Louisiana transplant one step closer to opening distillery in Chesterfield


CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to grant a special exception to a zoning ordinance for a man who wants to develop a whiskey distillery on Lyman Drive.

Blake Amacker, a mechanical engineer with Corning Incorporated in Keene, has spent roughly three years working on starting a distillery and went before the ZBA Tuesday night to get an exception to an ordinance pertaining to manufacturing. Amacker was accompanied by Michael Bentley, an attorney out of Keene. Amacker must now go before the Chesterfield Planning Board (which advised he first visit the ZBA) and speak with the town's fire department.

Amacker, who has established Copper Cannon LLC, told the ZBA members his plan is to operate from a barn owned (but not occupied) by David Gale and produce about a 1,000 cases of alcohol per year. He said the enterprise will feature a 350-square-foot retail space. The base of the barn is about 2,500 square feet in size, while its second floor is roughly 1,700 square feet. The structure's third tier, he said, is about 150 square feet and "looks like a back terrace."

He said he plans to have one or two employees and expects very low traffic. He said the retail space will likely be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with operation to last from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

"In the midst of these operations, I will be performing the actual germination, which is actually just watching seeds grow," he said, drawing a laugh from ZBA members at Chesterfield Town Offices. "My plan is to work with local farmers to get grain locally so it will be a local product. The molasses and, if I get sugarcane, will actually be from my home state of Louisiana and brought up here to create some Louisiana/New Hampshire rum up here."

Amacker said he hopes to produce four to nine products, including clear whiskey, aged whiskey, rye whiskey, clear rum, spiced rum, aged rum and possibly a bourbon. He also said the byproduct of this work will be a nutritious alcohol-free grain mash that he plans to give away to local farmers, who can feed it to their livestock. Amacker also wanted to address any concerns about smells and noise. He said milling will take place in the barn and there will be proper ventilation for it.

"There should be minimal noise. As far as odors, you will get an odor similar to Elm City Brewery (in Keene)," he said. "There will be a little bit of a distinct odor from the distilling of it, but it should not escape the building. If you've ever been to a distillery, there is a distinct odor inside the building but if you are outside the distillery, you cannot tell it's a distillery unless it's a huge distillery like a Bacardi distillery or Maker's Mark."

Amacker said a steam boiler will be used and there will be no open flame, like seen on the television show "Moonshiners," which features backwoods liquormakers in the Appalachian Mountains. He explained he has studied distilling in Chicago, spent time learning the trade at Cooper Fox Distillery in Virginia and Flag Hill Winery and Distillery in New Hampshire, and has visited various distilleries in Louisiana, Vermont and Ireland.

Bentley mentioned there will likely have to be some upgrades to the road and a private road maintenance agreement might be needed.

Amacker told the Reformer he is originally from Zachary, La., and earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Louisiana State University. He said he bounced around eastern Massachusetts working for Raytheon before becoming a department head at Corning. He said he intends Cooper Cannon LLC to be a side project for him.

"What I don't have up here is a lot of family, so I have a lot of free time on my hands," he said.

Amacker said if he gets necessary approval, he will acquire equipment and apply for a permit from the federal government. He said that could take "anywhere from 100 days to six months." He also mentioned he hopes to get his company's website up and running within a month or so.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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