By DOUG GRAVES
NEW CARLISLE, Ohio — In the early 1800s Elias Staley settled in western Ohio and began distilling whiskey on his 160-acre farm, using its grains. Six generations later, Joe and Missy Duer continue the tradition of distilling whiskey, employing the same methods once used by Elias.
The structures from nearly 200 years ago have been refurbished, and still stand; welcome to Staley Mill Farm and Distillery in Miami County.
Situated along meandering Indian Creek, all the buildings remain today, with the exception of the original distillery. All the buildings are full of items from the past – the gristmill is entirely original and has not been altered since Elias built it almost 200 years ago.
“My great-great-great-great-grandparents, Joseph and Julianne Staley, settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and produced 16 children, of which, David, Henry and Elias traveled to the Northwest Territory, the Ohio country being a part of that wilderness,” Missy said.
“The three brothers were fine millwrights by trade and built several gristmills in Greene, Montgomery and Miami counties. Elias was also a distiller and owned several distilleries before coming to the northwestern part of Bethel Township, Miami County, to build a gristmill and mill races for John Rench along Indian Creek.”
Missy knows the history by heart and has publications, documents and artifacts to back her description of this family venture into milling and distilling of spirits. Many artifacts are on exhibit as visitors stroll through the mill. Old ledgers, faded and wrinkled correspondence, worn photos and countless mementos adorn the wall of the distillery’s entrance.
“People feel as though they’re going back in time,” Missy said, “and that’s nice to hear. That’s our goal. We want them to feel what early America was like.”
The Staleys originated at Staley Bridge, England. Having gotten on the wrong side of the country’s religion and politics, they fled to Holland to save their lives. They lived in Holland and intermarried with the Dutch for roughly 300 years.
In the mid-1700s the family charted a ship and migrated to America, finally landing around Harpers Ferry, Va. As the West opened up and developed, the family migrated in that direction.
“Elias purchased the 160-acre tract after building the gristmill in 1818 for Rench,” Missy explained. “He married Hannah Retter, who was from Frederick, Maryland, in 1826, and before he brought his bride to her new home, built a brick Federal house, a fruit kiln, sawmill, distillery and bond house, and eventually a Pennsylvania bank barn that replaced a log structure in 1857.”
Seven children were born to Elias and Hannah. This family first settled on the Mad River near Dayton but soon sold the property and moved to the current farm along the Indian Creek. After construction of the gristmill with his two brothers and the purchase of the 160-acre farm, Elias build a brick distillery and produced handmade double copper-distilled rye whiskey.
Thirty to 35 gallons a day were distilled and at times 100 barrels were aging in the bond house.
According to Joe, Staley Rye Whiskey became famous for quality and Native Americans and other local folk came from miles around to get their grain ground into flour and to have their jugs filled with the bold frontier rye whiskey.
“Our family has letters from Civil War soldiers requesting that Staley Rye be shipped to them during the war,” Missy said. “After Elias’ death in 1866, son Andrew continued the distilling operation and in the 1880s increased the size of the mash tub and bond houses.
“Our whiskey was always sold in barrels, or jugs were filled for customers. We have many notes from doctors requesting whiskey for his patients in the late 1880s and early 1900s, and we presume a full bottle was sent home for ‘medicinal’ purposes only.”
Today, a new distillery has been built and once again, Staley rye whiskey is flowing from the stillhouse. The whiskey is twice distilled, using the exact same copper pot stills Elias used almost 200 years ago, using the same limestone water and the same mash bill, or recipe.
The gristmill, with two 11-foot overshot water wheels, continued to grind grain into flour until the early 1900s. It is still standing with all the original equipment from 1818. Steam power was used in the late 1800s, but the Staleys’ resistance to change resulted in the refusal to upgrade to the more current “roller mill” process and remained with the water-powered method.
“Our whiskey is distinct in that we are truly the only historic family-owned artisan distillery in the United States using the old-fashioned double copper-distilling method that Elias would have used,” Joe said. “It’s the way they used to do it. They did it this way until someone invented the column still.
“But, a column still doesn’t give you a better quality of whiskey. In those days it was all done by hand and a lot of wood was burned in the process. They didn’t use pumps back then.
“We use the original recipe, which is 65 percent rye and 25 percent corn. The balance is malted barley. All of our grain is locally grown and is ground. We keep a jar of the grain to show folks. They want to see rye and barley in their whole state, not ground. We will eventually use organic grain,” he said.
Two large copper pot stills keep Joe and Missy busy each day.
“We’ve only been producing whiskey since December,” Joe said. “Right now we’re taking baby steps. Our projecting is to produce 150 bottles per week. This is a lot of hard work. We clean the stills by hand and it’s hard work. It’s very time-consuming, but rewarding.”
The Duers recently received a bronze award for their whiskey from the American Distillers Institute. Their product is sold in stores in six cities in Ohio.
“My family’s old farmstead is listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” Missy said. “Now, Joe and I want to add to and bring back a piece of the rich heritage of the farm with the construction of a new distillery, where the past meets the present with old ways and new endeavors.”
The farm is located at 7095 Staley Road in New Carlisle, Ohio. Tours of the distillery are Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Contact Joe and Missy Duer at 937-845-1142 or 937-846-1143.