Family Affair

Neeley family to open distillery near Sparta and Ky. Speedway

Their roots go deep in distilling tradition
in Owsley Co., Ky.

SPARTA, Ky. (July 2017) – You could say that distilling moonshine is in Royce Neeley’s blood. He is a descendant of a long line of moonshiners from Owsley County, Ky. ­– located way down in the hills of eastern Kentucky where running ‘shine and feuding over turf with rival families was a way of life. In fact, the Neeley and Allen families, particularly, have a long history of notorious feuds and gunfights and outright shootouts.
Royce Neeley grew up Owen County, Ky., a far cry from the hills and gunfights of eastern Kentucky. But he knows the stories well and is eager to retell them to visitors. So when the 25-year-old Neeley graduated from Transylvania University in 2013, he and his family decided to capitalize on their 11 generations of family history and knowledge of distilling spirits by opening the Neeley Family Distillery in Gallatin County.

Photo provided

The Neeley family are (from left) assistant distiller Earl Sizemore, Royce Neeley and his parents, Roy and Michele Neeley.

Royce’s father, Roy, 52, used his expertise in construction to build a beautiful knotty pine wood building at the entrance of the Kentucky Speedway on Exit 55 of I-71 on a 10-acre tract of land near Sparta. After more than a year of construction and several lifetimes of distilling heritage, the Neeleys plan to open their new distillery July 1, just in time for the NASCAR race weekend at the track. One wall inside the visitors’ center and tasting room features old newspaper accounts, family photos and even an actual rifle and pistol used by his ancestors to shoot and kill their enemies back in Owsley County. There’s also one of his great-grandfather’s makeshift still on display in the corner of the room.
“We think this location will be ideal for attracting race fans and to capitalize on auto racing’s long history with moonshine runners down in eastern Kentucky. That’s how NASCAR got started,” Royce Neeley said. He added that in July they plan to apply to join the Kentucky Craft Bourbon Trail to help generate publicity about their new venture.
Royce says he is half owner of the distillery and his parents – Roy and Michele Neeley own the other half. Michele previously owned and operated a hair salon, Clippers Corner, in Warsaw, but she gave it up to devote her full attention to bookkeeping and greeting customers at the new distillery. Royce’s grandfather on his mother’s side, Earl Sizemore, serves as assistant distiller. It is truly a family run enterprise with much family pride at stake.
The Neeleys are working feverishly to finish distilling and bottling their first barrel-proof bourbon and 120-proof moonshine in six different various flavors in time for the July 6-8 NASCAR races. In all, they have 14,000 bottles to finish before race weekend. Royce takes pride in saying their first bourbon will be made exclusively from local grains, yeast and water, with the residue going back to a local farmer in Gallatin County. They even have one yeast strand from their native Owsley County from which they plan to make a future bourbon.

Photo by Don Ward

Roy Neeley built this Visitors Center that also contains the tasting room, bar, gift shop and distilling area in back.

The Neeleys also have partnered with an experience master blender from Georgetown, Ky., David Adams, 45, who is using the new distillery to create a bourbon blend and an American whiskey blend – both of which will be bottled and sold at the Neeley Family Distillery under the family’s name. Adams previously owned and operated his own distillery in Georgetown called Old Georgetown Spirits. He said he sold the distillery to concentrate more on blending and marketing his specialty spirits. He says he has made a $500,000 investment in his blending enterprise at the Neeley distillery. “This will be our home base,” he said.
Adams is ready to begin bottling his two blends at the Neeley facility. In addition to being sold at Neeley Family Distillery, the blends will be marketed throughout the United States, he said. “Our primary market is not Kentucky but rather states like Florida, Ohio, Indiana and Texas. Bourbon is growing in popularity in those states. These blends are at the high end of the price range for whiskeys,” Adams said. “The bourbon will top $90 per bottle, and the American whiskey will go for $75.”
Adams says he future plans include creating and marketing imported rums, Irish whiskey, scotch and other spirits. “We hope to also enter our spirits in contests to add to our marketing and promotion. We will be selling all kinds of products here.”
“We buy whiskeys from various locations throughout the United States and blend them out until we think it is perfect,” Adams said. “Each one is different, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. Then we go make a second batch.”
Visitors to the distillery will be treated with free tastings and tours. The distillery visitors’ center features a bar and gift shop, and indoor and outdoor sitting areas. Gift shop products include such things as bourbon balls, herbs and spices smoked and blended in bourbon, and some bourbon inspired jewelry made in Bardstown, Ky. They plan to have a food truck on site on weekends and during special events.

David Adams

Royce said he expects to sell out of all his family’s bourbon and possibly the moonshine during the NASCAR race week. “We expect a big crowd, considering we are right on the door step of the Kentucky Speedway and on the way to Belterra Casino over in Indiana.”
They also will cater to large groups that want to rent the space or a large 40x40 tent for events, such as reunions, weddings and other social events, Royce said. “We already have our first class reunion,” he said.
Royce has two younger sisters and a younger brother, but they are not involved in the distillery venture, he said. But they do have a crew of his father’s and Royce’s friends to pitch in and help in the mass production and bottling operation when the time comes.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Royce said.

• The Neeley Family Distillery is located at 4360 Hwy. 1130, just off Hwy. 1039 at Exit 55 of I-71 near Sparta, Ky. For more information call (859) 394-3258 or visit their Facebook page.

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