Interview: Royce Neeley of Neeley Family Distillery

An 11th generation distillery with Irish roots and some wild times in the moonshining hills of Eastern Kentucky.

Listen to the Episode

Show Notes

When you start planning your trip to bourbon country, you will have a lot of unique choices of distillery experiences. One of the most unique is Neeley Family Distillery. Listen as I chat with an 11th generation distiller with roots back to Ireland and through Pennsylvania. 

Distillery Royce Neeley will tell us his family's journey to the new world, how it got to Kentucky, and some of the dangers the family faced. We'll also discuss some of the very unique processes they use in making their award winning whiskey and moonshine.

  • The first of 11 generations
  • Copper pot still from Ireland
  • George Washington slept there
  • From Pennsylvania to Virginia to Kentucky
  • Neeleys and the Allans, the Hatfields and McCoys
  • Moonshiners to Bootleggers
  • Shootout at Neeley Fork
  • 1900 Colt Prototype
  • When moonshining really took off
  • The mountains as an ideal location for moonshiners
  • Wild yeast
  • Dick Stoll and Bomburgers
  • Why cypress and stainless steel?
  • Sweet mash vs sour mash
  • Royce's first still
  • Moonshine, it's a family tradition


Welcome to Whiskey Lore I'm Drew Hannush well if anything could be said about season four it's that it's really just taking on a life of its own because I was going to do an episode about george Washington and an episode about James Anderson and then one about the juke joints and all of a sudden now I'm into waiting for episode 10 and what I'm going to do with episode 10. and episode 10 is going to be a really interesting one but it's one that I'm going to have to do some travel to create so I'm going to be taking a few weeks off because I am heading out on a major road trip to los angeles and then to some other spots in between that are going to be great locations for me to pick up more stories around the old west and whiskey and then I'm going to come back through Kentucky and then back here to south carolina so with all of this travel going on it's going to be a while before I'm going to be in front of the microphone and have an opportunity to produce the episodes but before I take this time off I have two episodes that I want to bring you that are interviews in this first interview I did back in november when I was in Kentucky and I had a chance to talk with Royce Neeley of Neeley Family Distillery and Royce has a very interesting story and you learn it as soon as you walk in the distillery there is a video that you watch that as some people warned me before I went it gets a little graphic in there in some spots it really goes back into moonshining history and some of the battles that were going on in Eastern Kentucky so you get a real sense of what life was like back in the mountains not only during Prohibition but before Prohibition because most of the action in that video takes place around the turn of the century in 1900 and 1902 somewhere in that area we're going to talk a little bit about that in this episode because I sat down with Royce at the distillery and talk to him about his distilling processes which are very interesting some of those come from his 11 generations of passed down distilling history and other parts come from just the way he wants to create his whiskies and there he does moonshine and they're actually opening up a new distillery in Eastern Kentucky near where the family had a lot of its moonshining history occur and so that's going to be an interesting thing to watch that evolve and then he's got his main distillery right now which is halfway between Cincinnati and Louisville and a great place for you to check out if you are going to do a Kentucky bourbon trip this this year or next year whatever you're planning out I know a lot of people are putting those plans together right now and if you are if you've read my book Whiskey Lore's Travel Guide to Experience in Kentucky Bourbon then you know I like for you to experience a wide range of distilleries if you only have two or three distilleries to go to during your entire trip don't just go to Beam Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace or Four Roses, Wild Turkey don't just go to the brands you know but go to at least one distillery that you don't know about because you'll bump into some really interesting surprises and that's part of what I did in my book was I wanted to feature 32 distilleries and give you an idea of what each of them focused on so that you could choose from some of those smaller distilleries and really mix and match and come up with a really great itinerary for your travels so Neeley is one of those distilleries that I say you know you really should look at putting these guys on your agenda because not only do they have the history you walk into the place and it's like you're walking into a history museum with all of the different trinkets and the stories that they're telling in there the newspaper articles all of that and then their processes are very interesting they do a sweet match process which there's only a couple distilleries doing that in Kentucky right now they have cypress fermenters and the steel fermenters as well so it's like you know best of both worlds and this is where I decided in my interview I wanted to discuss some of these things what some of his strategies