Posted on August 21, 2014 at 6:03 PM
Thursday, Aug 21 at 6:30 PM
ACCOMACK COUNTY -- The Eastern Shore of Virginia is known as a productive agricultural region, with plenty of grains, vegetables and fruits grown in its fertile fields.
A Pennsylvania couple is hoping to use some of those farm products in a small craft distillery in Accomack County.
Drew and Linda Allwein, who have a second home near Parksley, are taking the initial steps in the somewhat complex regulatory process of starting a distillery in Virginia.
"We have a very successful restaurant in Pennsylvania, but we've always wanted to have an adventure," said Drew Allwein, 44, noting, "We're food and beverage people. ... All my life I've been preparing food and beverages for the public — it's what I do. This sort of fits in with that notion."
It also has been their long-term goal to live full-time on the Eastern Shore, and opening a distillery here could make that a reality.
They plan to produce spirits from locally sourced grain and produce, including small batch bourbon, fruit brandy and organic turnip vodka.
"We want it to be unusual," Allwein said, adding about the vodka notion, "What is more Eastern Shore than turnip greens?"
He noted small distilleries and breweries were common throughout the United States before Prohibition and are now reemerging as a trend as part of the farm-to-table movement.
"People want to know where did this steak come from, who grew these vegetables — this is kind of like that," he said.
According to the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, there are 17 licensed distilleries in Virginia. Five of them applied for licenses since January 2012.
That is in contrast to more than 250 wineries and craft breweries in the state.
The pair have been researching the micro-distilling industry for the past couple of years and last fall attended a week-long class in Louisville, Kentucky.
They would like to locate the business in Onancock, and recently submitted an application to add distilleries as a permitted use in the town's business highway zone.
The planning commission will hold a public hearing on the application in September.
The Allweins chose Onancock for two reasons.
One, "It's just a fabulous town. ... It's a busy place, it's a happy town. The atmosphere is good."
The second reason is pragmatic: Onancock has municipal water and wastewater treatment service, a plus for the type of business they want to operate.
Allwein said they haven't settled on a specific location yet.
He described the distillery as "a tiny craft factory" and envisions it ultimately employing between eight and 20 people.
It would not be a bar.
"Primarily, it's a quiet manufacturing facility," Allwein said.
The distillery would be open for tours and tastings, but the law limits individuals at such facilities to consuming no more than 1 ½ ounces of spirits in a 24-hour period.
The distillery's products would be sold wholesale and likely also retail. But Virginia has stringent requirements for retail spirit sales at distilleries.
Retail sales on premises are permitted under state law only if licensees use at least 51 percent agricultural products grown on the licensee's farm or on land leased by the licensee, or if the licensee operates as a nonprofit association, operates a museum on the grounds of a historical site, employs traditional techniques including the use of authentic coper pot stills in a county with a population of less than 20,000 or is licensed as a USDA-certified organic distillery.
The last provision is what Allwein would like to achieve.
It takes on average 18 months to get the required state and federal licenses to operate a distillery, so the business won't spring up overnight.
But when it does open, Allwein hopes it will provide jobs for area youth. The couple's restaurant currently employs 80 people, most of them young adults.
"I like working with young people," he said.
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