A week before Dueling Barrels opened to the public, Alltech staffers took eight of the new distillery and brewery's employees on a five-hour tour to sites relevant to the Hatfield-McCoy feud, which inspired the business' name.
Those employees — whom Dueling Barrels calls "storytellers" — hail from the region but some had never visited the sites before. The tour afforded them an opportunity to get a better sense of an area in which they've lived their entire lives but maybe had not wholly experienced.
The visit had a business purpose.
Alltech and the city of Pikeville hope Dueling Barrels — which will be added as the easternmost member of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in January — brings tourism to the area, and the former believes putting authentic faces with genuine curiosity and love for the mountains will make that goal more realizable.
“We’re not here to tell Appalachian stories for Appalachians," said Lauren Dozier, a communications specialist for Alltech. "The stories are here and we wanted people who were local, who had a connection with this city and a connection with this region, so that it’s not just telling 'a story,' they’re telling 'their story.'"
Patrons at the new distillery enter into a welcome area, where they're greeted by a storyteller along with two memorable walls — one painted with historical information and another made of bourbon barrels, some pieces complete with bung —then watch a video, which briefly goes into the history of Alltech and the region.
After that, it's off to the distilling and brewing room — the main course — before scurrying to a bar-top area for taste sampling.
The tour costs $11 and takes about 45 minutes, unless you spend more money and time in the gift shop directly across from the bar area. Tours are offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the top of the hour, Monday through Friday and 12-4 p.m. on Saturdays, without reservations.
Appalachian-centric content and exclusive drinks aside, the tour is not that different from the one at Town Branch, Alltech's distillery and brewery in downtown Lexington.
But what is different are the details about the region the "storytellers" bring to life.
"A lot of people have been asking me when this day was gonna come," said Jacob Crager, a storyteller who's lived in Floyd County his whole life. "I'm happy to be here from the ground up."
Crager, 23, takes his role as a storyteller seriously. He has studied for hours to fine-tune his regional knowledge and appreciates a chance to share his culture with locals and out-of-town visitors, he said. He attends Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg but eventually plans on transferring to the University of Pikeville, whose campus is a stone's throw away from his employer.
His favorite beverage created at Dueling Barrels? The "Original" flavor of its "Kentucky Moonshine" label, a 100 proof whiskey that serves as the base for the its three other flavors — Apple Orchard, Bonfire and Mountain Flower, all 80 proof — and pays homage to the region's historical association with bathtub gin.
"There's something about moonshine that holds a special place in my heart in these mountains," Crager said.
The 28,000-square foot facility has the capacity to produce up to 40,000 beer barrels and about 2,200-2,500 whiskey barrels annually. In addition to its own offerings, it will brew other widely known Alltech brands like Kentucky Ale and Pearse Lyons Reserve.
There's also room for about 150 customers in an upstairs space — accessible from the gift store area — that's not yet open to the public. Dueling Barrel hopes by September to open it as a taproom for people to gather and use for events; it's already advertising several taproom-exclusive beers on its website, like the "Coal Porter" and the "Big Sandy Cream Ale."
The 750 ml bottles of Dueling Barrels Kentucky Moonshine cost $25.99 in the gift shop. Six-packs of Pikeville Ale — a Kentucky pale ale — cannot be purchased on site but will be available in stores throughout the region.
The entire project cost $15 million, going about $2 million over budget mostly due to construction delays.
Note: This story was originally published with the headline "Eastern Kentucky's first legal distillery has moonshine, stories worth telling." Dueling Barrels is not the first legal distillery in eastern Kentucky.