A Year on the Farm

Engineered Spirits - Red Buckeyes on the Ridge

Down on the Farm

Work never stops down on the farm, but even in the depths of winter, there’s always something to see, learn and experience.

In earliest January, we’re out in the woods, identifying trees, checking on the health of the forest, repairing trails and access roads, and addressing any problems that may harm our beautiful forests. Then, in a slowly drifting wave of color, the first native wildflowers appear on the forest floor – rue anemone, trilliums, toothworts, the first mayapples. In March and April, the forest  accelerates with the season, and now we see firepinks, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, wild hyacinths, dwarf larkspur, wild blue phlox, false garlic, bluebells, foamflower, and a host of other beautiful ephemerals, crescendoing in a great burst of color as the buckeyes light up the ridge in a blaze of red. But the show’s not over yet, and won’t be for months, as more native shrubs, trees, fruits, and wildflowers break into bloom. Hearing the hum of the first bees and hummingbirds all around as they visit these plants is something everyone should experience.

In April and May, as soon as the weather dries up a bit, we’re preparing our fields for planting crops, especially the heirloom Jimmy Red corn that the distillery plans to use for its products. In May the burgundy corn seeds go in, and then we’re weeding, fertilizing, and trying to keep the deer and raccoons away from the crop while it grows (we have a few innovative ways of doing that you may find amusing).

In the meantime, our summer vegetables for the kitchen have been planted in the vegetable beds, and new annual herbs, started from seed in our greenhouse, have been planted alongside the perennial herbs that have grown here all winter. All summer we’re harvesting fruit we’ve grown and foraging for wild ones, first strawberries and raspberries, then cherries, blackberries, mulberries, currants, elderberries, pears…. If we don’t eat them outright or serve them in the kitchen, they’ll be sold to the distillery to make the small batch, artisanal spirits for which it’s becoming known. And you’ll be able to be part of that forest-to-bottle story.

In August or September, of course,  it’s time to harvest the corn, so we’ll be out in the fields collecting firm ears of corn and putting them on the screens to dry, before sending to the mill. But we’re also collecting ripe pawpaws and persimmons as they come in, to round out the botanical flavors for our customers to enjoy, either in seasonal dishes served fresh from the farm’s kitchens or in an Engineered Spirits bottle. Learning how to identify and forage these unique fruits is an experience you’re sure to enjoy, just as we have.

Later in Autumn, we’ll mow or burn the wildflower meadow, collect seeds for next year,  and lime and fertilize the fields we’ll grow our corn in next spring.  As the holidays approach, we’ll collect nuts for the table and for use in new recipes. The Christmas Market will come and go in a splash of bright colors, carols, cool crafts and the smell of hot cocoa.

Then, once more, it will be time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, plan our new endeavors and products for the coming year, and sit and dream with a nice glass of something by the fire as another beautiful year on the farm draws to a close. And then begins again.

It will take time for some of these plans to reach fruition, but each day, step-by-step, they come closer to reality. A week passes, or a month, and another piece of the puzzle slides into place.

In the coming months, we’ll be posting a calendar here and on the farm’s website, which will be launching later this month. From that calendar, you’ll be able to plan your visit to the distillery and to the farm and experience everything throughout the year we have to enjoy, whether that’s booking a tour of the distillery and a tasting, enjoying a farm fresh picnic lunch, or taking a tour of the botanical beds. We’ll hope you’ll consider joining us there.


Engineered Spirits - Shelling Corn

Core Values of Engineered Spirits

I grew up on the farm and there were many tasks that had to be done every day, depending on the season. In late fall and winter and into spring you fed cows, cut wood and made sure there was enough wood in the house to last a few days in case it rained or snowed. Spring was the time to check fences and plant gardens, and summer was time to pick a lot of vegetables and haul hay. Fall came back around and we were harvesting crops, saving seeds and looking after the cows again.

