Chatting With The Founder of Asheville Distilling Company
By Richard Thomas
Asheville, North Carolina is fast becoming the new “it” town in America, and part of its draw is its location. Situated just across the state line from Smokey Mountain National Park, Asheville is surrounded with outdoor beauty and activities, a feature that has drawn plenty of people with a natural interest in local and artisinal products. Another aspect drawing people to Asheville is its charming Southern character.
“Artisan” and “Southern charm” are two terms that describe Troy Ball, founder of Asheville Distilling Company, very well. In tandem with her husband Charlie, who provided the engineering skill, and a dedicated crew, Ball brought the moonshine business back to Asheville in a large and legal fashion. She spared me some time recently for a chat about making Asheville’s own locovore moonshine.
RT: Tell me about how you went about learning the process of making moonshine. From what I understand, it’s a mix of archival research, digging up old recipes and the like, and tutelage under some area “home distillers?”
TB: It all started when I tasted “privately made” — sounds so much better than illegal, doesn’t it? — moonshine and it tasted really good. I asked questions and then got more interested so met a few people who introduced me to others and it sort of snowballed from there. A lot of the old-timers still making white whiskey are proud of what they do and loved showing me their process and talking about their craft. Southern hospitality is part of the heritage here and I think they could tell my interest and enthusiasm were genuine and they got a kick out of that. I decided to start experimenting on my own and set up a small still. I tried various recipes and types of corn as well as various processes. Then I made my husband and all my friends do taste tests. Relentlessly. And we finally got a recipe and a process that made a spirit we felt would be well-received and that we would be proud to make.
RT: What was it about Crooked Creek Corn that drew you to it for making your corn whiskey?
TB: It was a bit of an accident really. Crooked Creek Farm is located near Asheville, and they had been making grits and other products for the local market. I bought corn from them to run some tests and knew we’d found something special. We weren’t sure what was making such a difference so we sent some of the corn to be tested, and that’s when we found out that the corn was an heirloom corn they thought had been lost in the 1840’s. The McEntire family had farmed their place for generations and the corn had never been cross-pollinated. John McEntire was also one of the kindest and most generous people I’d met and it has been such a pleasure to work with him.
RT: Asheville has a strong reputation in the “locovore” movement. How big a part has your location and local support played building Troy and Sons?
TB: We moved to Asheville to find a healthier place for our oldest boys and the locovore movement was part of that decision. There aren’t a lot of ingredients in our whiskey, so our location has been key – we couldn’t have found the corn or had access to the mountain water anywhere else. We also had help and support from the community and its businesses – from guiding us in the early days, to introducing us to people who could help, to putting our products on their menus. Asheville has a reputation for quality, and we are proud to be a part of that.
RT: Whenever I read about or see you talking about your moonshine, you emphasize mixology and making cocktails. That’s just fine, but how often do you drink your own sippin’ corn neat or with a little ice?
TB: That’s an interesting question. When I’m out, I tend to drink cocktails. They’re fun and pretty, and today’s mixologists are so talented that I enjoy the complex and delicious tastes they put together. When I’m home and things are a bit quieter, I’m more likely to take it neat. Sitting on the porch and talking to Charlie or relaxing with a few friends, a few fingers of whiskey and the world is a wonderful place.