BEAUFORT — Resident Nelson Owens is hoping state and local regulations will fall in line to allow him to open a new distillery in town by May 2020.
“I’m not sure if I can make (it work) or not,” Mr. Owens said.
The president of Beaufort Wine & Food, Mr. Owens is no stranger to area tourism. He said he wants to start his own distillery to add to the town’s offerings.
“I’m thinking this is going to be a tourist destination,” Mr. Owens said, later adding that he recently filed for the name Beaufort Spirits Co.
The distillery is still in the planning stages, Mr. Owens said, and he is still waiting to see if he can secure local and state permission to operate the business.
On Sept. 30, the town planning board voted to recommend a mixed-use zoning classification for the property at 513 Front St. he hopes to transform into a distillery. Currently, he is waiting to hear the town commission’s decision on the matter.
“The hardest thing, I’ve heard, is getting a federal distiller’s permit,” Mr. Owens said. “It’s not difficult, it’s just (time consuming).”
If all goes to plan, the building will not only be home to a fully functioning micro-distillery and bar, it will also have a pair of rooms for rent on the top floor. Mr. Owens said the apartment units will be one bedroom and one bathroom with a shared kitchen area.
Mr. Owens added noise from the downstairs distillery and bar won’t be an issue for the upstairs tenants.
“We’re going to insulate the ceilings,” Mr. Owens said. “We’re mostly going to do (seasonal vacation rentals).”
The project is largely thanks to Senate Bill 290, a bill recently signed by Gov. Roy Cooper that loosens a number of alcohol-sale restrictions, including restrictions put on the operations of micro-distilleries in the state.
“I wasn’t going to do this unless the governor signed that bill,” Mr. Owens said. “I had bought the building already, but when I saw that bill was going to be introduced, I thought it was going to be the perfect business for this site, considering the location and history of Beaufort.”
Mr. Owens said he is working with the state’s Historic Preservation Office to renovate the building, which dates back to 1856. As such, he has to follow guidelines such as making an effort to use existing materials and structures instead of replacing them. He illustrated this with the structure’s windows.
“We’re going to restore the windows,” Mr. Owens said. “The state office would rather you repair stuff.”
When all is said and done, Mr. Owens anticipates the renovations and creation of the distillery, bar and apartments will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million. He added that inspectors said the building itself is in good shape, despite its age.
“This building, the state guy said it’s one of the most pristine buildings he’s ever seen,” Mr. Owens said. “That means nothing has been done to it, it’s still in its original shape. The construction is just incredible.”
While breweries are often synonymous with beer, distilleries typically produce beverages like brandy and whiskey. If completed, Mr. Owens said his primary focus will be on distilling rum, which he said coincides nicely with Beaufort’s legacy.
“I think rum fits into Beaufort, you know, with the British influence, the Spanish invasion, the pirate invasion,” Mr. Owens said. “Blackbeard, of course, drank rum (in Beaufort).”
Mr. Owens has options when it comes time to setting up the distillery. The structure has a rear lot that measures 300-feet-by-40-feet, according to Mr. Owens. The additional space could be used for a number of things, such as a beer garden.
Mr. Owens said it’s still too early to tell if the project will be a hit, but he is confident it will be a good addition.
“I think there is a demand for a distillery,” Mr. Owens said. “I think there is room for it…(and) there is a lot of competition in (the distillery market). I don’t want to compete in that space. I just want to sell and turn this into a tourist destination.”
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.