were in putting together this distillery and why he went with the sweet mash process why they went with triple pot distilling and some of the other things that they are doing that are such unique processes in the way of distilling whiskey we say unique but a lot of these are really going back to his moonshine roots so we're going to talk about a lot of that stuff coming up here in the episode and by the way if you are planning that trip and you want to get a copy of Whiskey Lore's Travel Guide to Experience in Kentucky Bourbon I made the longest title for a book I possibly could by the way I have to think about every time I say it you just go out to whiskey dashlord.com Kentuckybook and you can get a copy there or you can get it on Amazon and it'll ship anywhere in the world and even if you are thinking about a trip maybe three years from now you're overseas maybe and you're not sure when you're gonna be able to travel to the us it's a great opportunity for you to get to know more about whiskey and bourbon it gives you a lot of the history as well so if you're a history fan like me well I share a lot of that stuff in there as well as processes and the rest so whiskey-lore.com/Kentuckybook or out on Amazon and you can get a copy of that we're going to start off this conversation talking about history because when you have 11 generations of whiskey history in your family there's a lot to discuss and a lot of the stuff has been passed down through the generations so the earlier years there's not a lot of great detail to it but that's the same with whiskey overall and their family history goes all the way back into the 1740s with James Neeley one of Royce's ancestors and so that's where we're gonna start our discussion is by talking a little bit about the history of the Neeley family and going back to James nealy and learning more about the origins of the Neeley Family Distilling heritage he had come over from a place called Tyrone Ireland it's in northern Ireland it is pretty popular for illicit distilling it was an area that was known for illicit distilling we're not sure if he was run out of there or if he left willingly okay we're also not positive about like what his wealth situation was like at the time we know that his son and his grandson so that would be my 10th and and ninth generation were pretty wealthy guys up in Pennsylvania so we're not sure if he brought some of that with him or if they made that when they got over here they also fought in the revolutionary war together okay so they could have got land based off of their service as well the main story that's passed down from James is that he had brought his copper pot still with him on the ship when he come over now this is something that my grandfather was very proud of like I said I have nothing to prove that you know that's just that's literally just a story that's passed down right but it was that he had brought his the family brought their stills with them when they come over from Ireland the the family had come over and they settled in Pennsylvania now I don't know a ton about what was going on there at the time we do know that both Robert Neeley and david marianelli I'm named after both of them so my name is Robert David Royce they were both in Pennsylvania and they both had small farm distilleries so at the time you could get a license to have a small farm distillery they were paying attacks on it and making whiskey and it was at a spot there's actually a Neeley mill up in Pennsylvania it's right beside where the it's it's right along where Washington crossed the Delaware at okay and the rumor is is that he stayed at what's called the Neeley house you could still go see it up there now it's it didn't belong to Robert or David Marion but it belonged to Robert's brother okay and that's kind of cool yeah so that's another thing passed down through the family is that george Washington the night before they crossed the Delaware he stayed with the Neeleys very nice so that's kind of a cool thing you can still go see the mill so it's actually still operational it's called the Neeley something mill and still today and then there's a Neeley house over there that you can look at as well oh that's great that's pretty neat have you been you've been up there I have not okay I've never been up there just seeing the photos and stuff like that well I'm going to go up there but I've never I have not been up there so it actually be a cool spot to go catch some yeast at so you know just speculation tells me that they were probably making their whiskey up there with rye most guys were but it was actually after david Marion Neeley that the family moved south to Virginia so that was William Elijah which would be my eighth grade grandfather okay at that time is when the family stopped paying taxes and there was no more small farm distillery licenses or anything like that so when they're in Virginia they moved to Scott County a pretty wide network of Neeley's that were that are still down there descendants of them at that time they were still fArming they were running quite a bit of whiskey like I said that was all on the illegal side that's where we start to hear some of the stories become more in depth so then you get to my seventh great grandfather which is Joseph Neeley so joseph is the one that actually moves the family into Kentucky and he does that in around 1840 okay we don't know exactly why he moved