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Giving it his best shot
Former financial planner starts his own distillery in Sperryville

 Sean McCaskey opens a barrel of whiskey. After 14 months of aging, it is ready to be filtered, bottled and shipped.
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Date published: 11/15/2008

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

SPERRYVILLE

--You could say that Rick Wasmund is a forward-thinker.

The 49-year-old New York native got out of the financial planning business at about the same time some of his former clients may have felt they could use a good stiff drink.

When the stock market began lowering spirits, Wasmund began distilling them in an old apple storage shed in the Rappahannock County hamlet of Sperryville.

Within earshot of the rush of a fast-moving stream and in the morning shadow of a picturesque mountain, the retired financial expert cooks up a batch of Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky about once a month.

"We're just little guys with big dreams," Wasmund says as he takes a pen and painstakingly inscribes the batch number on each of the bottles now ready for market.

"Every so often I even draw a smiley face on a bottle just to prove that [the labeling] was not done with a machine," he adds.

To be sure, Wasmund's operation is low-tech. His mother, Helen, hand rakes the barley as it undergoes the malting process on the brewery's concrete floor, and a simple wood stove heats a second-story kiln that dries the grain before grinding.

Fruitwood burned in a pan on that stove sends smoke up to the kiln to help flavor the barley. Wood chips in cloth sacks are suspended in the wooden barrels to add more flavor to the whiskey as it ages.

Most of Wasmund's stirring and raking tools are handmade, as are the barley bins. Washing and holding tanks are mostly converted items from milking parlors.

LEARNING THE CRAFT

A tour of the distillery makes it clear that a great deal of thought and innovation have gone into Wasmund's setup, but this novice whiskey-maker has gone a bit beyond the practical and traditional.

"We play music for our [whiskey] barrels and roll them around," he says as progressive rock blares in the background.

It is unclear whether rock-and-rolling adds to the flavor of the product.

Wasmund moved to Sperryville from Florida in 2002, but he became interested in making whiskey after attending a Johnny Walker tasting event some years earlier.

He says he absorbed every bit of information he could during that stint. He also considered possible ways to make a new and better product--such as improving the flavor of whiskey by using various woods.


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ON THE SHELF

Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky is available at Virginia ABC stores and in other jurisdictions, including Washington.

COMING SOON

Distiller Rick Wasmund also is seeking permission from the Virginia ABC Board to sell miniature kegs of un-aged whisky.

"We need some special help from Virginia to get them in stores," Wasmund said, adding that he is confident that the quaint little kegs could soon be sold in Washington.

And Wasmund said he is experimenting with a rye whiskey that could become available early next year.