Alltech's latest distillery to open Thursday in Pikeville, fulfilling Pearse Lyons' long-held vision.

Dueling Barrels Brewery and Distillery opens to the public Thursday in Pikeville.
Dueling Barrels Brewery and Distillery opens to the public Thursday in Pikeville. Photo provided by Alltech

Alltech's newest brewery and distillery, Dueling Barrels, located in downtown Pikeville, will open its doors to the public Thursday, fulfilling the long-held vision of its late founder, Pearse Lyons, of a brewery and distillery in the heart of Eastern Kentucky.

The facility's grand opening marks an important moment for Alltech and the Lyons family, according to Mark Lyons, Pearse Lyons' son and president of Alltech, but it also holds special significance for Pikeville and Appalachian Kentucky as a whole.

Dueling Barrels is set to be inaugurated as the easternmost member of Kentucky's Bourbon Trail in January, a move officials hope will boost Pikeville's tourism economy and help put Eastern Kentucky on the map for people who want to travel beyond the boundaries of Central Kentucky's horse and bourbon country.

"My father wanted to do something that made an impact in the region, not just have a brewery," Mark Lyons said. "The idea was something much bigger."

On Pikeville's Hambley Boulevard, Dueling Barrels stands out. Large black windows on the front of the building reveal distilling equipment two stories tall. The business's logo shows a modern, forward-thinking vision for the distillery while also referencing the region's sometimes bloody history — Dueling Barrels, Mark Lyons said, is a play on the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud of the late 19th century.

To help highlight that history, Dueling Barrels' tours will be led by what the company calls "storytellers," employees who studied Eastern Kentucky's past to give customers a more nuanced understanding of the coal fields.

"It's definitely going to put a spotlight on the region," said Danny Branham, Dueling Barrels' general manager.

Branham was born and raised in Pikeville but has lived elsewhere for the past 20 years — he lived and worked in China for the past four years as Alltech's quality manager.

"For me to be able to come home and rekindle some old friendships and be part of this is pretty special," he said.

Pikeville has changed a lot since Branham left in 1997. The city is now home to a bustling retail district, and the streets downtown are lined with boutiques, restaurants and art stores.

The University of Pikeville and the Pikeville Medical Center have grown, too, drawing in young people and professionals to a region that, in many Eastern Kentucky communities outside Pikeville, struggle to hold on to declining populations.

A number of new businesses have already announced plans to move to Pikeville, including Enerblu, a battery factory that expects to employ more than 800 people.

In addition, Pikeville is only city in Pike County that allows the sale of alcohol, a factor that Pikeville City Manager Philip Elswick said helps attract restaurants, students and professionals.

"It kind of puts you at a disadvantage of you don't (allow alcohol sales)," Elswick said. "As folks move here for jobs — professors, doctors, professionals that will be coming to work an Enerblu — those people expect those amenities to be available."

One of the reasons Pikeville has succeeded economically, Elswick said, is that the city sets new fiscal and quality-of-life goals every five years and develops formal strategies on how to achieve those goals. Dueling Barrels, he said, is an exciting addition to that process and the city's growing economy.

"Alltech is an . . . international brand, really, with great name recognition and a reputation for being top-notch, so having that in Pikeville has generated an enormous amount of excitement," Elswick said. He added that, for tourists, "it's a good way for people to see what we are without all the stereotypes and preconceived notions."

On a trip to Pikeville in 2013, Pearse Lyons saw that economic potential. He met with former Gov. Paul Patton, then-president of the University of Pikeville. The two bonded over their shared interest in seeing a prosperous future for the region.

According to his son, Lyons "saw Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia in a way he hadn't before."

Dueling Barrels gave Lyons the opportunity to bring economic diversity and prosperity to a region that he thought shared many similarities with his home country of Ireland. Lyons' home town, Dundalk, Ireland, is now Pikeville's designated "sister city," and officials from the two communities have met and shared notes on how to improve economic conditions in both places.

Branham said Lyons understood that Dueling Barrels was more than just a distillery. Lyons' excitement and optimism for the project, he said, was contagious.

"Just the energy he had … I mean, he just made you feel like you were doing something special and something grand," Branham said. "I really want to help in carrying that torch on and helping the people of Appalachia."

Will Wright is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Reach him at 859-270-9760, @HLWright