La Distillery, inspired by Jim Bowie’s battle of sandbars in 1827
The first legal distillery in the Parish of Concordia for over 100 years is open for business.
Business partners Finley Hootsell, Chuck Bearden, Kyle Greer and Wendall Gibson recently opened 1827 Spirits as a bar, tasting room and distillery. They produce a selection of Silver Rum, Spiced Rum, Flavored Rum and Moonlight on Carter Street in a space that once stocked “trash cans” of Hootsell’s Concordia Pawn and Gun Shop in Vidalia.
“I was ready to do something different after running a pawnshop for 30 years,” Hootsell said. “I have been interested in American history since I was a child. My mom brought home the first Foxfire books. It was written about the Appalachians and included pioneering skills. When I read about moonlight in the book, I was intrigued and have thought about it ever since.
Bearden, a native of Natchez, Mississippi, has a background in chemical engineering in the distillation of oils and petroleum refineries. Thirty years ago, he discovered the appeal of distilled spirits.
Now he has brought the recipes and techniques developed over three decades to the new bar, tasting room and distillery. Chemical engineering helps produce moonlight or rum, he said.
“I fully understand the reactions that occur when you use various yeasts, filter media and distillation equipment,” Bearden said. “It helps to have a background in math and science. “
Jim Bowie’s legendary sandbar fight, which occurred near Vidalia in 1827, inspired the company’s branding. “Rum Worth Fighting For” is printed on t-shirts under a painting of Jim Bowie in the fight. Bearden and Hootsell said they liked the history of the fight.
A Bowie family member is buried next to Bearden’s mother at the Natchez town cemetery, he said, adding that the owners plan to display more Bowie memorabilia in the distillery room.
The production of a batch of rum takes four days from fermentation to bottling, although spiced rum is aged longer. Moonshine takes a little longer, Bearden said, adding that he’s constantly on the lookout for new flavors to develop.
“Apple pie is very popular in flavored moonlight,” Bearden said. “To be different, we make an apple pie flavored rum. There is a blend of apple juice, cider, cinnamon and spices to mimic the flavor of apple pie. It is best served on ice and chilled. It could be used in other cocktails.
Bearden uses black molasses and sugar cane from New Roads mills to make rum. These ferment in large plastic containers for three days. After three days, the mash has an alcohol content by volume of about five to 10 percent, he said.
Then the mash is put in a still where he heats it to 136 degrees Fahrenheit. As the alcohol evaporates, a column captures the impurities. Then it condenses in a five gallon carboy to repeat the cycle.
The product is distilled twice with an initial proof of 160 to 180 proofs. After distillation, the alcohol passes through a carbon filter system. Filtration eliminates all unwanted tastes. Most of the end product is around 30 to 90 proofs, he said.
Currently, Bearden is developing a peach rum to accompany Apple Pie rum in the fall.
“The remaining material is polished and has no bite,” Bearden said. “From there you can make any kind of rum. Moonshine is made using the same process, but without molasses.
The distillery is open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday for tastings and product sales.