CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Linda Losey is in love. With limoncello. And as with many passionate love affairs, it all started in Italy.
Losey lives in Baltimore but co-owns Bloomery Plantation Distillery, a year-old distillery on 12 woodsy acres near Charles Town, W.Va.
The modest, two-story distillery has a long history. The center portion was a slave quarters, built circa 1840. The additions on both ends date to the late 1800s, Losey said, and are built of boards recycled either from C&O Canal boats or from flatboats called gundulos, which carried people and freight across the Shenandoah River.
"I like that (gundulo) story, because they were known as moonshine boatmen," Losey said. "They would ferry people across by day and run moonshine at night. And Bloomery Plantation was the largest moonshine spot in West Virginia."
Losey oversees production of the distillery's limoncello (pronounced lee-mon-CHELL-o), a sweet, lemon-flavored liqueur traditionally served after dinner.
Losey first tasted limoncello on a trip to Italy with her partner, Tom Kiefer. They loved it. Once home, they bought bottles of limoncello, but it didn't taste the same.
So they decided to make their own. They hand-crafted batch after batch from hand-zested lemons until they developed a recipe that produced the flavor they remembered. They purchased Bloomery Plantation and refurbished it into a hand-crafted liqueur distillery.
Losey expanded her product line. In addition to the original limoncello, she now has limoncellos flavored with chocolate, raspberry and cream, and she produces a hard lemonade. All of it is flying off shelves, Losey said.
"We're having all we can do to keep up with product now," she said.
Professional reviews are also positive. In July, in two separate international competitions, Bloomery Plantation Distillery's products earned eight gold, silver and platinum awards.
Recently, Losey gave a tour of the facility. The tasting room occupies a room on the first floor. A low ceiling and warm, wood walls give the space an intimate feeling. Rob Losey, Linda's ex-husband, leads visitors through a thorough sampling of the distillery's products, plus tiny cups of frozen cocktail mixes such as limoncello and passionfruit sorbet.
A hallway leads to the production side of the building. Here, Linda Losey and a small staff infuse flavors into alcohol. This infusing process is called macerating and is the foundation of building up flavors in the liqueur.
"We hand-zest each lemon. Actually, my niece and I do it, and we've zested thousands of lemons and she's now twice as fast as I am, and I was fast. She's really good," Losey said. "So you take the zest, and you set it in this 190-proof alcohol. This macerates for a while, and then you blend this with other things and it macerates again."
It takes months to go from start to finish, she said. If it's a dual-flavored product, the process takes longer.
"With straight limoncello, once we've done the zest and added the alcohol and then our syrup, filter it, proof it and do measurements on it, that's completed," she said. "But the chocolate-raspberry and the raspberry limoncello take longer."
Areas of the distillery are stacked with five-gallon buckets, each with a piece of blue painters tape on the lid.
"Each thing gets a label, so (federal agents) can walk in and trace a product from start to finish. So they can trace each bucket, each jar. Because they want their tax," Losey said. "Also, all the formulas are registered with the federal government. The paperwork side of it is really, really (tedious). It takes a lot."
Losey must pay close attention to federal and state laws about alcohol-producing businesses. But she and Kiefer also want the distillery to be a fun place for visitors. They open the distillery for tastings and tours from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and they have live music and outdoor seating.
Bloomery Plantation Distillery will host an anniversary party on Saturday, Sept. 15, with an afternoon of tastings, tours and live music.
Visitors can also peek at Losey's pride — 40 waist-high lemon trees growing in West Virginia soil under a greenhouse canopy.
"They're babies, so the trees aren't supposed to be producing yet," she said. Then she made a two-inch circle with her fingers. "But a couple trees have a lemon or two on them, about this big."
State law requires a distillery to grow 25 percent of its raw materials on site, Losey said. Bloomery Plantation has 2,000 Carolina raspberry plants, which fulfill that requirement. But Losey looks forward to the day when her distillery can use home-grown lemons in its limoncello.
In the meantime, between meeting visitors and making limoncello, Losey's days are busy.
"It's always chaotic here," she said.
"But it makes our days go fast," Rob Losey said. "There's rarely one of those days when you say, — I need something to do.'"
If you go ...
WHAT: Bloomery Plantation Distillery's Anniversary Bash
WHEN: Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15
WHERE: Bloomery Plantation Distillery, 16357 Charles Town Road, Charles Town, W.Va.
COST: Free admission; food and drink available for purchase
CONTACT: Call 304-725-3036 or go to www.bloomeryplantation.com.