Two Asheville entrepreneurs with a passion for tinkering have found themselves in the distilling business. They’ve also landed guest spots on a hot reality television show along the way.

Keith Mort and Chad Slagle have been messing around with backyard inventions since they were friends growing up in Black Mountain. Experimental planes and big engines attached to small go-carts have been a couple of favorite contraptions.

All the innovation work served them well. Mort went on to work as an industrial consultant, while Slagle ended up a serial entrepreneur. And when Tim Smith, the star of the Discovery channel hit Moonshiners (now in its sixth season) tossed a challenge their way, they jumped at the chance to tackle it.

Smith had heard about Mort and Slagle through his network of contacts and he came to them with an unusual problem. Smith wanted to find a way to quickly turn a batch of moonshine into aged whiskey. The fast-aging process is a trendy one in American whiskey-making these days, with a number of distillers deploying various methods. (Whiskey is traditionally aged in oak barrels; over a period of years, alcohol is pulled in and out of the wooden barrel as it heats and cools, a process that adds flavor notes such as smoke and vanilla.)

 

Mort and Slagle offer up their solution, as detailed in this season of Moonshiners. First, fill a 50-gallon drum full of moonshine (worth about $10,000), toss in some flavored wood chips and cap the drum with a lid that has charred and un-charred oak staves attached to it. Run a low-voltage electrical current through the staves for 24 hours, and the result will taste like a two-year-old whiskey.

On the show, Smith appears skeptical at first. He first likens Mort and Slagle’s contraption to a bomb, asking if it might blow. Then he dubs it a “super sonic machine” that he hopes will help him save his moonshine investment.

Smith “threw the idea at us, and we were like yeah, we can do that,” Mort says. “And we did it. It works surprisingly well. I would compare our product with at least a 5- or 6-year-old whiskey.”

In fact, Mort and Slagle were so successful that they’ve been producing their fast-aged whiskey at Asheville Distilling (aka Troy & Sons, next to Highland Brewing Company) in Asheville since August. They’ve produced more than 42,000 bottles of Climax whiskey, and they’re selling it in states such as Florida, New York and Oregon. Mort and Slagle own the fast-aging technology, while Smith owns the brand name. They’re hoping to get North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control approval to have Climax on shelves in the Tar Heel state later this year.

Mort and Slagle said they had fun filming their Moonshiners segments. In one, camera crews follow the duo to a local junkyard.

“Biltmore Iron and Metal is usually our first trip any time we’re working on something. We pick up stuff, throw it around. We’ll spend hours there looking for stuff we can take back and use,” Slagle says.

Mort adds that as inventors, he and Slagle attack problems from very different angles. “Chad’s the more creative, artistic one and I try to stick to a more scientific method and approach a problem from a structural or chemistry standpoint,” he says.

What’s next for the inventors-slash-entrepreneurs? Mort says they have several other projects in the works, but none they can talk about just yet. They’re also constantly looking for new challenges.

“Somebody just needs to give us a problem,” Slagle says.

Chad Slagle and Keith Mort will host a viewing party for their last Moonshiners episode of this season at 8:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 31 Post 25 on Hendersonville Road. The show starts at 9 p.m.

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