Geneva: Seeing the Possible in Ohio Whiskey

2:15 AM, Jan 17, 2013   |    comments
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GENEVA, Ohio -- They're cooking up something special inside a century-old barn in the heart of Ohio's wine country. 

Red Eagle Distillery is overflowing with a new kind of liquid gold. Owner Gene Sigel is a winemaker in the summer, but in the winter - he's crafting whiskey at one of the newest distilleries in Northeast Ohio.

The whiskey-making process begins with a giant vat, filled with spring water and corn, wheat, and barley. The grains are cooked for several hours, so that the starches in the grains turn to sugar.

The cooked mash is allowed to ferment - like wine. It then goes into the still, where it's heated to the point when alcohol boils. The alcohol steam vapors travel through cooling coils, where it changes back to a liquid -- a very potent clear liquid.

The straight whiskey is then aged in charred oak barrels, from which it acquires its signature amber color, and flavors.

One of the earliest known distilleries in Northeast Ohio was on Whiskey Island - which is how the peninsula near downtown got its name. In the days of Prohibition, Clevelanders hid a distillery there, and smuggled Canadian whiskey. Nearly a century later, Ohio is now at the forefront of a resurgence in distilling.

Just last year, state lawmakers relaxed decades-old laws that nearly prohibited distilleries from setting up shop. Now, a dozen micro-distilleries like Red Eagle are open in Ohio.

"It's about time," said Sigel. "I would think that 10 years from now, we would see 150-200 distilleries. And this is where they should be, because we grow corn, and wheat, and barley here in Ohio."

It may very well be liquid gold.

"It means local products in our state, and that means jobs," added Sigel. He's ready to give Kentucky distilleries a run for their money.

Red Eagle Distillery is located on South River Road in Geneva. It is open for tastings every weekend during winter, and expects to bottle its first Ohio whiskey this spring.

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