in there moved them to Kentucky kind of speculation through the family was that taxes there was a lot of taxes being trying to be imposed in Virginia and things like that at the time so a lot of people were moving into Kentucky yeah a lot of settlers were especially if scott's Irish descent so my family did the same thing they moved to the mountains kind of like the wild west at the time there really no law no regulations no anything going on and the family's been there ever since okay so joseph when the Civil War breaks out he moves the family or his part of the family goes back to Virginia and he fights with his relatives in the let's see that'd be the army the army of northern Virginia under Robert E Lee okay his son Armin which is my great great great grandfather stays up in Kentucky and fights for the north so father son fought against each other so we were a story passed down my great or sorry my great grandfather met Armin knew him pretty well and he told my dad and then the dartmouth would brag about the fact that he would make whiskey for his soldiers he was an officer for the calvary 14th Kentucky Cavalry and they would make whiskey for his soldiers at camp and they were actually responsible at a time Morgan's Raiders were raiding a lot there was a lot of people raiding into Eastern Kentucky Armin's unit was a home guard and he was actually responsible for burning Clay's Ferry to the ground oh wow so the union burned Clay's Ferry to the ground to keep Confederate raiders from crossing over to raid Eastern Kentucky and that's kind of cool so two things that he bragged about they they had burned clay spray to the ground and he made whiskey for his soldiers when they were encamped which is a pretty neat thing I have to imagine I mean we know he was a very tough man but I have to imagine he was you know he was an officer at the age of 18 for the union that's not that wasn't a normal thing yeah running grown grown men through the mountains in Eastern Kentucky the what they did was they hunted down Confederate raiders and killed them it's and it's so fascinating as you talk about the the family just one generation fighting on two different sides but Kentucky had a interesting situation that they were sitting there right as a border state so the whole state was really dealing with that yeah there's there's still a chimney left down in Neeley Fork where that's Joseph's first home that he had built before he left and went back all that's left of it's a rock chimney we it's still there on the the family property but yeah you're talking father-son fighting against each other so it's kind of weird for me I've had you know one great-grandfather fought for the south and one of my great-grandfathers that fought for the north so in the same line yeah it's not you know but that was more common in Kentucky now armen was around he was the patriarch of the family through the entire moonshine feud that occurs starts occurring in 1890 so my great grandfather alive for all this that's when really a lot of our history starts getting more in depth that's where all the articles are saved at everything kind of before that we we have found the the licenses for the small farm distilleries that they had up in Pennsylvania besides that everything else that the family was hearsay until we started getting to around 1890 so my great-grandfather was born in in 1890 at the time there's another family in Eastern Kentucky in the Allens and these guys went back and forth the Neeleys and the Allens went back and forth with each other for about 10 years over moonshine territory kind of funny because at the similar time there's another two families which is the Hatfields and McCoys yeah two counties over that are also going back and forth with each other over moonshine territory and there's a lot of these stories I mean when you get down there in the mountains you hear a lot of I mean there was a lot of feuding that was going on isolated area not much money down there yeah and times were were tough so at the time you really only had coal mining and bootlegging it was really one of the only two ways to make money when you're talking about territory too are you did they have particular people that they were selling to a certain clientele they were selling to they weren't selling to shops right well and well and there's not any shops so in Eastern Kentucky and this goes all the way up through Prohibition and definitely after Prohibition because all of Eastern Kentucky stayed dry okay the country went wet Eastern Kentucky stayed dry there was no liquor stores there was so in Eastern Kentucky at this time you don't you have bootleggers and they're like an illegal liquor store and you might have you know 10 of them on one street and this is where people hung out at this is where you went to get your booze and things like that there wasn't a market or a liquor store or anything a bar and one moonshiner could supply x amount of bootleggers so just like today our distillery supplies all these different types of retail outlets right still the same thing difference is is they wanted to make sure that nobody else was selling to those bootleggers as well that was their areas where they sold to and if you were drinking in that area you drank nearly moonshine or you drank Allen moonshot okay and they fought over those type of areas yeah so this all escalated around 1902 it did so they say like the