Homemade Moonshine Distillery a Hit in Brookville

BROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – Moonshine, bib overalls, hillbilly teeth, and rusted out pickup trucks are only a few of the sights that might greet you after you travel the back roads of Blackout Alley in Rose Township near Brookville.

Blackbird Distillery is one of the few licensed moonshine operations in Pennsylvania. The distillery recently celebrated its 150th day of business after developing its plans, getting approvals, and brewing its ‘shine over the last two years.

One of the keys to success was also making the moonshine drinkable. Many flavors were added, including Blueberry, Cinnamon, Root Beer, American Shine, Apple Black, Homemade Apple Pie, Blackbirds, Black Cherry, Banana, Lemon Drop, Peach, and Pineapple.

“It’s been phenomenal. My husband and I are so thankful and grateful because it’s just gone so well,” said Jen Black. “We didn’t think it would take off as well as it has.”

jen barJen and Dave Black maintain a backwoods mystique with their store. It’s a place where customers can come and get small samples of the shine. There are also other goodies for sale like canned food, smoke cheeses, and other food prepared by the Black family. Shirts and hillbilly teeth are also big sellers in continuing the theme of the store. The restroom in the store is labeled “Sh*thouse” and inside is a book on the Beverly Hillbillies, among other things.

(Photo: Jenn Black at Blackbird Distillery)

“We are the only distillery in the entire country that makes moonshine that uses no machines,” said Black. “We do it all by hand. We try to keep it all local. We get our corn from a farm in Corsica. Our moonshine is a corn whiskey.”

The moonshine is made in the same building as the store, away from the public.

(Photo below: Employee Shayna Oliver catches up on some reading about the Beverly Hillbillies in the official store “Sh*t House.”

beverly hillbillies“In the upstairs of the barn are several mashers that the corn goes into,” continued Black. “My husband mashes the corn by hand and it then goes into a fermenter where he pulls the alcohol from the heart of the corn. For one batch, from start to finish, it takes 12 days to make. A batch is only 40 fifths or 750 mils. It’s quite the experience in just keeping up because we have thousands, and thousands of bottles stocked. We were making it all in the summer of 2013 up until March 24 of this year.”

“I was thinking we’re never going to sell all of this; there is no way. I knew it was a good idea, but when you’re looking at apple pie and you have 7,000 bottles of it that you’ve done 40 bottles at a time, I’m thinking this is overwhelming.”

Sales have taken the couple by surprise.

“We just thought people would come in and buy a bottle because they like moonshine, but they’re buying lots more at one time. Sometimes people will take found cases back with them if they are travelling from Philadelphia. There is no limit on how much we can sell,” Jen said.

The strengths of each brand or proof are all different, the same as traditional moonshine, and the proof is handwritten on each label. After bottling and labeling, each bottle is sealed in wax. The process is completed by dipping the top of the finished bottle into heated wax in a crockpot.

Jen isn’t sure what the top seller is at Blackbird Distillery because they are within five to ten bottles of each other.

“We have bourbon that is aged in charcoal barrels for at least 100 days it’s called the American, and it’s huge. It flies off the shelf, but it has to age. People love the bourbon.”

How Blackbird Distillery Started

moonshine menuIn 2011, the Black’s were on their way to take their son to college in Florida and they saw a billboard for Hesston Farm Wine and Distillery in West Virginia and they decided to stop and sample the goods and then went of their way to Florida.

“We came home and my husband happened to go on the PLCB website and saw distillery licenses were available,” as Jen tells the story in character as her hillbilly character. “Like most men he was ready to apply for this license without researching. I said let’s research this.”

“I made appointments with owners in Florida and New York and we travelled to those places and met with owners to see if this was a good business to get into because my husband wanted to get out of welding after doing it for 24 years.”

“They all said you wouldn’t believe it. It’s phenomenal. We applied for a license and got it in February 2012, but we had no business plan, we had no building, no money, we had nothing. The logistics of it is first you have to get a license to see if you can even do it.”

Dave and Jen then met with the Clarion University Small Business Development Center and made a detailed plan of how it was all going to work, including how many bottles they could make with their type of license.

“They put this business plan together and then we went to our local bank and thought they would fund it, but it didn’t work out that way,” said Jen. “It was said to us, ‘a distillery in Brookville, what a joke.’ That’s one thing that got me fired up because I work very hard and the last thing you can tell me is it’s not going to work. We went to Northwest for some funding and the Clarion County Community Bank. A lot of the banks that are not independent have a hard time, and it’s the higher ups in bigger cities that might not want to fund these types of projects.”

How strong is it and where do the people come from?

sealing“Our proofs are between 40 and 160. That’s as high as we’re allowed to go,” said Jen noting that the key was to make it drinkable and enjoy and like it.

Repeat business has astounded the Black’s and it was not what they were expecting. The location, near I-80 and the Boulevard on the Brookville exit, helps attract customers.

“We thought we’d get some people from town and people driving through,” said Jen. “A long time ago I was in a meeting with the owner of a business on the Boulevard and he said 54,000 cars go by that intersection of Routes 322, 28, and 36. I had my doubts, but after 150 days I can tell you that man was absolutely correct. Thousands and thousands are coming.”

Regulations part of business

Regulations are a part of any small business, and even the legal Moonshine business faces reviews by the PLCB and even the Federal TTB, Tobacco Trade Bureau. TTB is the group that approves all labels, ingredients, etc. TTB approval of labels delayed the sale of Root Beer, Blueberry, and Hot Cinnamon. The Blacks had applied for approval of the labels in March but heard from TTB in early September that there would be a delay because they had approved 18,000 labels in the entire United States since January. Approval came at the end of September.

“You can’t just make anything people want,” said Jen. “Some people come in and say something like they want pumpkin moonshine. We have a list up there and ask people to give us their ideas, and sometimes we get suggestions for sauerkraut or tomato and I don’t know where people come up with these ideas.”

Blackbird Distillery is located at 93 Black Out Alley, Brookville, Pa. They are open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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