell their liquor at the distillery for on-premise consumption. It’s a simple fix, but it needs fixed now. Let’s help our small distillers continue to build tax revenue and create jobs, especially when the fix is as simple as eliminating a needless government regulation.

“It’s just a shame that we have to do this,” a Heston Farm statement quoted Mickey Heston saying about having to close and restructure his restaurant. We agree. Let’s fix it.

Heston Farm website

The entire Heston Farm statement on this matter from Facebook

Flying Buck Distillery opens; two others licensed

Flying Buck Distillery is now officially open in Augusta, West Virgnia, becoming the second legal distillery in Hampshire County.

Calvin Riggleman (right) and Jim Gearing
Calvin Riggleman (right) and Jim Gearing attended the 2015 WVABCA trade show to promote their new farm distillery project, Flying Buck, which they hoped to have operational in early 2016.

Calvin Riggleman, proprietor, has been working on the project for some time and has to be pleased to finally get his products on the market. Brilliant Stream first ran into Calvin and his Flying Buck crew at the WVABCA liquor trade show in Charleston back in September 2015. Production began at Flying Buck in September 2016, and the first Flying Buck moonshine was sold at the distillery store on December 10.

The distillery is located on Riggleman’s Bigg Riggs Farm at Pleasantdale along U.S. Route 50 between Augusta and Capon Bridge. In addition to whisky, the farm also sells fresh produce in-season and jarred products year-round.

Flying Buck
Photo credit: Bigg Riggs Farm Facebook page

Initially, three products make up the Flying Buck line. There’s an unflavored, clear Moonshine, an Apple Pie Moonshine, and a Naughty Oak Moonshine. The regular Moonshine is $25 per 750 ml bottle of 80 proof whisky. All are produced primarily from corn grown on the family’s Bigg Riggs Farm. In the future, the distillery plans to make vodka, for use in cordials, from apples grown at the family orchard.

Flying Buck uses reflux still 

Flying Buck
The Reflux still. Photo: Bigg Riggs Farm Facebook page

Their first still is a 200 liter, electric heated, reflux still from Mile Hi Distilling in Colorado. The manufacturer describes a reflux still thusly:  A reflux still does multiple distillations in one single run, by having packing in the tower allowing vapor to condense and drop back down through the packing. This “reflux” of liquid helps clean the rising vapor and increase the % purity. The taller the packed column, and the more reflux liquid, the purer the product will be. The advantage of doing this is that it will result in a pure spirit. 

The distillery operates out of a small, renovated, 1960s milking barn on Bigg Riggs Farm.  A short dirt road leads from Route 50 up to the distillery. The distillery store is open Thursdays through Saturdays, 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.

Flying Buck
Bigg Riggs Farm. Photo: Google Maps Street View

Riggleman also runs Froopers Gourmet Central, a Romney-based co-packing company. For more info on the distillery, see the  distillery’s Facebook page.

The Flying Squirrel Distillery, near  Purgitsville, was the first distillery in Hampshire County. It started up in 2015.

Another Hatfield joins distillers’ ranks

West Virginia already had two moonshine distilleries owned by descendants of the famous Hatfield & McCoy feuding families. Now, it has three.

Mark Hatfield, who bills himself as an “outspoken hillbilly,” this month produced his first batch of legal moonshine from his distillery called The Sweeter Side of the Feud Spirits. His operation is really a winery and distillery combined, operating from his farm in Roane County, just outside Spencer.

While we haven’t tasted his moonshine, we know Hatfield is quite a character and is dedicated to making wine and spirits in a traditional manner. Brilliant Stream first met the Mingo County native a couple years back at a Country Roads Wine Trail organization meeting hosted by the Jackson & Roane County Development Authorities.

Check out this Facebook video for a look at the man and his still.

Elkhorn Mountain Distillery receives license

Elkhorn Mountain Distillery received its state distillery license on January 5. It will be located near Moorefield, WV. Ryan Rohrbaugh is the founder and owner. We expect to hear more about his plans in the near future. As of our publication date, the distillery had not established a website or Facebook page.

Wicked Spirits Distilling brings big dreams to small WV farm

Wicked Spirits Distilling Company sits on a little Ritchie County horse farm outside Harrisville, WV. It’s had a distillery license for well over a year but founder Dustin Huffman has been taking things slowly, testing his product with liquor people and getting everything just right before launching his first two lines. Continue reading Wicked Spirits Distilling brings big dreams to small WV farm

Black Draft gains momentum in regional whiskey market

Black Draft gains

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. Continue reading Black Draft gains momentum in regional whiskey market