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Distilling workshop by Virtuoso Distillers teaches visitors how spirits are made

What is mash? Why do craft distillers usually choose copper stills over stainless steel ones? What are heads, hearts and tails, and what do they have to do with alcohol?

All of this and more will be covered at a one-day distilling workshop from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 18 at Virtuoso Distillers in Mishawaka.

Owner Steve Ross will lead the workshop, showing participants how vodka, whiskey, gin, brandy, rum and other spirits are made.

The distillery has a reactor, two fermenters, a copper still, solid oak barrels, a bottler and other specialized equipment, all working together to produce various kinds of spirits. “It’s true alchemy,” Ross said.

He said ethyl alcohol is the base for all spirits, which is why he is able to produce such a wide variety of spirits in a single distillery.

Ross is a beekeeper and about eight years ago, he decided he wanted to make mead from honey. At first he failed miserably, but a passion for the craft and a commitment to steady improvement led to the creation of Virtuoso Distillers several years ago.

Ross takes pride in the fact that Virtuoso Distillers is a craft distillery and enjoys offering his customers whiskey that does not burn the throat — and explaining why that is. (Hint: a key word is purity.)

Like the center of a cinnamon roll is the most prized part, and like certain cuts of steak are tenderer than others, Ross said the same is true for alcohol. “We want hearts, not heads or tails,” he said. “Tails have toxins, but hearts are the best stuff.” The heart of a spirit is its purest, least compromised component.

At the workshop, participants will learn about the history and chemistry of the distilling process. Ross will not only teach, but also demonstrate how various spirits are concocted, bottled and labeled. Tastings will also be available.

For those eager to apply what they learned at home, Ross will also speak about government regulations and how they affect the home distiller.

Virtuoso Distillers is located at 4211 Grape Road in Mishawaka. Workshop cost is $350, and preregistration is not required. For more information, contact Ross at 574-876-4450.

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