NEWPORT/MOOREFIELD, AR (KAIT) – A Region 8 businessman is closer to becoming the first in the state of Arkansas to legally manufacture and sell moonshine whiskey. According to Ed Ward, state and federal inspectors are reviewing construction of a liquor distillery at 420 Beech Street, Newport. Ward said he hopes to sell Arkansas' Moonshine in liquor stores across Arkansas and the United States.
"This is the first legal license that they've ever issued in the state of Arkansas to make whiskey," said Ward. "You can make a gallon for about 5 or 6 dollars so it's very profitable and I thought by doing this we'd be legal. I know there's a market for it out there. We'll get it sold. There's no doubt about that."
Ward, who owns and operates several Payday Loan stores in New Mexico and Missouri, told Region 8 News he first learned that moonshine could be a money-making venture after reading a Virginia newspaper.
He said a businessman got a license to sell moonshine from the state, which offered seven dollars for a fifth. The state would then collect seven dollars in liquor stores, which sold the product for approximately 20 dollars.
Ward said he talked to the businessman over the phone and wanted to try it in Arkansas.
"He said you better believe it. He said we could not have educated our children, we have four that all had to go to college and he said every one of them has a degree now that they wouldn't have had if we hadn't have made the moonshine," said Ward. "I just love what I'm doing. I hope that I'm doing this ten years from now."
Ward said he asked Tami Edgin to help. Edgin has been Ward's assistant for years.
"When I told the woman at the federal agency that we wanted to make moonshine, she said well honey, you know once you make it legal it's not moonshine anymore," said Edgin, Ward's Managing Agent.
Edgin said Arkansas' Moonshine could enter and untapped market.
"It's whiskey, whether it's moonshine or, you can call it whiskey, you can call it white lightning, you can call it moonshine but it's all the same thing," said Edgin. "It's a big thing to be able to say that you're the first at anything, and much less the first one in the state.
Edgin said she has discussed the desire to sell moonshine with the Alcohol Beverage Control Board and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which have given the distillery guidelines to follow.
"Liquor stores in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky and all of them have been more than excited and have told me, the moment you get a brochure available and pricing let us know, we want to sell it," said Edgin.
Ward told Region 8 News Thursday he hopes to earn $100,000 in revenue in the first year.
"We've worked out a deal with Moon Distributors out of Little Rock to become the distributor and they can only do the state of Arkansas," said Ward. "We'll take it into Kansas and Louisiana and throughout the country. There's a market for it out there."
Ward mentioned the history of moonshine makers in Arkansas and the Deep South. He said he first learned about moonshine from his father.
"He (sheriff's office) heard about the still. I can remember he come down there with his deputies with a sledge hammer and beat dad's still. I can still hear them beating on that still, you know," said Ward. "That night he walks from up here at Shelbyville to Swifton and had to swim black river to get away from the law and he made moonshine for quite a while up there. That's when I first learned what moonshine was."
Ward said he talked about moonshine with representatives from Wal-Mart in northwest Arkansas.
"I said I'm opening up a distillery down in Arkansas and I'd like to talk to you about you buying the product. I said that I'm going to do Arkansas moonshine, bourbon and, and he said where is it in Arkansas. I said it's in Newport. He said you can rest assured we'll sell it. He said that's where Sam started his business," said Ward.
"We went through the state of Arkansas and the ABC and you can get a state and federal license to do this," said Larry Bishop, Head Distiller. "When we get everything set up and the building going with the steel ferment tanks and everything, they'll come and inspect us, we get our other half of the license."
Bishop said he learned how to make moonshine from an older man 40 years ago. Bishop said his recipe will make three different products.
"Regular moonshine, clear and then we'll have the charred whiskey and then we're going to come up with an apple flavor," said Bishop.
Ward said the moonshine operation could create as many as 20 jobs in Jackson County.
"I never thought it would be legal to come in and do it, and I guess you can say it's just something that come true and I'm fortunate to be here to do it," said Bishop. "I think it's because it's a new Arkansas thing and people in Arkansas are for Arkansas products."