- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Local moonshiners Arlon Casey Jones - or AJ - and his wife, Peg Hays, got their start when they reclaimed and restored AJ’s grandfather’s last working still. At that time, all they wanted was to acquire a piece of AJ’s family history. Becoming moonshiners was not in the cards, or so they thought.

“It wasn’t even on our radar screen,” Hays said. “We got the still and we thought, ‘What are we going to do with this thing’ so we thought about putting it on display in the house, but we didn’t really have any idea what to do with it.”

The still, which AJ’s grandfather had made for the Land Between the Lakes visitor center, had been placed in storage after years on display.

AJ’s grandfather, Alfred “Casey” Jones, was known throughout Todd County in the mid-1930s to the ‘60s as one of the best moonshine still makers in the business.

AJ said when they first brought the still home he and his brother talked about firing it up just to see if it worked. Beyond that, they had no real plans.

It wasn’t until AJ learned his cousin Spencer Balentine, who owns Silver Trail Distillery in Hardin, was using another one of his grandfather’s stills that AJ thought, “Maybe we can do it too,” he said.

Now, after a long restoration process and a year’s worth of paperwork and filing for permits, Casey Jones Distillery is one step away from opening its doors.

The distillery recently joined the Kentucky Distillers Association and, last week, got its formula approval.

“All we need now is the label approval and we’ll be good to go,” Hays said. “And that should come in a matter of weeks.”

Joining the distillers association, Hays said, means they are now part of a network of Kentucky distilleries. She thinks it will prove beneficial for the fledgling distillery.

“(The KDA) does lots of stuff,” Hays said. “They promote the industry, they help with lobbying efforts and last year they helped to pass a lower fee for small distillers like us . “

Right now, Hays said, the distillery can legally produce moonshine and is allowed to have tastings, but until the label approval, they cannot sell their product.

“In the federal government there are lots of hurdles,” Hays said, “and after you get your (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) license and your Kentucky permit, then you have to get a formula approval and then, after you get your formula approval, you have to get a label approval and it all has to happen in that sequence and there is a time frame between each of them.”

With all the licenses, permits and approvals in hand but one, Hays and Jones are gearing up to open and adding the finishing touches to the shop they’ve built next to the Witty Lane distillery.

AJ built the shop himself and said he wanted it to have an old general store feel. The top shelves are lined with old whiskey jugs, corn grinders and some tools that belonged to his grandfather. In the middle is a counter that Jones salvaged from an old surgical hospital, and wooden shelves line the walls. The shelves will soon be full of their first bottles of moonshine.

Also on display are prints of paintings by Jones’ late sister, Gloria Jones, who was an accomplished artist.

Jones said he modeled the store to look much like he remembers his grandfather’s shop.

In a way, Jones said, the whole process has helped him feel closer to his grandfather - a man who didn’t talk much about his days as a shiner and still builder.

“I really feel like this is a part of me,” Jones said. “It’s in my blood. And since we started doing this I’ve uncovered a lot more about my dad and grandfather because they never talked about it - it was illegal, so they never talked about it.”

In the future, Jones and Hays said they look forward to offering visitors “the whole experience,” from grinding the corn to making the mash to firing up the still and running off a batch.

“This is all a new process for us,” Jones said, “so we’re learning as we go, but it’s been a great experience so far and we’re having a good time with it.”

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Information from: Kentucky New Era, https://www.kentuckynewera.com

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