More distillery applications filed

Licenses are sought for Pigeon Forge, Sevierville locations
Jun. 28, 2013 @ 11:19 PM

With a deadline looming ahead of a change in the state law governing distilleries, the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission got two more applications to build distilleries in Sevier County — one for Ole Smoky locations at the Island and Old Mill Road in Pigeon Forge, and the other for Outdoor Sportsman Acres at Interstate Exit 407 in Kodak.

The state approved a new law earlier this year that altered the guidelines for distilleries. When it takes effect Monday, that law will allow the construction of distilleries with on-site sales in any jurisdiction. However, cities and counties will have a 45-day window to opt out — essentially to decide they don’t wish to allow distilleries in their jurisdictions.

For municipalities that didn’t already allow distilleries, the law prevents businesses from submitting liquor licenses until mid-August. However, distilleries were already legal in Sevier County. Businesses had shown little interest in building them here because the expiring law only allowed on-site liquor sales in areas that already allowed off-premise sales.

During the transition between signing earlier this year and enactment on Monday, businesses in areas where distilleries could apply to build facilities had the opportunity to apply using the old law — getting their applications in before the municipalities could opt out, with the knowledge that they would be able to sell liquor at the sites regardless of whether the local government allowed liquor by the drink or tried to opt out of the law.

The new applicants appear to be taking advantage of that loophole, applying for licenses in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, neither of which currently allow package stores.

The application for the Kodak area is the first for Sevierville, and would be the only location with visibility from the Interstate. The name of the proposed distillery is Dumplin Creek Distiller. The address, 3607 Outdoor Sportsman Place, would put it in the retail complex alongside Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. The only name on the application is C. Kent Merritt; state officials said no additional contact information was included in the initial application, which was filed this week.

In Pigeon Forge, there was already an application filed by Leslie and William Thomas. The couple work for Fee-Hedrick Entertainment and had listed the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show address for their license, but say they don’t plan to build there or be affiliated with Fee- Hedrick. An ABC spokesperson said there had been no change to that application so far.

The application for the business on Old Mill Road says the distillery could be called Old Forge. A tentative list of officer shows that Albert Blanton Jr., owner of the Old Mill restaurant, would be president. Blanton confirmed Thursday he hopes to lease the Old Mill Plaza, next to the restaurant, and plans a small distillery as well as other shops based on traditional East Tennessee products. It will not be otherwise affiliated with the Old Mill, he said.

The newest application, filed Thursday afternoon, came from the county’s original distillery.

Ole Smoky Distillery opened in Gatlinburg as the state’s first legal moonshine distillery. It has applied for a new distillery in Pittman Center. Owner Joe Baker said that facility will be used for making whisky to send to retailers that are selling his product.

He confirmed Thursday that he has signed a lease for property at the Island in Pigeon Forge, Sevier County’s newest entertainment and retail complex, and plans to open a new distillery there once the application is approved.

“We hope to open a facility there soon,” he said.

He said he’s not surprised to see several other businesses looking at starting distilleries. “It will be very interesting to see how the industry grows,” he said.

Baker lobbied against the new law when it was first introduced because it did away with any restrictions imposed by cities on the distance between distilleries and similar regulations.

Gatlinburg had recently passed regulations governing distilleries, and the state legislation taking those powers away was supported by Ned Vickers, who is planning the Sugarlands Distillery nearby in Gatlinburg.

The ABC said there has not been a change in the status of Ole Smoky’s application in Pittman Center, or the Sugarlands application in Gatlinburg.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com