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Moonshine makers look to make business more of a family deal'

March 10th, 2014 9:46 pm by Brad Hicks

Moonshine makers look to make business more of a family deal'

UNICOI — The town of Unicoi is continuing its due diligence into the possibility of bringing the first legal moonshine distillery to the town.

For the third consecutive month, the proposed distillery was a topic of discussion for the town’s planning commission, which met Monday to glean more information on potential venture.

Misti Crain, a special agent with the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, was present at Monday’s meeting to offer input into the proposed distillery. Crain said because the town of Unicoi has ordinances permitting liquor by the drink and package stores in place, a distillery could establish itself within the town’s limits.

Those looking to set up the distillery would have to file an application with the state ABC, as well as submit an application to the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

“So once they get their federal basic permit from them, they submit their application to us and then they can be approved for that,” Crain said to members of the planning commission. “The good news for the town of Unicoi is the license fee for us is $1,000 a year. They also have to pay you $1,000 a year.”

Crain said she she is unsure how long it may to secure approval of the federal basic permit, but she said it took “several months” for the only established distillery within the ABC’s district, the East Tennessee Distillery in Piney Flats, to acquire this approval. She also said the state has no restriction on where the distillery could be established, and it would be up to the town to decide on any such restrictions.

Just as they were at February’s meeting, Jerry Prosser and Earl Ponder were in attendance at Monday’s meeting to further discuss their proposed business. The two North Carolinians have proposed opening a “traditional” moonshine distillery within the town’s limits. The two men want to start out by manufacturing around 50 gallons of moonshine per week, utilizing two to three employees to do so, with hopes that production will eventually grow to 250 gallons per week.

Prosser and Ponder are looking to construct a 20-by-40 foot building on about one acre of property for the business, which they are currently looking to locate near Scott’s Farm but would consider other options within the town.

Prosser said Monday he and Ponder already have the necessary forms in hand, but want to make sure the people of Unicoi would be fine with the business before moving forward.

“We don’t want to cause a burden on anybody or mass confusion,” Prosser said. “It’s a business, and we want to develop it more around tourism, which we went over in the last meeting.”

The distillery would also sell T-shirts and other memorabilia, Prosser said. Crain said such items would have to be sold in an area separate from the alcohol product.

“We want to use the old-timey, original, historic-type still to do the distillery and the old method of mash, which we think brings the heritage side back into it,” Prosser said. “We’d like to have a building that looks more historic, not like it was built yesterday, to bring some of the history back into it. ... We want to sell memorabilia, T-shirts, bring tourism and make it more of a family deal.”

Members of the planning commission also recently toured the East Tennessee Distillery. Both commission member Lyle Wilcox and Doug Hopson said they were impressed by the facility.

Planning Commission Chairman Ken Kisiel said the planning commission’s work on the distillery will be similar to its work with retail liquor stores that previously looked to establish themselves in the town. He said the commission will look further at regulations, and possibly a business plan, before making a recommendation to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Discussion of the proposed distillery is expected to continue at the planning commission’s April meeting. 

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