Last week, the Henry County Board of Adjustments approved modification of a 2016 conditional use permit (CUP) that gives county blessing for production of “Heaven’s Door” – the Bob Dylan song that is now also the bourbon brand of the legendary musician.
Attorney for Six-Mile Creek Distillery ownership, Jeff McKenzie, said the county approval opens the door for the Dylan bourbon brand, which he said is currently produced in Tennessee.
“We intend to wrap up our deal with Heaven’s Door,” said McKenzie, adding that Dylan visited the Six-Mile Creek Distillery grounds that feature, not only the existing distillery, but also a grist mill and relocated historic log cabins reassembled on site.
The CUP modification permits Six-Mile Creek Distillery acceleration of production well beyond the original CUP permission of 1,200 barrels per year.
“We’d like to take that up to 50,000 barrels eventually,” McKenzie informed the board, who approved the 50,000 maximum under the modified CUP.
Despite the substantial production increase, distillery ownership (which now includes Angel’s Envy found Marc Bushala in addition to original distillery developer Damien Prather) did not seek construction of rickhouses at the site.
In fact, it was the opposite.
“We like the layout of this property without rickhouses,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie added that the property appeal for Kentucky Bourbon Trail tourists factored into the ownership decision to convert the existing rickhouse at the site for another use: distillery operation expansion from 8,000 to 10,000 square feet with a 36-inch column still in the works.
McKenzie also said that with the increase in distillery size and production, ownership expects an increase in the number of employees at the site from a few to upwards of 40.
One place of employment on site is the planned visitors center that McKenzie said the distillery would open in a repurposed lodging facility currently there.
“There’s no plans to have people stay there, but there will be tastings,” McKenzie said of the visitors center, which the modified CUP permits for seven-day-a-week operation from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The modified CUP also permits up to 10 concerts on site with no more than 200 people in attendance. McKenzie said he doesn’t expect the retired Dylan to personally perform but cited the property appeal for the concert venue.
“It is a perfect kind of picnic area down there with the lodge and the cabins that are down there on the road,” McKenzie said.
Another component of Bourbon Trail appeal under consideration involves a different type of use for some of the property acreage.
“They’re looking at raising bison on some property,” said McKenzie.
The Bourbon Trail potential to draw visitors with disposable income to the site, plus creation of jobs that McKenzie said would pay “well beyond 20 bucks an hour”, would be complemented by impact upon local agriculture.
“It’s the tourism and it’s the jobs,” said McKenzie. “And it’s the agriculture.”
McKenzie detailed some aspects of the agricultural benefit that expanded distillery operation could yield.
“We want to talk to local farmers about producing grain,” he said, adding that the distillery would also make stillage by-product available to local cattle farmers for feed.
McKenzie also said that the removal of stillage would require a record of any transport for local farming use to account for by-product disposal and pledged that the distillery would not use a lagoon system to dump stillage.
“We’re saying right up front that that’s not going to happen,” McKenzie said of lagoon usage for stillage.
The expanded distillery operation did raise the question by the board about barrel storage of bourbon on site, especially since ownership opted not to pursue rickhouse construction on the property.
“We would like to age them in some other location in Henry County,” McKenzie said of the bourbon barrels that the modified CUP approves for up to 50,000 produced annually.
Henry County District 6 Magistrate Carl Tingle asked if distillery ownership would pledge payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) in the event the Kentucky legislature repeals the bourbon barrel tax currently in place in counties where bourbon currently is stored for aging.
Although McKenzie declined to commit funds in lieu of taxes to Henry County coffers, he said ownership wouldn’t contest the barrel tax should it remain in place.
“We believe that the tax that’s in place makes sense,” he said.
McKenzie also pointed out the economic impact that bourbon barrel storage has upon communities that permit their warehousing, even without a barrel tax in place.
“They pay a lot of bills,” he said. “There’s a lot of revenues that flows off of those.”
During the public comment part of the public hearing for modifying the CUP, county resident Steve Woods said the barrel tax repeal currently under consideration by state legislators would phase the tax out over a 15-year period. As a property owner two miles away from the distillery site, Woods said he wasn’t against the modified CUP before the board but wanted to see some results sooner rather than later.
“I wish they would get it open if they’re going to get any tax dollars flowing into the community,” said Woods.
Other comments made during the public hearing for the modified CUP concerned the following:
• Protection of the Six-Mile Creek riparian zone.
• Black fungus remediation by the distillery if neighboring properties are affected.
• Traffic impact upon the nearby Amish community who use horse-and-buggy transportation.
McKenzie said ownership would commit to annual review of progress and issues to be held by Henry County Fiscal Court with public comment available.
McKenzie also addressed the issue of barrel storage. With 50,000 barrels potentially on the table each year, McKenzie asked for an increase in barrel storage from 5,000 barrels to 20,000 barrels.
Louis Ross of Anderson County asked how the storage of barrels corresponded to their shipment from the property.
“I’d like to know how much the buildup is before they go out,” Ross asked during the public comment part of the hearing.
McKenzie answered that the barrels would be temporarily stored on site pending transport.
“It might be a truck and half,” he said of the amount temporarily stored.
County planning and zoning administrator Jason Stanley asked in his capacity of county code enforcement officer how long the distillery intended to store barrels at any one time.
McKenzie told Stanley that one month would be “plenty of time.” He also said that the county could inspect the distillery operation at any time, provided a 24-hour notice is given.