FORT ANN -- When the Lake George Distilling Co. opens for business later this year, it will be the first legal distillery in Washington County since Prohibition.
John and Robin McDougall have begun renovating the former Graves Brothers Construction building at 11262 Route 149 and expect to open their microdistillery in late summer or the fall, depending on how long the licensing process takes.
The business is part of a planned “second act” for the McDougalls, as John nears retirement eligibility in his career as a Verizon field technician. Robin is an engineer with Tech Valley Communications.
John McDougall said he has been brewing his own beer and wine for years.
“This is the next logical step, I think,” he said Wednesday, during a tour of the new space.
The distillery is working to get federal and state licenses, a process that couldn’t start until the McDougalls bought a building and a still.
The 2,000-square-foot structure is being renovated, and the still is on its way from the Vendome Copper & Brass Works Inc. in Louisville, Ky.
Paul McCarty, who has been the Fort Edward historian for nearly 40 years, said Wednesday that Washington County has a long relationship with illegal liquors, but the Route 149 distillery will be the first licensed business of its kind since at least Prohibition.
“A few people will chuckle who know, but basically, during Prohibition, our district attorney looked the other way, and it was really quite fun, because I knew his widow, and she used to say, ‘Every week, there was a bottle on the back stoop. I never could figure out where it came from, but it was always there on Saturday,’” McCarty said.
Once the Lake George Distilling Co. is open for business, there will be a tasting room and a gift shop. Visitors will be allowed to try three one-quarter-ounce samples of the moonshine and other spirits made there, the McDougalls said.
The tasting room will also have a large window, through which visitors can watch the distilling process in the production room.
“We’re going to start with a corn whiskey, which would be a moonshine,” John McDougall said.
Vodka and smoked corn whiskey, made with corn smoked on the premises, are also on the list of planned liquors, as are bourbon and rye, eventually.
“That’s my passion, really, is the bourbon and the rye,” John said. “But that’s down the road. You have to have something to sell to get a start — to keep yourself in business.”
The McDougalls chose the Route 149 location mainly for its traffic, they said. Their research showed the road carries about 9,000 vehicles a day, and it’s a main route to the Vermont ski region from downstate communities.
“Most of the people from New York City are used to microdistilleries down there, so they’re going to be kind of familiar,” John said. “So we thought this would be a good site to get those who are interested.”
Originally, the couple planned to open their business in Lake George. But they chose Fort Ann — the town does border the lake in places — after shopping around for locations.
“I’ve got to say, they’ve been very welcoming in Fort Ann,” Robin said. “They’ve bent over backwards to help us; (town Supervisor) Darlene Dumas and the Planning Board have been great.”
Once production begins, the McDougalls hope to sell their liquors at area stores and restaurants. They’re also planning to host bottling events and offer opportunities for patrons to learn how a distillery works.
Whenever possible, they plan to use local corn and New York State barley in their process, John said.
The distillery will also take advantage of New York state’s new “farm distilleries” law, signed by Cuomo in October. The legislation gives microdistilleries in the state the same rights as wineries and breweries to sell their products at fairs and farmers markets throughout the state.
“That’s definitely in our plans,” John said. “You might see us in Glens Falls at the farmers market and at Saratoga.”