By the time I was 13, no one had to tell me to bring in wood, roam the forest to find cows that didn’t show up at feeding time, or walk the garden to pick ripe vegetables. Dad was a full-time engineer and, in winter, he didn’t get home till after dark. Mom was an accountant, so the first part of every year, she was working late to get everyone’s taxes done. They didn’t have to wonder if there was wood in the house, if cows were being fed and found, and the furnace was being banked to keep us warm. They didn’t tell me to do these things, and I didn’t consider them chores. I did these things because they were an integral part of farm life and needed to be done. No one else was there to do them. They could trust that these things would be taken care of and they didn’t have to worry.

For someone to be considered trustworthy, they must perform well time and time again.. The things they are doing, the results they are producing must meet or exceed your expectations. You don’t have to worry about them. Our distillery will be small, and pretty much every product will be single barrel or small batch. The only way for us to  perform well time and time again is to keep detailed logs, noting variables like the temperature outside and whether it is raining. These are very much like the inspection logs I had to keep while monitoring construction projects for roads and utilities. 

So, while a lot of our runs may be unique amongst the brandies and seasonal gins  we are looking to provide, we hope when you see our label you’ll know you can trust what we put in the bottle. What you’re drinking may be new and possibly one of a kind, but you’ll know that the water is chemical free and the fruit and grains, if not grown on the farm, are sourced as close to home as possible, from people we trust and can tell you all about. 


Engineered Spirits - A fine spring morning

Core Values of Engineered Spirits

To assess the quality of something, a person typically assigns a value to it. This value doesn’t necessarily need to be money, but it usually costs something to get something. I would say that quality is important, but it is up to the provider of something to tell the world why it’s special.

The farm I grew up on is special. It has abundant natural resources that are as Nature intended them and we plan to keep it that way. We didn’t grow up using herbicides or pesticides on our crops. My mother and I were the herbicide and the pesticide. Getting up early to go out with her in the fields, pulling out the weeds, removing the tobacco worms by hand before it got too hot, or chopping down the thistles with shovels. It was work and it took time and a lot of energy, but it also had other benefits, like keeping me out of trouble. There is a quality of life that is special there, and we intend to keep that quality of work and life moving forward.

Quality ingredients make quality food and beverages. I like to know the provenance of the ingredients in anything I make. I’m pretty picky about vegetables and beef. If you have trained your eye to look for the characteristics of what makes good ingredients, half the product is already made. Our farm’s spring water has enough minerals to provide great nutrients for the yeasts we intend to use and a neutral pH. So it is of good quality. We may use UV lights to treat it, but we won’t add anything to it that would change the flavor, such as salts to manage hardness, or chlorine. And luckily, it runs all year.

We are always looking at ways to improve. But there are lines we won’t cross. We look forward to trying new methods to grow the ingredients we need without all the chemicals. Will it mean we have to grow 10% more so that Nature gets her share? Probably. But if we can protect the soil and water for the future, I guess that groundhog can have a couple ears of corn.


Engineered Spirits - A View through the Trees

Core Values of Engineered Spirits

A phrase I grew up hearing was “honest and hardworking”.  People would say that about someone and I knew that person was respected. I guess there are other ways to earn respect, but being honest seemed to be one of the best accepted.

The other day, I was asking Uncle Ralph some questions about growing fruit and he warned me that, “You might be leading your ducks to a poor pond.” Other than making me laugh, this phrase also contained a lesson. Even though Uncle Ralph is an expert in botany, he is humble about it and didn’t want me to blindly follow his advice without doing my own research. He was being honest in that, as much as he knows, he doesn’t know everything.

Honesty typically speaks to other characteristics like that. If someone is honest, they also tend to be humble, social, helpful and thoughtful. They probably put people at ease. If someone is honest, you don’t worry about them trying to deceive you.