Hatfield and McCoy feud come to a boil over a pig when it initially happened ours come to a boil actually over a woman so James Neeley and John Allen we've got there's probably 30 different news articles on this that made national news they were says they were affection over the same woman they got into an argument in what was called a bean stringing or a candy pull it was a community event it actually happened on Neeley fork okay so it was on the Neeley territory and in the middle of the the argument that they were having my great great grandfather Jess Neeley takes the pistol that we still have and he shoots John Allen six times in the chest with it and kills him on the spot john actually falls to the ground and rolls up under the porch and he dies up under the porch and we have pretty much direct accounts of people that were still there that my dad and my definitely my grandfather were able to talk to that witness the entire thing happened which is pretty neat so after that happens Jess Neeley turns around and he punches Robert Allen and knocks him onto the ground so he definitely shot him out of passion because he emptied the the entire magazine of his colt 1900 into john out he had no more ammunition yeah so he then jumps up onto his horse to grab his rifle and when he does John out or Robert Allen laying on his back pulls his pistol out shoots him in the back of the head and kills him at that time both sides started firing so we've got one news article over here actually out of Chicago that said there was 50 shot 55 shots fired eight of them injured and two of them killed by the time they got them both separated wow so as Robert Allen is escaping this would be my great great uncle James Neeley Jess's brother actually tries to to tackle him to the ground and Robert shoots him in the arm with a 12-gauge sorry a 10-gauge shotgun and almost blows his arm off I've got a photo of him up there on the top left that's James you can see his dead arm hanging so after Jess Neeley dies Armin is an old man at this point kind of cool though the pistol that we have Armin would have touched it as well so this is happening in 1902 Armin didn't die until 1911. okay and the gun itself is a very interesting piece not only because of the fact that you know six generations in my family have held it that it killed rival moonshine family members and things like that but just the gun if you know anything about firearms the 1911 is a very classic firearm designed by John Browning right but on the way up to designing that he made a bunch of different prototypes the colt 1900 was the initial prototype to the 1911. how my great great grandfather got a hold of that gun we've got the cult documents on it it was shipped into Louisville Kentucky in 1900 okay and the coat only tracks it to where it goes so somehow it went from Louisville Kentucky to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky into his possession but I mean that today would have been you know this is a time when most guys down there are using black powder pistols you know this thing holds eight rounds into it it's semi-automatic nobody's ever seen one of these before that would have been a heck of a piece to have so the whole family would have definitely looked at it held it shot it you know it would have been a revered gun to have had there's not very many of them floating around down there at the time yeah he had a decent amount of money Jess Neeley did okay moonshining was a it was creative trade it was very dangerous but lucrative yeah just like most illegal things most of most guys I mean I wouldn't call them gangsters but you know they're essentially gangster you know gangster-esque I mean that's just kind of the industry that they were in I think we get a lot of our our images of moonshine from the time period of Prohibition but going back to this earlier time was the law really that intense on going after moonshiners or was it just kind of they were probably related and they they said well just let them go do what they're gonna do they're so at the time alcohol taxes is a huge deal in the  United States 1890 1900 and you're right a lot of people think of moonshine and Prohibition and then after Prohibition with guys in the 50s running and you know running hot rods and stuff through the mountains and all that stuff definitely happened don't get me wrong but moonshining was a huge part of American history all the way from definitely from the Civil War all the way up until Prohibition as well especially in the American south where the mountains themselves are set up for making whiskey but and the reason why is so you have a bunch of different farmers right but your grain will not hold through the Winter so if you grow all of your grain and you have excess amounts of it you can't store that through the Winter it'll destroy but you can take it to your you know your local distiller have it liquefied into whiskey and it'll keep year round and you have something to take to trade in the barter with whiskey at this time is not only used for not only use for drinking to get drunk for social purposes but used for medicinal a lot of medicinal purposes as well you know at the time you don't have medicine and you don't have pharmacies and things like that in the mountains so they were making cough syrups with whiskey they were you know using it to sanitize wounds with they were putting it in water sometimes it was