Sometimes, it takes 818 tries to get something absolutely perfect. For Troy Ball, that’s the number of experimental batches her company created to perfect its white whiskey.
To remind the owner of Asheville Distilling Co. how far she’s come since that first trial recipe, Troy has “818” engraved in tiny numerals on each of her signature wooden business cards. The digits begin a story of a craft distillery that started with a 5-gallon, outlaw-made kettle and has since graduated to a 5,000-liter German still, the largest of its kind in the United States.
But before there were two shifts working around the clock cranking out whiskey in the Appalachian hamlet of Asheville, North Carolina, there was just Troy and her indomitable desire to learn the art of moonshining and share its history and culture with the rest of the country and the world beyond the mountains.
Originally from Texas, Troy graduated from Vanderbilt University, got married and moved back to her hometown of Austin. Ten months later, she became pregnant with her first child, a boy she named Marshall. At about 6 months old, it became apparent that Marshall was different from other kids his age.
“We could tell that something wasn’t quite right,” Troy said, adding that doctors thought it was a result of some unknown issue during pregnancy.
When she again became pregnant two years later, every step was monitored to ensure nothing out of the ordinary occurred, but soon after her second son, Coulton, was born, it was discovered that he had the same undiagnosed disorder as his brother.
Troy said she went from being an entrepreneurial spirit to caring for her two special-needs sons, and a third adopted son, Luke, full time. The older boys were medically fragile, susceptible to sickness, non-ambulatory and nonverbal and required 24-hour care.
“It’s hard to be a woman and have your life take such a radical turn,” Troy said.
Growing up in Texas, Marshall and Coulton were in and out of the hospital all of their young lives, and in 2003, Marshall stopped breathing in an ambulance. That moment was the catalyst for the family to start looking for a new place to live that would expose the boys to fewer allergens and other aggravating health factors. After a bit of a search, they finally settled on Asheville, North Carolina.
As a welcoming gesture upon settling in Asheville, Troy’s neighbors began stopping by and proffering bottles of their homemade moonshine. Most of it was harsh, with an incredible burn, Troy said, and she cringed every time another jar came into the house. She soon discovered that what was passed around and given away were the heads and tails of the distillation, and the moonshiners were hoarding the best part, the hearts.
“They kept the best whiskey for themselves at home,” Troy said. Eventually, one of the shiners brought her some of his secret stash, the “keeper kind,” but Troy still made her sister be the guinea pig before trying it herself. She was astounded by the difference, and the revelation got her mental gears turning.
“Why aren’t we making a beautiful cocktail with white whiskey?” Troy thought, and then decided that if no one else was doing it, she’d do it herself. “I spent the next four months trying to find someone to teach me how to make it.”
She picked the brains of the local moonshiners, specifically those who produced the finest whiskeys, and spent months convincing her husband to help her make a still in their garage for experiments. She approached a local farmer, John McEntire, originally looking for 100 pounds of milled corn for “a few recipes I’m working on.” John saw through the fib and introduced Troy to his Crooked Creek Corn, a white corn variety with unusually high fat content.
Soon, Troy applied for a federal permit and began testing different milling techniques for the corn, malting styles and fermentation processes. From her local moonshiners, she learned techniques for keeping the mash warm during the cold winter months, recipes for her trial and error process and how to siphon off only the hearts of the distillation, leaving behind the burning, unrefined heads and tails.
“That sweet spot,” she said, “that they capture and keep for themselves.”
Eventually, Batch No. 818 came to fruition, and Troy named the product Troy & Sons Platinum, in honor of her boys who had taught her so much about life and love and determination.
Coming to Colorado
Asheville Distilling Co. now distributes three products, the Troy & Sons Platinum, Troy & Sons Oak Reserve and the refined Blonde Whiskey. Troy was in Breckenridge on Thursday, June 26, at the home of local chef and author Christy Rost to introduce her products on the same day that they launched in the state.
“Colorado is our first Western state,” Troy said, adding that most of the brands’ popularity spreads through word of mouth, since the distillery can’t afford big advertising contracts. She said brand loyalty is a difficult thing to achieve in a craft spirits market that’s constantly inundated with new products, but she feels her products have a fighting chance here because of the quality and care put into them.
Local consumers might also be interested in the full-circle concept the company employs when creating its whiskeys, Troy said. The distillery grows its own non-genetically modified, heirloom Crooked Creek Corn and Turkey Red Wheat on local farms, distills the alcohol and uses the spent mash to feed livestock on the property.
“We’re a plow to pour distillery,” Troy said. “The spent mash is fed to American Mulefoot Hogs. We have 25 sows and had 17 babies last week.”
Ultimately, though, the proof is in the taste, and from the versatile Platinum to the Blonde, which Troy dubbed a “kinder, gentler spirit,” each of the whiskeys has its own complex flavor profile and character — all without that traditional moonshine burn.