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Red Eagle Distillery: First to open in northeast Ohio since prohibition

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GENEVA, Ohio - It is the first bourbon and rye whiskey made legally in northeast Ohio since prohibition.

The "Red Eagle Distillery" is not only making history with it's brand of spirits, it's also providing a unique flavor of what Ohio tourism has to offer.

It's was at the turn of the century, nearly 100 years ago, when prohibition ended the legal sale of liquor and created demand for an illegal supply called bootlegging.

Gene Sigel, the owner of the Red Eagle Distillery, says "There's a woman in her 90's on the next road here who came over when I was remodeling the barn and she said her great uncle Daniel Bishop had built this in the 1880's and he always had his still out in the barn. So it made me feel like there's been a tradition of bootleg and moonshine whiskey here on this road in this area for generations."

Sigel, a grape farmer by trade, owns a Geneva winery along with his wife Heather and they've now expanded their business.

They've rolled out the barrels and built the Red Eagle Distillery at 6062 South River Road in Geneva from the ground up, but Sigel first initiated a change in Ohio law.

"People come in and see our large copper pot still and I often get the question, 'Is it legal to own that? Can you get a license to make whiskey?' There's always been a license to have a distillery here in Ohio, but whatever you sold had to be sold at a state liquor store," says Sigel.

After helping change the state law Sigel can now not only invited customers in to taste the products of his labor, but for the first time he can sell carryout to his customers.

"Someone can come into the distillery just like a winery, taste the products we make and buy up to four small bottles per day to take home with them," he says.

The Red Eagle Distillery strives to marry modern whiskey making advances with time honored distilling techniques.

"People don't realize whiskey begins by making beer, you make beer and you bring it to a boil, and so we put that beer into a still, our copper pot still from Kentucky," Sigel says.

It's in the still that the alcohol vapors are slowly boiled off into a clear white whiskey and then passed through the still a second time. After that it's poured into new charred-oak barrels to begin the aging process.

Bourbon is a distilled spirit or whiskey primarily made from corn.

Even though it has been produced since the 18th century, it's experiencing a real renaissance nationally; adding to the flavor of many popular cocktails.

"We'd certainly like to see our whiskey widely known here in the state, and we'll continue to keep working on it, and expand our production. Soon we'll have a barrel warehouse to store whiskey in," says Siegel.

The distillery sold out of it's first lot of whiskey on April 6, but has restocked, preparing for the millions who travel through this popular wine country near Geneva on the Lake every year.

An area now raising a glass to a new tradition of spirits.


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