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REGIONALREPORT Western

Distiller seeks to sell its shine

https://asoft10294.accrisoft.com/businessnc/clientuploads/Archive_Images/2013/04/West.jpgThough demand for their booze is booming, the owners of Asheville Distilling Co. have discovered that trying to change distribution laws that date to the end of Prohibition is enough to drive a person to drink. A few years after Troy and Charlie Ball moved there in 2004 from Austin, Texas — the mountain climate better suited their two sons who have respiratory problems — friends let them sample “keeper” whiskey, the best of an illegal batch that’s too tasty for a moonshiner to sell. Intrigued by the commercial possibilities, Troy researched recipes and contracted with John McEntire, the owner of a seventh-generation family farm just outside the city, to provide the corn. The Balls even installed the 2,000-liter still they bought from a German company in a barn on his farm.

But before cooking the first run, there were legal hoops to jump through. Though North Carolina is famous for “blockade” whiskey, the high-proof hooch that’s made clandestinely, it hadn’t had a legal liquor-maker since the early 1900s until Piedmont Distillers Inc. opened in 2005 in Rockingham County. After getting necessary permits from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, Asheville Distilling became the first one in the mountains when it began making Troy & Sons brand Platinum Moonshine in 2010. There are now nine distilleries in the state.

Two years ago, Asheville Distilling moved from the barn to a former Southern Railway warehouse in town, where the operation has grown from 2,300 to 8,000 square feet, with 4,000 more to be added this year. A 5,000-liter still recently replaced the original, which could make only enough to fill 400 750-milliliter bottles a day. The new one can produce three to four times that, and the additional capacity is needed. The distillery shipped 5,000 cases its first year and is on pace to double that in 2013. The privately held company, which employs seven full time and 10 part time, doesn’t disclose revenue.

All three of its offerings, the latest due out this month, can be purchased online in 45 states and at many ABC stores in North Carolina. That their products can be sampled but not sold at the distillery vexes the owners. About 7,000 people have visited and, after touring and tasting, many want to buy a bottle. All the Balls can do is direct them to an ABC store, the only place you can legally buy a bottle of booze in this state. “It is a big handicap to craft distillers in the state,” she says, noting that breweries and wineries are allowed to sell alcohol on-site. “We’re really being put at a disadvantage.”

In last year’s General Assembly session, she lobbied legislators to change the law, and though the Senate passed a bill, it got hung up in the House. The state ABC Commission was OK with it, she says, but the lobbying group for local stores, which are owned by cities and counties, opposed it. She doesn’t want to scuttle the retail system, but “this is about growing small businesses and tourism,” so she’s working with local legislators again this session.

Briefs

ASHEVILLE —  A U.S. District Court judge sentenced James W. “Bill” Bailey Jr. to 32 years in prison for operating a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of $13 million between 2000 and 2010. The founder of Southern Financial Services, he pleaded guilty to securities fraud, mail fraud and filing false tax returns but has appealed the sentencing.

MORGANTON Blue Ridge Healthcare named Kathy Bailey president and CEO. Chief operating officer for five years, she succeeds Kenneth Wood, who retired after leading the system since 2001.

FRANKLIN — England-based Tricorn Group acquired a plant here from Warsaw, Ind.-based Whitley Products for $3 million to expand operations of its Franklin Tubular Products subsidiary. It will invest $4 million and add 121 to its workforce of more than 100 within three years. The plant fabricates metal tubes. Average annual salary will be $32,102, higher than Macon County’s $29,516.

ASHEVILLE Mission Health named Jon Yeatman vice president for strategic growth and business development. He had been executive director for health-system integration and special assistant to the CEO.

WAYNESVILLE —  Haywood County commissioners voted to increase the county’s lodging tax from 4% to 6%. If approved by the General Assembly, the additional $450,000 raised annually would go to tourism-related projects.