The Silo Distillery – pure, clean, sustainable
By George Harvey
It is partly a story of the building that houses the Silo Distillery. It was designed by David Hamilton of Geobarns, LLC, of White River Junction, Vermont. Even though it was built with an eye to frugality, it is the spectacular result of a collaborative creative and efficient effort.
It has its green credentials. Its use as a distillery means heat has to be used for processing, and that heat is trapped to a great degree for reuse for heating the building itself. This does not mean other sources of heat were neglected. The building is designed and constructed to take advantage of sunlight for both passive heating and light.
Such a building is not created thoughtlessly, and George Abetti, president of Geobarns speaks to the close contact that was needed to keep it on track. He and the Silo’s owners, Peter Jillson and Anne Marie Donovan, exchanged over 1600 emails dealing with all sorts of details.
Geobarns did the design and took responsibility for the building shell and interior construction, but there are other organizations worthy of note. Blanchard Contracting of Windsor did the excavation and concrete work. Bethel Mills, the oldest family-run business in Vermont, provided building-shell and interior materials. Insulation was installed by Weatherization Works, plumbing by Green Mountain Plumbing, and electric work by Stoney Electric. Windows are Andersen Silver Line.
A look at the pictures gives an idea of how impressive the building is. Wood, glazing, and the equipment of the business all seem to match in a manner that tells a story. And what a story it is.
Distilling alcohol is not just a matter of lighting a fire under a vat and watching alcohol drip into a bottle from a metal tube. That is, perhaps, part of the history the Silo acknowledges. But it is more.
The process starts with choosing source materials. Grains come from local farms, much of it from Great River Farm in Windsor. They are of the highest quality and are organically grown, whenever possible.
Water for the Silo has to be pure. After it comes from the town of Windsor, it is further purified in the Silo’s own plant through reverse osmosis. This ensures the highest possible quality.
Elderberry and Juniper Story
Elderberries and juniper berries were not as easily available on the market as the Silo’s owners would have expected, when they started getting underway. A chance meeting with a forager having good connections secured a set of high quality sources. Apples come from Springfield, Vermont’s Wellwood Orchards.
The Distilling Process
The grain is put through a hammer mill to make it into a fine powder. It is then mixed with water to make a mash, heated to a precise temperature for a starch conversion by natural enzymes, to a higher, precise temperature to eliminate bacteria, cooled, and inoculated with a special strain of yeast for distillers.
Unlike the beer brewing process, which has the grains separated before fermentation, the mash is allowed to go through the fermenting process. It is then put into the still, where it is heated to yet another precise temperature, so the alcohol is vaporized, but the water is not. This produces a product that is subsequently adjusted to precise levels of alcohol and bottled.
Like most other processes that lead to a product, there is waste. The mash, from which the alcohol is nearly entirely removed, still has food value. It goes to Circle T Ranch, in Hartland, Vermont, where it is fed to very appreciative cows. This brings the whole distilling process full circle, locally.
The cows get what is in the mash, and we get what is in the bottle — local and organic, clean and as pure as it can get. It all seems perfectly fitting.