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Federal permit issued for distillery in Hardin County

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Moonshine-making idea ferments into new business

By Ben Sheroan

Since his family closed its concrete products manufacturing company, Brent Goodin’s business interests have been quite diverse. They are about to become even more so.

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Armed with a federal permit, a 125-gallon still shipped from Germany and a natural limestone spring on his family property, Goodin soon will be making moonshine in the first legal still in Hardin County since Prohibition was enacted.

In fact, he managed to trademark the phrase Kentucky Moonshine, which he thinks will be marketing magic as soon as his craft distillery is operational. Although he will set some aside to age in oak barrels that eventually will transform his white lightning into bourbon, his federal license allows Goodin to manufacture 55,000 gallons per year.

“Barton’s does that in a day,” Goodin noted.

In addition to different federal permits, major bourbon makers have different manufacturing techniques, including continuous stills that produce mash 24 hours per day.

The art of craft distilleries has been compared to home cooking versus perhaps a cafeteria-style meal. Bourbon lovers seeking out craft products have small distilleries on the grow across America. According to the American Distilling Institute, the total has gone from 50 operating in 2005 to more than 250 across 45 states in 2012.

Goodin said the increase was aided by reduced license fees implemented after the U.S. Treasury Department took over the licensing responsibility a decade ago. It means more money for the federal government as Goodin will be taxed $13.50 for each gallon he makes.

Two major barriers to entry in the distillery business are expense and time. Goodin estimates establishment of Boundary Oak Distillery will cost half a million dollars. Making bourbon also requires aging the alcohol in oak barrels, which provide flavor and the brown color. That equals money going out but no income for years.

That’s why Goodin decided to market moonshine, the clear corn liquor right out of the fermentation tanks. He’ll be selling 120-proof ‘shine commercially through a wholesaler in traditional mason jars.

He plans to purchase corn locally and initially operate with five or fewer employees — most family members. The first batch still awaits a state permit, although he said typically that approval quickly follows the federal license he received last week.

There is one unique element in his distillery that Goodin expects eventually will attract notoriety among bourbon experts.

He personally crafted the fermentation tanks, where yeast is introduced, using his concrete products background. While bourbon typically is fermented in stainless still vats, his liquor will be processed in concrete tubs more common among winemakers.

Just as a soft drink from a metal can sometimes takes on a metallic flavor, Goodin said it can happen to bourbon. He expects his product to be unique because it ferments in concrete formed using the same limestone water which is the basis of the drink.

The fact his father purchased land in 1959 with a limestone spring in place is a coincidence that pushed Goodin’s idea about opening a distillery from research to reality.

Natural limestone filtration is credited with fueling Kentucky’s bourbon industry. The Ohio Valley ridgeline behind his property also supplies water for Jim Beam and other major producers.

“The water coming off of these knobs has fed distilleries all these years,” he said.

Goodin’s aboveground spring bursts forth from rocks adjacent to an oak tree used by surveyors to mark his father’s property lines. That’s also why he selected the name Boundary Oak for the new business.

Goodin hopes easy access from Interstate 65 to his family’s industrial property on Battle Training Road eventually will allow him to tap into the multi-million tourism traffic attracted to Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

Because alcohol sales are not legal in unincorporated parts of Hardin County, Goodin cannot offer tastings or sell liquor at his facility. He does plan eventually to provide tours and possibly create a gift shop.

Although his maternal grandmother worked 40 years on Barton’s bottling line, he has no colorful family story about mountain men making hooch to use in marketing.

“I wish I did,” he said.

But the business was inspired by illegal stills and bootleggers. In this case, it was modern-day moonshiners depicted on the Discovery Channel reality show “Moonshiners.” Goodin said his youngest son, Tom, became “mesmerized” by the show and frequently asked why his family couldn’t build a still.

After explaining that the activity was illegal, Goodin said he began researching the permit process and learning about the craft distillery niche.

“I never would have thought about doing this in a million years.”

Ben Sheroan can be reached at 270-505-1764 or bsheroan@ thenewsenterprise.com.