safer to drink whiskey than it was to drink water which could be contaminated from a well so a lot of different reasons for trade on whiskey after the Civil War another reason why my family moved to the south and then moved into the mountains of Eastern Kentucky after the Civil War they started they imposed a tax on whiskey again we had this problem in the right after the country was founded when Washington started the alcohol excise tax to pay for the revolutionary war which started a Whiskey Rebellion up in Pennsylvania that's about the time my family leaves as well and moves further south kind of cool they follow that same line that a lot of scots Irish did yeah they left up there in Whiskey Rebellion and then around the Civil War when they were starting to gear up and tax and and pursue it a lot more then as well they moved into the mountains into into Eastern Kentucky so your question of you know what was it like with law enforcement officers and things at the time they were definitely pursuing it because we didn't have income tax then in the  United States so the majority of revenue that the country was using to you know do all the different things that the country does was off of alcohol tax right so locally you didn't have you know a lot of judges were paid off a lot of judges were in on it almost like the marijuana trade today in Eastern Kentucky a lot of judges and politicians were in on it you didn't have that much of a problem there as much as you did with the excise tax men that would come down and I mean these guys my grandfather remembers them tarring and feathering a tax man in Clay County wow and you're talking about the 50s yeah holy cow they target feather ones so but they did come down there Kentucky was definitely Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee definitely and in the mountains in North Carolina definitely places where you could hide out at not to deal with the excise tax man yeah but if you were you know moonshining up in Pennsylvania it was a major problem 1880s 1890s 1900 them coming after you for wanting their tax money yeah I hear a lot of stories about caves and that a lot of the distillers would go and hide out in had a cave where they do their distilling right mostly because couldn't be spotted but you're also probably getting a water source nearby as as well is that kind of what you heard yeah and you're protected from the elements yeah also you know you don't want to be having an open fire and start raining on you yeah the mountains themselves are set up perfect for making whiskey the reason why natural springs are are there so the water is good and clean for one but number two is those natural springs very cold and you can set your still up below one and gravity feed the water from the spring down to the worm and into the pot and it took a lot of the labor off of it okay so the mountains not only because of the fact that they're so isolated but the water itself and the environment the terroir is perfect for making whiskey and they have natural yeast strands that are present there we still use one that our family a lot of people don't understand this they didn't just go buy Fleischmann's or baker's yeast or stuff like that back then before I mean yeast wasn't even discovered until I think 1870 by louis pasteur before that all whiskey was being made with wild yeast that you caught and either propagated in a donna jug or most of time they just knew that there was seasons where you made whiskey at when it was warmer out and you take your mash and let it sit outside and the wild yeast the natural yeast gets inside of it and works it okay and you're bringing a lot of those techniques into here I mean that yeah I'm still one of probably one of the only distilleries in the  United States in Kentucky that still propagates and grows a yeast strand on site and it's the same one we go catch it once a year down in the mountains out of Neeley Fork bring it up here I keep in the copper donut jug year round and we work off of that we use it to make our moonshines with and now we're starting to make a bourbon with it as well which is kind of neat I'll let you try it when we get down here nice I got the white dog back there first time we've actually got this room over here to your left is actually going to be a donna room and Dick Stoll who was the last master distiller for the real mikters that closed in 1991 in Pennsylvania a good friend and mentor of mine actually designed this east room for me oh so he was taught how to grow yeast from Charles Everett Beam and who was the distiller at at the time it was called bomb burgers it became victors he was the distiller there until he died of a heart attack and he was one of the from the Beam family okay and he's the one that taught Dick Stoll and Dick Stoll taught me so it's kind of a pretty cool thing very nice yep so I'm able to you know to not have to rely on anybody else to make ease for me which it to me is if you ever want to be a real distiller you need to be able to work and grow your own yeast yeah well and you also have an interesting setup in that you're one of only two distilleries I've been to Laphroaig in Scotland being the other that uses both cypress fermenters and well actually I take that back they used ciphers for mars and they've moved over to stainless steel now you have both I do cyphers and stainless steel so what's your philosophy behind that and