FEATURES : FOOD / DRINK

Chuck Miller

By Caroline Hwang

Published October 26, 2011

Chuck Miller with his wife Jeanette Miller

Photo: Michael A. Muller

Chuck Miller with his wife Jeanette Miller

Accidents happen when dedicated to the craft of whiskey making.

Photo: Michael A. Muller

Accidents happen when dedicated to the craft of whiskey making.

Chuck Miller with a bottle of Original Moonshine

Photo: Michael A. Muller

Chuck Miller with a bottle of Original Moonshine

Details from the bottom of the bottle

Photo: Michael A. Muller

Details from the bottom of the bottle

Chuck Miller with his wife Jeanette Miller and a bottle of Original Moonshine

Photo: Michael A. Muller

Chuck Miller with his wife Jeanette Miller and a bottle of Original Moonshine

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The Meatpacking District in New York is full of beautiful Manhattanites, working professionals, and stylish tourists who are staying at the nearby Gansevoort Hotel and the Standard. So when you see a tall man in a cowboy hat with a plaid cowboy shirt strolling through, you do a double take. The man is Chuck Miller, with wisps of white hair peeking out from under his hat and the deepest of blue eyes, behind which lies a history of tradition and pride. He’s carried on a tradition for three generations of distilling corn whiskey called moonshine, starting with his grandfather who began making and selling it during the Prohibition-era until 1960. “Original Moonshine, being such an American tradition, we need to share it with everyone,” says Miller.

The recipe he uses now for Original Moonshine is a four times distilled (in a Prohibition-era copper pot still) clear, corn whiskey made from corn that is grown on his estate, water from the same property, and handcrafted malt and yeast all in Culpepper, VA. It’s an altered recipe from the original, which was much higher in proof, but still remains along the same lines. While collaborating with chef Adam Perry Lang who first discovered this Moonshine at a BBQ competition, they refined the recipe to the smooth, clean whiskey that it is. It’s a distinct corn whiskey, it has a slight sweetness and almost no bite, but with a fullness that is rarely tasted in other corn whiskeys, all of which comes from the four times distillation process.

The business of making Moonshine still takes place on Miller’s farm with a small staff of seven, not including his wife who also takes part in the business. It’s a growing operation with Moonshine selling all over the country. He still hand loads the copper still in small batches with his home grown corn, using his spent mash to feed his cows. “I’ve never seen them happier,” he says with a grin. He creates two other types of whiskies at the distillery, Virginia Lightning whisky and Copper Fox whisky, both of which are sold only in Virginia. Original Moonshine is the only one being sold nationwide, so far.

“Maybe it’s just in my blood. I just had to do it.” You can tell the dedication Miller has to the craft, not only in his words and stories, but by the way he holds his whiskey glass, with only part of an index finger on his right hand. He begins to tell the story of the day, close to dusk, when he was working the grain tank. It is unclear to him whether the electricity went out or the belt slipped. As he reached down the tank to check on the belt, his finger ran right through the belt. He initially thought his finger was crushed, but soon realized it was cut clean. “So there are some hazards to making moonshine now, you don’t have to worry about anyone shootin’ at you anymore.”

You may soon see Miller making that moonshine on TV as he takes part in a two-part documentary called Moonshiner to be shown on the Discovery Channel within the year.

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