A local distillery with a Willie Wonka vibe is creating high-end rum, whiskey and even moonshine.
Jim Blansit runs one of a handful of licensed distilleries in Missouri, Copper Run Distillery.
A boyish curiosity on Ozarks farmland may have helped start a new and rare distillery—one that even produces a high-end moonshine.
Before the banjos start playing in your head, think of full-flavored, carefully-constructed liquor made with all-local products.
“I want to dress up the moonshine, I don’t want it to be a hokey product.” says 42-year-old Jim Blansit, owner of Copper Run Distillery.
Blansit says you could start seeing more “hokey” moonshines in stores, because he believes micro-distilleries will start popping up like mushrooms, as microbreweries did in the ’90s. However, distilling rum or whiskey is more complex than brewing beer or making wine, and it’s strictly regulated. Perhaps that’s why Blansit is the first-known distiller in the Ozarks and one of a few across the state.
It started at age 13, when Blansit and his brother were growing up on their grandparents’ land in Walnut Shade. Their mother always whipped up things like homemade ketchup or peanut butter. “I always knew I could make anything I wanted to,” says Blansit. “Food didn’t come from the store.” And neither did the wine.
One day, Blansit and his brother threw some of their mother’s bread yeast into homemade grape juice. It fizzed, and a few days later, it fermented. “We didn’t even know what alcohol was,” says Blansit. At age 19, he learned how to brew beer from an article in Mother Earth News.
That year, his spirited curiosity led him to work at Stone Hill winery. He then moved to California to work in various microbreweries. Eventually, Blansit came back to the Ozarks to produce high-end balsamic vinegars. After 20 years or so, he wanted to try distilling.
The building itself is deceptive in size. It looks simple from the front, but as you walk to the back, you’ll suddenly find yourself in a charming sampling room, decorated with warm colors and reclaimed materials from the Blansit family farm. The production room looks like something you might see in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or at Silver Dollar City. There’s a large copper pot, pipes, gauges, and jars of liquid.
Blansit will tell you it’s where science meets art. In his mind, that large copper pot is gold. It’s technically a direct-fire copper pot that is “inefficient,” in Blansit’s words, though he says it’s much better than any modern, more expensive still. The direct-fire approach allows Blansit to create a smooth, single batch of whatever he’s producing.
Blansit is also proud of using local ingredients. “The whiskey that I made last was literally in the field the week before I got it,” he says. Corn, molasses, oak trees and clean Ozarks water are a few of the ingredients. He even reuses the corn as a high-protein livestock feed, and his water is re-circulated back into the distilling process.
He distills moonshine, rum, and vodka; though don’t put it past Blansit to experiment. His moonshine is particularly popular at the moment, because a growing number of customers are buying it by the case to mature on their own. Moonshine is basically un-aged whiskey—some customers want to age it in their own barrels, others want to put oak chips inside the bottle to watch it mature.
Blansit says he hopes Copper Run will become a Branson tourist destination—a mix between Silver Dollar City, Bass Pro and Big Cedar. He also wants to start hosting private parties in the Springfield area. For now, the local distillery can accommodate small parties at the 2-acre location, though there are already talks of expansion.
Though Blansit says he wants to grow bigger, he never wants to compete with the big boys, like Jack Daniels. Instead, he sees himself as a high-quality, truly unique distiller serving the Ozarks. And Blansit says, he’ll continue to do that at his family farm, the very place it all started. “I’ll spend the rest of my life distilling,” he says.
BY MICHELLE SHERWOOD – article link
Photo by Edward Biamonte