Wal­dorf dis­tillery em­braces fam­ily boot­leg­ging his­tory

Blue Dyer is bot­tling a smooth sip­ping rum, host­ing tours, tast­ings

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twitter: @somd_bized­i­tor

Ryan Vier­heller and Walker Dun­bar aren’t plan­ning to de­liver their rum in the dark of night across the Po­tomac River, but that bit of his­tory is an in­ter­est­ing part of how the new Wal­dorf mi­cro-dis­tillery got its name, BlueDyer Dis­till­ing Co.

“I grew up with th­ese sto­ries that my grand­dad and great-grand­dad [David Wir­man and David Wir­man Sr.] used to be boot­leg­gers,” Vier­heller said, sit­ting in the yet-to-be-opened BlueDyer tast­ing room at 52 In­dus­trial Park Drive, the smell of fer­men­ta­tion hang­ing in the warm air. “Grandaddy died about four years ago. He had about 180 acres but the first 52 he bought with liquor money.”

“We got the idea to [start the dis­tillery] and the fam­ily story was in place,” Vier­heller said. “Then I started do­ing the re­search. I thought it was just a nick­name that grand­dad and great-grand­dad used, sort of a nom de guerre, not to tell peo­ple your real last name. They used Blue Dier as their last name while boot­leg­ging. They didn’t want to tell peo­ple their real names. They made the al­co­hol in Stafford [County, Va.] and ran it in two routes: one was north into D.C. and one they got into a lit­tle skiff in the Aquia Creek to bring it over to the Port Tobacco area and sell into South­ern Mary­land. That was their two routes.”

“I looked at some of the peo­ple around the coun­try that were do­ing it [open­ing dis­til­leries] and I looked at some of the sto­ries and I said, ‘Hey, we can do that,’” busi­ness part­ner and friend Walker Dun­bar added. “What re­ally got me in­ter­ested to def­i­nitely work with him on it was the story, that there was an ac­tual story be­hind it — the fam­ily his­tory that’s in­volved in it.”

The two cur­rently work in law en­force­ment else­where. Vier­heller grew up in St. Mary’s County, grad­u­ated from Leonard­town High School in 1999 and has 14 years in as a cop. Dun­bar, a New Yorker now liv­ing in Mont­gomery County, spent time work­ing as a fire­fighter be­fore at­tend­ing the po­lice academy and even­tu­ally meet­ing Vier­heller on the job.

They started de­vel­op­ing the dis­tillery idea in Jan­uary of last year and set­tled on mak­ing a rum from a tra­di­tional Caribbean-style recipe. They just got their la­bel ap­proved late last week — the last step to make it all le­gal — and are now bot­tling their first batch of the 80-proof spirit for pub­lic con­sump­tion. They’re li­censed to give tours and free sam­ples at their Wal­dorf dis­tillery as well as sell bot­tles di­rectly to the pub­lic and to re­tail­ers in the state. They’re plan­ning to have it avail­able at lo­cal restau­rants, bars and liquor stores as fast as they can.

Hav­ing sam­pled the bar­rel-aged rum di­rectly from the charred wooden bar­rel at 100-proof, it’s a fair bet the smooth sip­ping rum will be pop­u­lar and the first 160 cases they’re bot­tling will go quickly — re­flect­ing six weeks’ work.

“We’ve got a lot of lo­cal in­ter­est — an enor­mous amount of lo­cal in­ter­est,” Vier­heller said. Up­dates on rum avail­abil­ity will be at http://www.bluedy­erdis­till­ing.com/ and at their Face­book page .

Blue Dyer is one of two dis­til­leries get­ting started at the same time in Charles County; the other is Tobacco Barn Dis­tillery in Hugh­esville. Vier­heller said an­other un­named dis­tillery is in very early stages of de­vel­op­ment in New­burg as well. So far, dis­tillery li­censes in South­ern Mary­land seem to be con­fined to Charles County.

“What we’ve seen in the last two years work­ing on the project, it’s about fifty-fifty, a lot of guys get a busi­ness plan and they get on the in­ter­net, they start mak­ing a lot of noise that they’re go­ing to get open, but we see maybe half of the peo­ple make it,” Vier­heller said.

He and Dun­bar kept their op­er­a­tion low-key and low bud­get, de­sign­ing their own stills and re-pur­pos­ing other equip­ment that would meet in­dus­try and gov­ern­ment ap­proval. The 10, 300-gal­lon fer­men­ta­tion tanks cost them a frac­tion of what pur­pose-built units sell for and they even saved the $2,500 in ship­ping fees by mak­ing a 36-hour round trip to Chicago to pick them up.

“We’re not one of the higher bud­geted star­tups,” Vier­heller said. “We go up to Lan­caster [Pa.] for our mo­lasses. We haul in our own sugar. We’re a blue col­lar out­fit. We de­signed our own equip­ment — our stills are mod­u­lar.”

The two 145-gal­lon stills use elec­tric heat­ing el­e­ments and ex­cess heat is used to heat the fil­tered wa­ter used in fer­men­ta­tion. The two said very lit­tle wa­ter is put down the drain and they are work­ing on mak­ing use of the heat even more ef­fi­ciently by re­tain­ing some of the hot wa­ter in hold­ing tanks to act as a pre-heater for the stills.

“We’ve started with rum,” Vier­heller said as he was draw­ing a sam­ple out of one of the bar­rels. “In the fu­ture we’d like to make a corn whiskey. Both of those prod­ucts were in­dige­nous to this area. They were made from lo­cal agri­cul­ture.”

And some­times they were made out in the woods in the dark of night, hauled to mar­ket in a skiff bob­bing across the Po­tomac. As a re­minder of that his­tory, one of the cop­per still pots used by those fam­ily boot­leg­gers dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion that was found in a barn on the Wir­man prop­erty is now on dis­play at the new dis­tillery.

“We’d love for peo­ple to come down and check it out be­cause we love talk­ing about it. We love show­ing peo­ple,” Dun­bar said.

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Walker Dun­bar, left, and Ryan Vier­heller pose in their BlueDyer Dis­till­ing Co. tast­ing room in Wal­dorf. Be­hind them is the Pro­hi­bi­tion-era still pot found at Vier­heller’s fam­ily’s farm.

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