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Moonshine in Unicoi? Legally maybe

Tony Casey • Feb 11, 2014 at 11:04 AM

UNICOI — It was clear Jerry Prosser and Earl Ponder had done their research before accepting questions Monday night about potentially putting a legal moonshine distillery in the town of Unicoi.

The two North Carolina men went to a town Planing Commission meeting with hopes of presenting the chance to open a historic, old-timey-styled moonshine still in the town, which had recently considered opening the doors to such business. They welcomed any questions and presented as much information as they could to the eager panel, who, admittedly, have just started the consideration process.

“We really like Unicoi,” Prosser said, who isn’t currently in the distilling business, but sees a large amount of potential for profit for the company and for the town of Unicoi in the way of tourism.

“We’re certainly interested in promoting tourism,” Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said at the meeting’s end. He and his fellow officials all seemed to be very open to the idea, if not supportive, but were hesitant to throw out firm backing until more information becomes available.

Prosser, on the other hand, is willing and ready to get things moving as soon as he gets Unicoi’s blessing.

“All we’re doing is asking if you’re interested, if your community is interested,” Prosser said, being careful and adamant in assuring the board that he has no intentions of pushing something on the town that the community is not behind. That being said, he could be up and running in about 10 months if approved, which would require a certified statement.

The operation would roughly consist of a 20-by-40-foot building, made of logs or something to resemble a classic still, and be located somewhere in the town where fresh water would be available. Prosser already has a location option worked out, near Scott’s Farm in Unicoi, where he’s already had water tested for quality, but would consider other options if presented with a viable choice.

Initially, Prosser said the aim would be to produce about 50 gallons per week, with hopes of moving the output up to about five times that amount, something he said is not only possible, but gives a great chance for profit. Not exactly a family experience, Prosser said the goal is to also sell T-shirts and memorabilia about local moonshining history with the help of Tennessee laws, which are much more lax than North Carolina’s.

Prosser expects success on a small scale, maybe because this type of work flows through his veins.

“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “My father was a moonshiner in the state of Georgia who spent time in the federal pen.”

This seemed to be to the delight of Lynch, who asked if Prosser was using his daddy’s recipe. He jokingly offered his services as a taster, if needed, and said it’s just something built into the local lore.

“I’d say we have illegal stills around here working at that capacity,” Lynch said about Prosser’s goal of 250 gallons a week.

Even though Unicoi tops the list for Prosser and Ponder, Prosser said he has been in similar talks with “a town on the other side of Johnson City,” without getting specific about which town. Prosser said what he liked best about Unicoi is the high quality of the water and also the close proximity to his residence over the state line.

Moving forward, town recorder Larry Rea said the next step is for a subcommittee to consider what they’ve learned from Prosser and Ponder, work on more questions and return to next month’s meeting with more of an idea of how they want to carry on. Prosser and Ponder will be back at the next meeting, as will a representative from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission, who will be available for questions as well.

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