Latest distillery grand opening shows growth of craft spirits in West Virginia
CHARLESTON -“There’s long ships, there’s tall ships, and there’s ships the sail the seas, but the greatest ship is friendship, so friends may we always be.”
With that toast, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., helped kick off the grand opening March 20 of Mountain State Distillery in downtown Charleston.
The new micro-distillery plans to roll out several types of liquor, including moonshine, but started out with a smooth bourbon called “Southern Blend.” The distillery is located in the heart of Charleston’s music and bar scene, across the street from Charleston’s all-volunteer indie rock station WTSQ.
Mountain State Distillery’s grand opening brought out Manchin, as well as the city’s new mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin and Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango. It also brought out hundreds of supporters and the curious wanting a taste of what owner Jeff Arthur had cooking.
“This is way beyond what I expected,” said Arthur with his two daughters holding onto his legs. “I really can’t even explain how I feel right now.”
According to West Virginia’s Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, there are active licenses for 14 distilleries and micro-distilleries making everything from moonshine, whiskey, and vodka. The state Division of Tourism even includes “The Ultimate West Virginia Distillery Road Trip.” Arthur is hoping his distillery will be a tourist drawl for Charleston.
“I want it to be a tourist place,” Arthur said. “I want to bring people into the city. I want something the city can be proud of. We have a lot of events that happen right here on the boulevard and Capitol Street. I want to be able to be a part of all of that.”
According to Arthur, another distillery could be setting up shop in Charleston. Mountain State Distillery is just a short walk from Black Sheep Burrito and their Bad Shepherd brewery. The Charleston Area Alliance is using grant funding to study how best to promote the local brewery and distillery scene.
“I think with the attention that we’ve got, more will be popping up over the next couple of months,” Arthur said. “That’s great for the area. It doesn’t hurt me, it helps me. The more people that are in this, the more people will be attracted to this area.”
And Arthur is already thinking large, saying he will at some point need a larger space for increased production to do all the kinds of spirits he wants to do.
Several laws passed by the West Virginia Legislature during the regular session that ended March 9 could also help the craft alcohol industry grow. House Bill 2481 allows for Sunday liquor sales after 1 p.m. Senate Bill 529 removes the limits on how many growlers you can buy and increased the allowed alcohol by volume from 12 percent to 15 percent. Thanks to West Virginia’s Home Rule program which the legislature made a permanent program in March, cities across the state have been approving brunch ordinances, allowing for Sunday alcohol sales at restaurants at 10 a.m.
Manchin, who arrived early for a tour of the distillery, praised Arthur for taking a chance and starting a business.
“I would hope all of us doing everything we can to support a person who is willing to put their time and effort and basically put their whole career on the line to make a go of it,” Manchin said. “We owe to people who have an entrepreneurial spirit and are willing to say ‘I’m willing to take a risk. I’m willing to make an investment in West Virginia.'”
For more information, look up Mountain State Distillery on Facebook.
Steven Allen Adams is the state government reporter for The Parkersburg News and Sentinel by day. In his free time, he’s a bourbon drinker, a lover of ska and pop punk, and doesn’t like it when Star Trek canon isn’t respected. Find him on Twitter: @stevenadamswv.