Being honest doesn’t always have immediate rewards and, sometimes, it has less desirable consequences. Sometimes it causes you to reflect on what you believe and sometimes you have to change that too. But as long as you’re honest, you don’t have regrets. Why would you want those? Life is tough enough as it is.

If someone asks an honest person something they don’t know much about, they’ll truthfully say, “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to go look that up.” Without thinking anymore about it, you know an honest person will do exactly what they said and will get back with them with an answer. 

Some people will say this or that product is handmade or handcrafted. That’s a popular buzzword in the distilling industry nowadays, with few definitions. When we say one of our products is handcrafted, we’re being honest. We mean that we cooked, fermented, distilled, bottled, and labeled everything you taste (in most cases, we grew it, too). If we sourced a base alcohol, we will tell you that upfront, so you’ll know exactly what you’re drinking. We’ll also be transparent about everything we used during our process, botanical or otherwise, so that if you ever have a question, we’ll have an answer. And if we don’t know, well, don’t worry; we’ll go look it up and get back to you.

We aim to be part of that honest and hardworking group. Being honest may sound really hard, but we’d rather have your respect. And no regrets. 


Engineered Spirits - Papa’s Workshop

Core Values of Engineered Spirits

I believe that ingenuity is a skill that can be learned. 

Having ingenuity means you have the ability and the desire to question. For most of my life, I have been notoriously annoying for asking lots of questions. I always want to understand why something was done a certain way. When someone says “because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” I see opportunities for improving. Asking why and exploring what has changed in the last ten years or so can lead to exciting things that may be able to drive the idea, process, or product to a new place. 

I’m not saying tradition doesn’t have its place. It always helps to remember where we came from and why things were done the way they were, so we can always look back on what we have learned. And sometimes that chocolate pie recipe just can’t be made better than Granny made it.

I grew up watching my family solve everyday problems on the farm and it was almost always something different. A different day, a different problem, a different solution. From figuring out how best to lay out a fence, fix a hay baler, or how best to preserve our produce from the garden, we were always thinking about the solutions to these everyday problems, since there was so much work to do. 

When I was fifteen, I had to put up a fence by myself and run a quarter mile of wire. So, I did what I was taught and looked at what I had. I had a six-foot tall steel post, three 40-pound rolls of sharp, barbed wire, and a pickup truck. I could have carried those rolls of wire by hand, walking or rolling them, as I had been taught to do, but I had an idea. I tied the post across the bed of the truck, put the roll of wire on it, secured the end to a post and took off driving. That wire unwound itself and it was a lot less effort, a lot less time, and I ended up with the same result. 

I use that same approach to many things I do now, from fixing light switches to cooking. What do I want as the end result? Who am I serving? Whatever it is, it has to be good, not just to me, but to them. 

At Engineered Spirits, we will put this thought process into every product. We will stick with tradition by having good, locally-grown ingredients. We will use those as simply and efficiently as possible to make a product that we want you to love. And we will look to the future and other innovative ingredients we can use to make beverages we hope you’ll love just as much. 


Engineered Spirits - Limestone towers above the Berry Road

Core Values of Engineered Spirits

When I think of rugged people, the first thing that always comes to my mind are the characters in westerns. Some of the first I saw growing up were John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. I can’t forget to mention Sam Elliot; his voice alone just drips a sense of ruggedness. The modern western railroad drama “Hell on Wheels” showed the rugged men and women of westward expansion in a great tale of human vs. human, human vs. machine, and human vs. his environment. They all faced challenges. We all do today. 

Challenges are relative. We all have some degree of talent to do things, but not everything we do is easy. Nor should it be. So, what makes someone rugged? Someone who will do something that’s hard, and probably fail at first, or at least not achieve exactly what they hoped. My first attempt using alternatives to sugar for molten chocolate cakes was probably the worst thing I ever made, but I kept trying. Six tries later, they were pretty good. But I don’t think just figuring out how to make sugar-free molten chocolate cake means I’m rugged. 