what do you use what do you see is the difference because it's always one of the things that I question on tours is why do you use the wooden fermenters versus using the stainless steel so the reason why I use the wooden fermenters is because my great grandfather used wooden fermenters as well so he fermented in wood barrels okay that's the reason why I started using them if you go back through history almost every distillery at one time use cyprus there's arguments based off of you know whether or not it affects flavor or not I can tell you first hand it absolutely does so what is made in the stainless versus what's made in the cypress a lot of people say that our products have a type of what they call Neeley funk to them I hope that's a good phone but they say that they say we have this unique profile that spans every single one of our products well the unanimous thing amongst all of our products is the fact that they're fermented in that open-top cypress okay so what you're getting from that cypress is you'll see our bay doors are open we're inviting the wild yeast in the area where we're at into our distillery and it gets inside of there and works in that mash year round right but in the Winter time this wild yeast is going to go dormant below 55 degrees yeast it goes dormant for the rest of the year that's why there is a distilling old school moonshining season you couldn't moonshine in the Winter unless you moved inside where it's warm and brought a yeast strand with you in there okay so for us that's where the cyprus comes into play the smaller yeast itself is about two microns in length can get inside of the pores of that cypress deep in there to where steam can't ever get to them and it lives in that cypress year round creating its own miniature microbiome inside of each one of those fermenters the fatter bacteria surface bacteria can't get through those pores and we're able to steam and kill those off so that gives our product the same taste even in the Wintertime as the summertime as well when that yeast is dormant if that makes sense if you go and look at my stainless fermenters back there they're actually surrounded by the cypress and the reason why is is that the yeast will move from that cypress into that stainless as well it's attracted to wherever the most sugar is yeah so it'll spore and move over that's one way we help to inoculate those as well yeah that's interesting and then you also do the sweet mash process and it's my understanding that the sweet mash process where you're not adding back in old sour mash from the previous batch in can sometimes be more chAllenging because your bacteria can get out of control or could potentially ruin a batch how does the does the cyprus also kind of assist in that in any way or and and why did you go with sweet mash yeah and let's remember here that all aspects of the distillery work in together to create a product a lot of people ask like what's the one thing you do that makes your product taste the way that it does well it's not the one thing it's it's all different aspects of what we do and and you know jim relight should be the first one to tell you you've got to be right at every single point if you mess up any part of the steps the whiskey itself is going to come out bad so when it comes to my decision on whether or not to sweep mash or sour mash so sweet mash come before sour mash in order to get a sour mash you must sweep mash first okay right to get the back set or the spent still is to reuse over and over again so I chose sweet mash and this is a different this is one differentiation from my family my family sour mashed okay if you're making whiskey in the woods you almost have to because the environment itself so much bacteria it's it's uncontrollable and you need that sour mash to be able to lower the ph level down enough to keep the bacteria out of that mash the other big thing when you're when you're making whiskey illegally in the woods is they don't have access to live steam like I do here at my distillery so what my great grandfather would do is he would take his sour mash straight off of the pot boiling hot and he would direct that flow onto the side of his wood vats and that boiling hot mash would kill anything that was on them okay so he used it as a way to sanitize as well yeah so it's more efficient because you're adding heat back in that the btus on that heat you're getting to reuse you're lowering the ph level from around a sweet mash of six down to 4.8 to 5.2 for a sour mash it makes the the mash itself less susceptible to bacteria wanting to get in it and you're using it to sanitize the outside of those vats the same way we do with live steam so those are all the benefits of sour mash so the problem with sour mashing is is that ph of the sour mash itself is around 3.5 so when you put that in on top of the grains it actually the acidity itself can hurt those grains so it hurts the flavor of them it makes things in my opinion more bland more consistently taste like that sour mash does right so the acidity itself can harm the integrity of the grain structure the other thing is the yeast itself does not prefer that acidic environment either now can it tolerate it absolutely and you would rather have it tolerate an acidic environment than you would have the bacteria inside of it however it prefers that sweet mash right and you've got to look at it this way so you have a pond