By JESSICA WIANT ∙ For The State Journal
If moonshine, that fiery, clear fluid passed around in Mason jars, is folk art, the creations of Bloomery Plantation Distillery might be pop art.
Featuring funky vintage labels, the seven flavors of liqueur offered by the young business range from a "moonshine milkshake" that goes down smooth to a hard lemonade that'll make you pucker.
And the "hooch" is flying off the shelves as fast as it can be made – or "macerated."
That's the process going on constantly at the made-over cabin and surrounding 12 acres in the Eastern Panhandle's Charles Town.
In the upstairs of the cabin, buckets upon buckets containing alcohol, fruit and other ingredients sit and macerate over several months until they're ready to be bottled. Downstairs, new batches get cooked up in the production area and guests to the distillery sip samples.
It all began when a trip to Italy sparked founders Linda Losey and partner Tom Kiefer on a personal mission to replicate the drink they fell in love with there — limoncello.
The tradition in Italy, according to Rob Losey, Linda's ex-husband, is to bring the bottle of limoncello from the freezer after a meal, pour it into a dry glass and "sip to satisfy the sweet tooth and extend the fun and conversation with friends."
Once they succeeded in finding a recipe that beat out any other they could find here in the states, the idea of the distillery was born. Quickly expanding into additional flavors, they changed the name and their labels from "Cello" to Bloomery SweetShine.
Losey came on board with the business first as a taste-taster then builder and jack-of-all-trades. Now, working at the distillery on weekends and overseeing many aspects of the business, he is fluent in the history of limoncello. And he describes the drink in a language more West Virginians are apt to understand: It's like chili.
Just as most people around these parts have their own chili recipe, so it is with limoncello in Italy, he says. Each recipe is a little different.
"We are on the sweet, smooth side," he said, "with a clash of cultures."
That clash, of course, being the transformation of mountain moonshine (corn liquor bought from a producer in Kentucky) into fine cordials – SweetShine, as the bottles put it.
The combination has won over plenty of people. Available at a variety of outlets mostly in Washington, D.C., several of the flavors have already won nods from the 2012 Spirits International Prestige Awards, Microliquor Awards and American Distilling Institute.
"We're selling every case that we make," Losey says.
Despite a lot of expansion and fanfare for a business just approaching two years old, the renovated rustic 1840s log cabin on a dirt road off W.Va. 9 is its humble home.
While the founders live in Maryland, it was part luck (finding the old farm on Craigslist) and part law (rules in surrounding states made operating a distillery prohibitive) that led them to West Virginia.
"We could not have picked a better place to arrive," Losey said.
From the proximity to the Shenandoah River and D.C. metro market to the history of the region, and just the attitudes, West Virginia has been friendly to Bloomery, according to Losey.
Not far from the Virginia line, the distillery sits off a road that leads straight into the heart of Virginia Wine Country.
Conveniently, the experience at Bloomery is a lot like what folks experience when they visit a vineyard for a wine-tasting.
Open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays with live music and other special events, the distillery does much more than just brew up batches of its popular sellers.
For one, they serve each of the flavors to visitors – from peach to ginger and chocolate raspberry – along with some interesting examples of what to do with their products, like chocolate raspberry served over coconut sorbet.
It's all free to try, and Losey encourages people to come out, hang out or even bring along a snack.
"We're not in the liquor business," Losey says, it's more agritourism.
"I want to be an entertaining farmer."
There is, in fact, plenty of farming going on, too.
On the hillside at the farm, an acre of young raspberry bushes will soon yield ingredients for the distillery's chocolate raspberry concoction.
A greenhouse nearby shelters lemon trees and home-grown ginger.
In January, those trees produced the first-ever commercial lemon crop in the Mid-Atlantic region, Rob Losey said.
And at harvest time, Losey points out, each of those lemons is meticulously hand-zested for use in the company's signature limoncello.
In fact, just 10 ingredients: lemon, ginger, vanilla, dark chocolate, raspberries, peaches, sugar, milk, water and alcohol – go into making all the recipes currently whipped up at Bloomery Plantation.
Whenever possible, the distillery produces its own ingredients. When it isn't, they source as locally as possible. Orr's Farm Market in nearby Berkeley County provides the peaches, for example.
"We try and do everything as organic as possible," Losey said. "I love what we do. We work very hard to put only excellence in every bottle."
Each batch is produced, proofed and dated individually, Losey says. Each bottle is hand-signed. That same attitude is infused into the experience visitors get when they visit.
"We are not a bar," Losey says. "When you're here, you're our friend.
"I encourage people to bring their kids and bring their dogs, and I want them all off-leash," he jokes.
Visiting on a rainy Friday in June, nearby resident Beverly Gold declared she would even like a job there.
"The atmosphere would be worth it," she said.