Cannon County distillery plans April opening
Liz Engel Clark
Thursday, Mar 15, 2012
Long-time moonshiners Jimmy Simpson, left, and Ronald Lawson, right, pose with Short Mountain Distillery CEO Billy Kaufman. Simpson and Lawson recently signed an agreement and will no longer make the product illegally. Instead, they will bring their experience to the new Woodbury operation. CBJ Photo/Liz Engel Clark
Just a few weeks remain until Short Mountain Distillery’s grand opening, and production is full speed ahead. In one room, moonshine is fermenting in tanks make for whiskey and bourbon. President and CEO Billy Kaufman expects to produce those liquors at later stages. In another, Simpson, along with two other long-time backwoods moonshiners, Ronald Lawson and Ricky Estes, are hard at work. The trio recently signed a contract with Short Mountain, and per that document, they’ve agreed to no longer make the product illegally and will bring their distilling experience to the Woodbury business.
“I guess it’s kind of like a drug habit. Once you get started, it’s hard to quit,” Simpson said. “We’re all a little bit older, and we would have loved to have done this all our lives, legally. We finally have the opportunity to do that and bring our craft, or whatever you call it, out into the public. A lot of people never drank a real true moonshine, but this is the real deal,” he added. “This is the same thing we’ve all done for over 50 years.”
A 2009 law change allowed for legal production of whiskey and other distilled spirits here, paving the way for the Cannon County facility. Prior to the law, production of distilled spirits was only legal in Moore, Coffee and Lincoln counties, respectively, where distillers Jack Daniel's, George Dickel and Prichards operate.
It was still a two-year process for Kaufman to start his distillery - it took a mass of signatures, and the approval of local voters through a referendum. But finally, the distillery’s opening date is fast approaching.
A soft opening is planned for family and friends toward the end of March. But the main event is scheduled for Saturday, April 21, when the operation will be full-go, complete with public tours, tastings and product sales. Pre-orders already have the facility working at its capacity, and beyond. The stillhouse, which was built to make whiskeys and bourbons, has been re-rigged to pump out moonshine, at least for the time being.
“We’re making as much moonshine as we can for our opening. We’re trying to catch up,” Kaufman said. “It’s a great problem to have, but it’s a lot to roll out with all these initial bottles.”
Kaufman has no projections as far as the number of visitors that could flock to the 300-acre farm, neatly situated on Highway 146, and neither did Caroline Motley, services coordinator at the Cannon County Chamber of Commerce, who toured the distillery recently. But he’s got lots of long-term plans – another still house, a farm-to-table restaurant, a moonshine museum and a gift shop, among others.
But for now, they’re busy prepping for an influx of tourists.
“Jack Daniel’s is the largest manufacturer of alcohol in the world – just to get 1 percent of their market share would be humungous,” he said. “We would have to build huge plants just to keep up with that 1 percent.
“We can make a lot of moonshine here and I hope to sell all of it,” he said. “Our dream is to export this product and bring money in, or at least keep the money here. And bring in tourists, bring in people, create a destination that’s educational and share our values with people. We’ve already been successful and we haven’t even started yet. I think it’s just going to take off.”
Editor’s note: Look for our April edition, which will feature an extended version of this story.