Shelburne Orchards


DUNCAN HOLADAY, OWNER/DISTILLER, DUNCAN’S IDEA MILL, LLC Missing from the recent debate about rectifying and distilling is clarity about why this difference matters. Arguing about labeling and terms distracts from real issues that need to be seen in the broader context of agriculture and food systems. Wendell Berry’s example of agribusiness lobbying for sanitary and other legislation that effectively put 1000 small Kentucky dairy farmers out of business in the span of one year, sends a chilling message. Make no mistake; industrial neutral grain spirits is the long arm of agribusiness reaching into our backdoor. This session examines justifications and strategies for protecting craft distilling from appropriation through rectified spirits.

YES! Shelburne Orchards is making Apple Brandy!.. The next bottle release will be Dec. 2017.. We are all waiting.. not so patiently!!

First I’ll answer the questions that you’re probably asking, then I’ll give a little extra info for those who are extra curious, and want to know more detail…

What?! Apple Brandy, a spirit we distill from hard cider, which we make from our very own apples!

Why?! Because we love it.

When?! Yes, we sold out our first batch of 100 bottles in 2011 at 2 years old. Our first distillation was Dec 6th 2009. We decided we wanted to wait and let it age 6 more years. This will give the brandy added smoothness, oak flavor and it will give us some barrels to blend if we so desire.

Where?! The distillery is located right here on the orchard, where we grow the apples, press the cider, ferment it in tanks to make hard cider, distill it into brandy and age it in used bourbon and port barrels!

Dead Bird Brandy

The Name and the story to go with it!

“I can tell you a story about that dead bird, it all goes back to the day your grandfather’s still caught fire.”

With a metal cast of a dead bird in hand and a quizzical look on my face, I turned to find an old man clutching his cane behind me with a twinkle in his eye. It was my grandfather’s funeral, a man with whom I didn’t think I had much in common, but now I was intrigued, perhaps I was wrong…

As we sat down on a leather couch in my late grandfather’s living room, this old friend of his launched into a story set in prohibition, on a winter night in the northeast, below zero and covered in snow. My great grandmother was entertaining guests upstairs, while my grandfather was busy in the basement, distilling whiskey. Something happened down there, my grandfather was fine, but the still caught fire and as everyone in the house emptied out into the cold night, the fire trucks and state revenuer sped their way to the house. As the revenuer approached the house to search for evidence to suggest that alcohol might be the cause of the fire, one of the firemen who was buying the booze my grandfather made turned and ‘accidentally’ hosed the revenuer down, forcing the poor guy to go home and change his clothes before he froze standing still. When he returned warm and dry, all evidence of the still had been removed and the whole crowd from the dinner testified to the fact that a log rolled out of the fire and lit the place ablaze!

The next day a dead bird was found in the snow, assumed to have died from the smoke. My grandfather took the bird and had it bronzed, sending a copy to everyone involved that night as a thank you for keeping his secret and saving him from the law!

I left that night with a big smile on my face, realizing that I had more in common with my grandfather than I thought and that distilling was in my blood.


Brandy is a general name for a spirit distilled from fermented fruit sugars. Though many places make it, the most famous apple brandy comes from the Calvados region of Normandy, France where there are many orchards and distilleries with a long tradition for making apple brandy (there it’s officially called Calvados).

How do We make it?

First off I have to say.."This isn't any pansy-Ass flavored neutral grain spirit" This is the real thing.. made right here at our orchard from our own apples and pears. I like to call it the "true spirit of Vermont agriculture!"

First you have to ferment the cider, adding yeast to turn it into hard cider. Most apples produce a hard cider of about 6 percent alcohol. Once it’s fermented, we put it into our still, and stoke a wood fire underneath it until it reaches just above 70�C ,The temperature slowly rises as the run progresses. It will continue to rise in temperature little by little until we cut to the tails at around 92�C. Because alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, the alcohols in the hard cider separate and rise up through the top of the still in a vapor. Stills are designed in many different ways to optimize the separation, but ours is simple, and averts the vapor through a copper pipe and down through a copper coil set in cold water facilitating the vapors to condense and turn into a liquid spirit. This we collect drip by drip, separating the first, middle and last portions of the run into ‘heads,’ ‘hearts,’ and ‘tails’ containing different levels of ethanol, methanol and other alcohols and substances depending on their boiling points.


We have been getting barrels from whiskey distilleries throughout the country and aging the brandy in used bourbon barrels. By aging in pre-used barrels we are avoiding the over-oaking that often occurs with fresh barrels, and allow the brandy to keep most of its original subtle flavors. Why do we age it? Even though we have separated out the methanol and other off alcohols by just keeping the hearts in the distillation process, there are still some other harsher alcohols mixed in with all the other flavor makers. By aging the brandy in wood, many of the off alcohols and yes, some of the good stuff, evaporates through the wood. This lost alcohol is called the ‘angels share’ and by taking this out, the brandy becomes smoother and a bit more condensed in flavor, keeping all the good stuff that we want to drink and taste. Plus, we get the added bonus of some vanilla and oak flavors from the wood, giving the originally clear liquid a beautiful amber hue that makes it look like liquid gold!