Virginia is known for its wine. When folks think of whiskey, they think of Tennessee or Kentucky. Master Distiller, Chuck Miller, of Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper,Virginia is trying to change that. Realizing that a vineyard wasn’t possible on his land due to the incorrect elevation, he and his family decided to grow corn instead of grapes. From there it was a natural progression to revive an old family recipe to create some homegrown moonshine - legally. Unlike many of his predecessors who had been making “shine” in the hills over the centuries, Mr. Miller doesn’t have to be wary of the revenuers as they are well aware of who he is and sanction what he does. In fact, he proudly displays his liscense as part of the tour.
Everything takes place directly on the farm, from the first corn seed planted in the ground to the labeling of the last bottle out of the distillery. Belmont Farm Distillery produces two products that begin in the same way, in an authentic 1930’s copper pot still. From there the original 100 proof Virginia Lightening Corn whiskey, takes about one week produce and is shipped to Richmond still warm, while its aged cousin, Copper Fox, takes about two years to produce. Depending on what you are looking for, both have a lot to offer, especially when combined with lemonade in the summer or egg nog in the winter.
Tours are free. They start whenever there is an interested crowd and last about 15 minutes. They begin with the heart of the distillery, the copper still. Old time country music can be heard in the background as Mr. Miller explains the entire process with a gleam in his eye. You can truly tell that this man likes his job and as he smiles and says “I am one happy chef. I like my own cooking.” Who could ask for anything more? As we move from the still to the tank room, he explains that everything is distilled twice for clarity and purity. He also informed us that the mash is recycled as cattle food - leaving nothing to waste. His manner is casual but there is no mistaking this is a business he takes very seriously.
Mr. Miller explained to our group that what makes the Copper Fox Virginian whiskey unique is the process in which he “puts the barrel in the whiskey”. Wood chips from the oak barrels and apple chips are cut up and charred to get the “action” going. Next, then they are put in a cheesecloth and soak in the whiskey inside a steel tank for about two months. From there it ages in a barrel exposed to the heat and cooling of the seasons for about two years. All this goes into making some “mighty fine sippin’ whiskey.”
The copper fox may be remotely located but that hasn’t kept if from getting the attention of some very heavy hitters in the entertainment world. In 2004 it was featured on the History Channel in the show entitled “Guts and Bolts”. It was recently paid a visit by National Geographic and author Patricia Cornwell flew to the farm three times by helicopter in 1996. Even President Clinton was reported to have received a bottle of Virginia Lightening on his way to the White House. Mrs. Miller informed us that people find the topic of making of moonshine fascinating. As additional proof, she directs us to a wall filled with articles on the distillery written over the years.
After spending time at the distillery, you may find that you would like a little food to go with your drink. Virginiawind suggests visiting nearby historic downtown Culpeper’s Hazel River Inn Restaurant on Davis Street. Here you will find interesting faire from bison burgers to seafood crepes on a menu that changes daily all served in an historic building that has served as everything from a Civil War jail to a tobacco barn. While you are in the area, you may want to stop by the renovated train depot on Commerce Street that now serves as the town’s Visitor’s Center where you can find information on other interesting shops or dining experiences within walking distance.