okay imagine you have a pond you have fish swimming in these fish are like yeast you have the alligators that are trying to get into the fish right you can put a poison in there like sour mash to keep the alligators out but what's it do to the environment for the fish right and that's what I try to explain to people back there when we're talking about a tour just the generalized what we're doing for that yeast so the yeast itself is going to stop working at around a ph of around 4 to 3.5 all right so by having a ph level instead of 5.2 soured to six on a sweet mash you create more of a buffer for that yeast to survive in all right okay so the longer the yeast can survive in the mash as long as you're taking care of other aspects not too much yeast not too high of a sugar content no bacteria inside of it cool in the mash there's a lot of things you have to do to take care of these to make them work the way you want them to but the longer they can work the more complex flavors that they can produce okay so that's something that we've definitely seen back here as we've extended our fermentation days out to five and six day fermentations instead of turning in three or four days we're giving that yeast longer time we're controlling our fermentations and I'm able to steam back here so this is how why I sweep mashes to the sour mash or how I'm able to do it so we've got a cypress fermenter we're going to put a tarp over top of it and eject the steam line into the bottom of it and we're going to steam that for upwards of about 45 minutes bringing the internal temperature above 160 degrees inside of there and that's going to kill any type of surface bacteria that's inside of that fermenter that's what we want to do clean it out very good to make sure we don't have anything left over for secondary fermentations to occur on the next time we ferment but the other big thing is you'll notice in my distillery nothing is hard piped in okay all right so we have flexible hoses and a pump that we're able to move around so we steam the hoses and that pump as well so nothing is trapped inside nothing's trapped inside batch that's right so we sanitize very very well here and we have to to be able to sweep mash yeah we're also going to crash our fermenter down or sorry for our cooker down as quickly as we can so from a point of about 145 less susceptible to bacteria as it moves on down it's much more susceptible to mash itself is we're going to crash that very very quickly from that 145 down to 90 where we pitch our yeast at not allowing for very much time for the for any type of bacteria to get into that mash pump it over through a sanitized line and pump into a sanitized fermenter add our yeast in very quickly and then we let the yeast go to work to do their thing to keep the bacteria out after that okay that's how we're able to effectively sweet mash knock on wood I've never lost a mash in here which is good so so and and I've been doing this on the illegal side before we went legal as well so I had definitely my process down of what I wanted to do and then all I did was scale it up when we come here to the distillery yeah you have a little still that's sitting in your visitor center that's there's there's a story behind that I did I built that when I was 18 it was my first still it's a 10 gallon all copper used to run it when I was in college we bootleg on the weekends and things like that but yeah so same thing I'm making that I made on it is the same essentially the same process we're doing back here today okay the did this end is this the one that ended up at the University of Kentucky because I know there's a little story behind that yes so I went to Transylvania that's my alma mater but I lived on UK's campus really for the simple fact that the girls were hotter over there me and my buddies were at we had a party house over and we had a still set up in the kitchen on one of those party houses on columbia avenue and we were bootleg while we were studying we would run whiskey and then we take it to I played baseball at trancy we boot legged at baseball parties bootlegging out at my buddies frat parties and we were making quite a bit of money doing it and one day my dad and mom got to talk in and there was they they received some phone calls from my landlord about parties we were having down there and that wasn't going too well and then then they got to ask him well has Royce asked you for money no does he ask you for money no how's he eating down there for not giving him any money they thought I was doing something I'm sure much worse than than bootlegging and yeah they showed up the steel was set up my mother was not very happy but that that's how I got into it okay so I've heard the stories like we were talking about my entire life and when I got into college and and I knew I could make a little bit extra money doing it I built and set up my own just distilling operation like I said in our kitchen yeah and you know I developed a severe love and passion for it when I got out of school I knew this is what I wanted to do I very fortunate my father and mother both had very successful businesses my dad owned a construction company for 35 years and he actually built our entire distillery here so between him and me it was kind of the perfect mix him being able to handle the entire construction side of it and me being able to set the distillery up yeah and run it the way I