By LISA MONTI
Inside of a plain metal building on the edge of the Kiln community, Matt Crittenden is making whiskey and a little Hancock County history. The al-most completed Crittenden Distillery’s high-end bourbon and rye will have the distinction of being the first whiskey to be legally produced in the county, which many a moonshiner has called home.
Crittenden Distillery, only the fourth in the state, officially started production in June.
Right now the distillery is producing three to four batches of bourbon, rye and corn whiskey a week, Crittenden said. Each batch equals roughly 2.5 53-gallon barrels. It takes a few years before some of the whiskey is ready to bottle and sell. “We hope to age our bourbon four years and the rye two years, but have some corn whiskey that will ready in a few months,” Crittenden said.
It’s been a couple of years since Crittenden, a non-practicing lawyer, and his physician father, James Crittenden, set out to make craft whiskey on land not far from the family’s 80-acre farm.
Since then they have researched whiskey-making and marketing, navigated uncharted legal territory, secured high-priced special equipment and designed and built their distillery from top to bottom.
Crittenden got a permit from the county planning and zoning office about a year ago with some help from another trailblazing company in the Kiln, Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. More than 10 years ago, Mark and Leslie Henderson opened the first packaging brewery in Mississippi since Prohibition and the county officials allowed Crittenden to operate under the same rules that paved the way for Lazy Magnolia.
In the early going of construction, Crittenden had to drill a water well in the spring to fill the 3,000-gallon cooling water tank. There were delays, including waiting to get new barrels to store the whiskey. The first batch of barrels arrived in June from Kentucky and are stacked on one side of the distillery floor near the large bags of grain. “Barrels have to be new for bourbon,” he said. “Corn whiskey is stored in used barrels.”
Traditional moonshiners would marvel at the Crittenden operation, which sits on three acres on Mississippi 43. The equipment is some of the best to be found in larger distilleries but the Crittendens’ distillery is decidedly unique. “My dad and I designed it,” Crittenden says with a smile. “There’s no blueprints on this project.”
Work is ongoing in the front of the building which will house the tasting room and visitors center. Housed in the adjacent building, are six highly polished 1,000-gallon fermentation tanks among other large pieces of equipment.
Huge sacks of grain — corn, rye and wheat — needed for distilling arrives by the truckload from the Mississippi Delta a couple of times a month.
Nearby are lighted control panels that guide the raw grain with precision to a triple pair roller mill — the only one in the state — and then on to the mash cooker.
Inside the 29-foot tall still, also the only one of its kind in the state, bubbling mash turning into whiskey can be seen through a series of small windows. Daniel Crittenden, a cousin and the sole employee of the distillery, keeps an eye on the still and other equipment all around the facility.
By law Crittenden will sell his whiskey to the state and then it is sold to package stores.
“The plan is in the spring we will have it on shelves and be operating tours at the distillery on Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” he said.
The distillery still needs bottling equipment and a marketing piece to give the bourbon a face and name. “We’re working on a label,” he said.
To check on the distillery’s progress, go to the Crittenden Distillery LLC Facebook page. www.facebook.com/cdwhiskey
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