The Story of Dead Bird
“I can tell you a story about that little 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 with a twinkle in his eye. We were at my grandfather’s funeral--a man with whom I didn’t think I had much in common. Perhaps, I had been 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 during prohibition.
"It was a cold winter night--well below zero--and everything was covered in snow. Your great grandmother was entertaining guests upstairs, while your grandfather was busy in the basement distilling whiskey. Somehow the still caught fire and all the dinner guests were rushed out into the cold night. The fire trucks and, of course, the state revenuer arrived. It was commonplace for the revenuer to show up to investigate back then--they were looking for any sign that alcohol might be the cause of the fire. And when that revenuer approached the house, one of the firemen 'accidentally' turned and hosed him down head to toe. You see, those firemen were buying booze from your grandpa illegally. So the revenuer had to scurry home and change clothes to avoid freezing solid. When he returned warm and dry, all evidence of the still had been hidden away. And the dinner guests had their stories straight. They testified to the 'fact' that a log rolled out of the fireplace and lit the place ablaze!
The next morning as your grandfather inspected the remains of his home and thought about how close he had been to getting arrested, he found a small songbird in the snow that had died in the fire. So he took that bird and had it bronzed. And made copies for all the dinner guests and firemen, to thank them for keeping his secret and saving him from the law!"
I left that night with a sense of contentment, realizing that I had more in common with my grandfather than I thought. Distilling was in my blood.
Dead Bird Brandy
Brandy, by definition, is an alcohol made from fruit. And a good brandy takes time. It requires attention, subtle changes, quiet reflections, years of hopefully gentle misgivings, a little luck and a lot of tasting. A whole lot of tasting.
We want to do right by our brandy and distill it in the true spirit of Vermont agriculture. That's why we grow each and every apple that goes into Dead Bird Brandy right here at Shelburne Orchards.
Once the apples are harvested, they are pressed into cider. Then we add yeast, resulting in a hard cider of about 6% alcohol. We pump that hard cider into our stills and fire 'em up! As the alcohol evaporates, the vapor is diverted through a copper coil set in cold water, which condenses the vapor into a liquid spirit. We collect this spirit drip by everlovin' drop.
The next step is to barrel age the brandy for 6 to 8 years. We start the young spirit in new medium toasted oak barrels for 18 months to 2 years. This gives the brandy it's wonderful vanilla and caramel flavors. Then we transfer the brandy to older barrels that have less oak flavor to infuse. Here it sits for at least 5 more years to mellow and smooth. This slow aging allows the brandy to keep most of its original subtle apple flavors. The process also results in a lot of lost alcohol through evaporation. This lost alcohol is called the "angel's share" and results in a smoother and more condensed flavor. Over 8 years, the originally clear spirit evolves into a delicious beautiful amber. Pure liquid gold! Dead Bird Brandy!
How to Purchase
Yes! We will have bottles of Dead Bird Brandy and Pommeau available to purchase - here at the orchard this fall, and a tasting room is being built as you read this sentence! If you just can't wait and want to buy a bottle sooner than September, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment for purchase and pick up at the orchard.