CASEY JONES DISTILLERY FIRES UP FIRST BATCH
As covered in the Kentucky New Era, January 2, 2015:
A new chapter was written Friday at the Casey Jones Distillery in Hopkinsville, where a first-run batch of legal moonshine served as a revival of sorts for a time-honored tradition of country life.
Owner-operator Arlon Casey Jones — or “AJ” — alongside his wife, Peg Hays, welcomed several local government officials as he and his neighbors, Tommy Turner and Junior Killebrew, fired up a reclaimed antique still made by Jones’ grandfather, Casey, for whom the distillery is named.
“We want to be a small-craft distillery to bring tourism to Hopkinsville and Christian County,” Jones told the crowd. “We’re just proud to be able to do this.”
Jones set up the operation in his barn-sized garage, which also has a fermenting room for the mash and a small room for tasting decorated with antiques and paintings by his sister.
He turned the floor over to Paul Tomaszewski, owner of MB Roland Distillery just outside of Pembroke, to explain what a tourist draw his distillery has been for the area. Tomaszewski said 25,000 visited MB Roland last year. He believes it is the most-visited small craft distillery in the state.
“We started in a similar fashion,” said Tomaszewski, noting the similarities between MB Roland, which he runs with his wife Merry Beth, and Casey Jones. “Simplicity of the business, a husband and wife team with some very faithful helpers on the side, and we’ve grown to a much larger operation.”
Tomaszewski said the recent explosion of distilling spirits in the state over the last few years — which also brought new jobs to the areas where moonshiners have a foothold — is happening not only in “the badlands of Western Kentucky” but also in downtown Louisville.
According to an independent University of Kentucky study, which Tomaszewski held up for the crowd, the average party who visits a single distillery will spend on average $1,000 between meals, lodging, souvenirs and other sundries in the local economy.
To illustrate his point, he said, there are more barrels of bourbon alone — over 5 million of the 50-plus gallon containers — than there are residents in the state.
Jones, Turner and Killebrew fired up the still, and within a few minutes, a clear batch of white lightning began to fill a jug at the bottom step of the platform near a series of copper spigots.
As they gauged the proof, Turner took a marker and wrote “136” on the masking tape label and set it aside.
Hopkinsville Mayor Carter Hendricks, Kentucky Sen. Whitney Westerfield, state Rep. John Tilley, Christian Judge-Executive Steve Tribble, County Attorney Mike Foster, Magistrate Mark Cansler and Mike Pape, standing in for U.S. Congressman Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., joined other onlookers as they watched Jones and his crew churn out the first batch.
Jones explained that the 130-plus proof product will have to be cut back to 92 proof to make the signature label of “Casey Jones Cut 92 Corn Whisky.”
Small samples were handed out, accompanied by a tutorial from Master Distiller Spencer Balentine about how to properly assess the taste.
Balentine, a cousin of Jones, owns Silver Trail Distillery in Hardin and uses another Casey Jones-built still in his operation. He said that bad moonshine will have a metallic taste because some distillers cut corners and use ground chicken feed instead of food corn. Animal feed is laced with herbicides, hence the metallic aftertaste.
In contrast, he continued, Casey Jones Distillery uses only food-grade corn, well water and sugar — all procured locally — to make its moonshine.
Navigating the legal tidewaters for production and sale of the liquor facing Kentucky producers are tougher than wineries or micro-brewers.
“You can only sell three liters a day,” AJ Jones explained. “With wine, they can sell cases of it and ship it across state lines, but in Kentucky you can’t.
He added that one can only be served an ounce of moonshine in Kentucky at a tasting room per day, yet in Tennessee, the limit is three.
“If you got more than one flavor, what are you going to do?” Jones asked. “I’d like to see a change in the laws. Who wouldn’t?”