You don’t have to be a railroad worker or a farmer, a mountaineer or an explorer to be rugged. I think that being rugged means you have a dream you are working toward that will be difficult. It will not happen overnight, and it will cost more than just money along the way. You may have to struggle. You may have to endure some hardships. You may have to fight many uphill battles. You may get knocked down and have to start over again. And you may also have to learn some things and pick up another dream along the way.

Ruggedness is continuing to try even when things get tough. Pushing yourself physically, mentally, emotionally. Working to do something that could even surprise you in the end, that you didn’t expect. And that’s what we are doing here.

Currently, we are wrapping up the purchase of the land. There’s a lot of emotion, it’s family land. We are working hard, and there’s a whole lot more work to do. Determining how to finance the distillery in this economic environment will be difficult. But we are researching every opportunity to not only end up where we want to be, but to do so in a sustainable, responsible, mindful way. That’s definitely not the easiest path for making a distillery and most people wouldn’t even consider it right now. 

But that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to work with the land we have, the farm that we love and we are going to make a product that celebrates those who share those same values. 

We will be rugged.


Engineered Spirits - Road to the back field

Core Values of Engineered Spirits

I did my share of farming when I was a young man and it is hard work. Farming, though, is not a talent for me. I discovered one talent I did have, though: cooking. I learned to cook by necessity, since my mom and dad had to work and I liked to eat. 

And not just eat. There is a way to cook that I have to equate to music. A person can play music, but a musician can make magic. I ate well.

Thus, I learned through my grandmother, aunts, mother and my dad, how to prepare food. And not just from the grocery store. We raised hogs, beef, chickens, and we hunted. That’s a plethora of things to eat,  along with a half-acre garden that produced enough green beans, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers/pickles, etc. for 12 people to eat throughout the year. And since I was the oldest grandchild, I was there helping with all of it.  

Working daily with the women in my family made me understand how hard they worked while my dad and uncles were away. It was from those ladies I learned there is no time to sit around, waiting to be told what to do. There is a lot of stuff to be done, so we all have to work together. 

They made me think beyond myself and they taught me how to be polite. I knew they’d be there for me if I needed them, but they’d also teach me a lesson if I didn’t act like somebody.  Selflessness and caring about others and their well-being was something I witnessed first-hand everyday. The women of my family taught me to think of others, to be aware of unspoken needs and, in general, how to live a life that helps others see they are appreciated and how they can give of themselves as well.

So, here’s the start of being somebody. A way to put those cooking skills to use, to be with family and to share experiences. Working with your family is a bond difficult to describe. No one is getting paid at the end of the day, but you have food canned, so you can have green bean casserole at Christmas, wood in the wood pile so you’ll  be warm, and lessons you’ll take with you to share with everyone you meet on the road back home.

Welcome to Engineered Spirits

Engineered Spirits - Petty Branch Road

Anyone who knows me can tell you, I love to cook. I love making an experience to share with people.  I want them to take that “energy of giving” away with them and I want it to make them smile.

Engineered Spirits began as everything does, with an idea. I grew up on a farm in a very rural area. It was a  lot of hard work. I wanted to see the world and experience what other places had to offer, other than just hard work and  daily chores. What I didn’t realize back then was that what I had was very rare. 

After being away for thirty years, it’s time to go  back to be with that jewel. One thing I’ve learned  in my travels is there’s more to land than just farming. The land  has other resources that,  when combined with a vision, can be blended in such a way as to bring the same type of joy I hope to give people when I cook. 

The people I want to celebrate are those like my family. Hard-working thinkers who never just sat by when they thought something could be improved. They all came about it their own way. Independent people. Using what they had and making things better. Sometimes there was collaboration with others on big projects and when that happened, ideas would be bantered about and welcomed, discussed, and respected. 

There are many stories here at the farm. Most happy, some sad, but all with a lesson. So let’s get a beverage and sit a spell. There are tales to tell.