Utica distillery's artisan moonshine hits local markets

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Mill Street Distillery in Utica is producing an artisan brand of moonshine that is sold by several retailers in central Ohio.

A new brand of artisan moonshine hitting the local market has a decidedly Ohio flavor.

Mill Street Distillery, located in Utica, uses corn and water from Licking County, and small copper stills, or pot stills, made by a coppersmith in Bucyrus.

Moonshine, also known as "white lightning" or "everclear," conjures up images of men in overalls, firing up a steam-spitting still located in the backwoods of an obscure southern county.

Mill Street is trying to change that perception, said Hernando Posada, chief financial officer and founding partner of the company.

"The distinguishing characteristic here is that it's a whiskey, a white whiskey, designed and manufactured by hand with the finest agricultural products from Ohio resulting in a higher quality whiskey with a premier taste," Posada said.

That means it's comfortably served in an artisan cocktail, on the rocks or neat, he said.

It is being sold at a number of Giant Eagle and Kroger stores, as well as specialty retailers, including Weiland's Gourmet Market, Huffman's Market, the Hills Market, Two Brothers, Ross Granville Market and the Wine & Liquor Depot.

The 750 milliliter bottles, otherwise known as a fifth, sell for $28 apiece.

Posada said he and the other founding members -- Paul Taiganides, Carlos Ogden, Jeff Thompson and Mark Bubnick -- worked to perfect the mash bill, or the recipe used to create the whiskey's profile.

It took two years for the group to get the necessary state and federal licensing.

Mill Street Distillery opened at Christmas.

It is now turning out 50 cases of moonshine every week, and the owners hope to increase that to 150 cases -- or 8,000 gallons -- by year's end.

That volume will include the white whiskey, as well as a barrel-aged moonshine, grappa and peach and apple brandies, set to be released this fall.

Adam Roelle, beer and spirits manager at Weiland's, said Mill Street's white whiskey is not what people typically associate with moonshine.

He said it's perfumed and flavorful, with a rich mouth feel and the essence of corn. Plus it's 80-proof, meaning it doesn't have that white-hot affect on the palate.

"The other products out there that are in mason jars and cutesy bottles that have little handles on them are about selling the idea of moonshine," Roelle said. "Rather, this is a handcrafted product."

Matt Mullins, spokesman for the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, said there's no legal definition of moonshine in the state.

Officials label "spirituous liquor" as anything containing more than 21 percent alcohol by volume. However, there are several products on Ohio shelves labeled as moonshine, he said.

There is no statutory limit on the percentage of alcohol per bottle sold in Ohio. However, those who sell brand-name Everclear that's 190 proof -- the highest percentage sold in the state -- must have an acceptable stated purpose for selling it, Mullins said.

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