wanted it run so so where did you get your distilling skills from from your father was he distilling it uncle grandfather okay you know things like that and then I you know really I like to say I'm a student of the industry but I just picked the brains of a lot of distillers here in Kentucky and we've got a really unique culture in Kentucky where the distillers themselves a lot of times they're not are very willing to share information amongst each other so like I said I learned a great deal just from meeting with Dick Stoll and talking with him he no reason for him to have ever told me the things that he did but it's helped me out a ton and definitely a part of what we do here at the distillery now and he made the a lot of people say the greatest bourbon ever the age her 16 year and 20 year that was made by Dick Stewart and I've actually he actually gave me the mash bill for that that we're replicating here as well yeah is that going to be a special release of some form or we'll see yeah as we go on with it but really cool for him to be able to let us come up there and meet with him we done it at see he was part of a distillery called Stoll & Wolfe okay and the Wolfe family they've got a lot of history in Pennsylvania they're great people but Eric was really nice let me come up there and meet with him and he's a great young distillers about my age as well distillery owner and distiller yeah unfortunately Dick passed this past year which is terrible to hear because we lost one of the greatest distillers that's ever lived but at least me and Eric and you know were able to get a lot of information that's right which is nice so yeah that's that's the real chAllenge right now I think especially for me doing the podcast is I had a chance to interview al young of four roses and he died a month after the interview and I had so many other questions I would love to have asked him after that you know because four roses had such an interesting history but you you start looking around and you're saying wow you really got to capture a lot of these stories before they yeah disappear and I got to to interview Jerry Dalton as well he's the only non-blood Beam master distiller ever he was the between Booker and Fred he was the the missing link they they don't talk about Jerry a lot but he's done a lot for the for the company he was big on qc and the things I got to learn from him which further redefined the fact that I don't want piped in lines I like flexible lines and just making sure bacterial growth doesn't occur in that stuff and you know I learned a lot of that from Jerry Dalton but they're not trying to plug anybody else but the only reason why I met these guys was through Steve Bakely with the ABV Network so okay I met my my wife through his podcast the Bourbon Daily she's a co-host on there okay and somebody anyway so I would go on the Bourbon Daily and and he would interview these guys on the bourbon show and he got to where he was like oh you want to come on the bourbon show help me interview him and that's how I met Jerry Dalton and that's how I met Dick Stoll as well so I owe a lot of that stuff too I would never met these guys that had not been for him which is which is cool but we tie in definitely tie in a lot of our family history into our process back there probably as much as any distillery out there yeah like using that open top cypress the triple pot distillation so that's an old Irish technique it's been passed down through my family my my great uncle charlie they say he made the best moonshine down that's him over there on the wall there okay these are the wiry looking fellow with no shirt they say he made the best moonshine down there and he actually pulled time twice he was arrested by Federal agents for making moonshine and he triple pot distill and so were they doing this all in the same still just running it through three times that's right okay yep he he liked to triple pot but still he also liked to utilize a thump keg as well okay and you see the old family that's my great grandfather's original still over there it's set up just like that oh wow and I've always triple pot distill yeah and it's always been funny to me my great-grandfather and grandfather could not read or write this was not they didn't go to school in Eastern Kentucky it wasn't you know you learned to shoot guns and ride horses and things like that back then make whiskey than you did go to school but they knew how to triple pot distill that tells you how things are passed down from yeah I've always thought that was neat you know two very uneducated you know what like they learned it by reading or anything like that it was literally just skills passed down right down to me as well I've always thought that was was pretty neat well big thank you to Royce Neeley for joining me for this interview and for giving of his time if you'd like to learn more about Neeley Family Distillery then just go to Neeleyfamilydistillery.com and for more of this interview because there's another 30 minutes worth of it become a Whiskey Lore Society patreon member by going to patreon.com/whiskeylore we talk about triple pot distilling barrel choices and a very special moonshine they're coming out with a first of its kind join me next week as I bring an author on board to talk about whiskey history in New York until next time cheers and slainte mhath

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