CRESTVIEW — Moonshining is a north Okaloosa County tradition dating back to the 1800s. Within the next two weeks, the county's first lawful distillery will open.
Peaden Brothers Distillery owners Tyler and Trey Peaden and Robbie Ellis operate their modest 100-gallon still in a specially constructed room behind the lobby of the Fox Theatre on Main Street.
Where popcorn's aroma once filled the air, the cinema's locally famous circular lobby now has a new corn-based scent: fermenting mash.
The partners say their enterprise serves many functions, including continuing regional heritage, benefiting charities, preserving a Main Street landmark and drawing visitors to Crestview's historic district.
The distillery's copper 100-gallon Rocky Point still arrived from Boaz, Ky., with serial number 06993-1. The "-1" indicates it is the company's first still. The first five digits hold special significance.
It's Tyler Peaden's late daughter's birth date.
Alana Michelle Peaden was 20 when she died last fall from juvenile diabetes. In her memory, the still is fondly referred to as "Miss Alana."
"She's been like our chess master from up above to make everything happen," Tyler said.
The distillery plans to host at least two annual fundraisers benefiting juvenile diabetes research. Other charities will also benefit from the new downtown business.
Ellis said he and his partners each hold 33 percent shares in the distillery, leaving a 1 percent share remaining.
"Every year on our (grand opening) anniversary, we're going to take 1 percent of the profits, whether it's $10 or $10,000, and give it to charity," Ellis said.
Each partner in turn will choose the charity, he said.
Tyler said the trio hopes their company will also serve as a catalyst to make downtown Crestview a visitor destination.
"I hope this is a seed for growth, instead of just, 'I stopped to get a hamburger on my way to Destin,'" he said.
The partners' lease will also jumpstart the Fox Theatre's long restoration process, Tyler said, adding it would take "two or three lifetimes to recoup" a private investor's renovation funds.
The distillery occupies only the lobby and a small part of the auditorium, where refurbishment could continue while the distillery operates, he said.
Tyler said he and his partners understand some residents disapprove of the local moonshine tradition, but by "being upfront with everything," they have received nearly 900 likes on Facebook and no negative comments.
"We don't have anything hidden," he said.
State law precludes Peaden Brothers Distillery visitors from annually buying more than two bottles of Fox 382 Moonshine — named for the theatre and its address — or Odahite Rye Reserve.
"But they can pick it up as much as they want in the store," Tyler Peaden said.
The partners are discussing distribution agreements with area liquor stores, and are finalizing an agreement in Montreal, where Ellis lives when not back in his native Crestview.
Even if they've reached their two-bottle limit, visitors can browse Peaden Brothers Distillery merchandise including T-shirts, baseball caps, beverage sleeves, shot glasses and mugs in the Fox lobby.
The partners plan to let Facebook followers know when they'll be distilling their latest batches so visitors can watch. Giving back to fans, supporters and the community is important, they said.
"We've been very blessed and very fortunate to have so many supporters," Tyler said.
WANT TO GO?
Peaden Brothers Distillery has set a tentative March 1 opening at 382 Main St., Crestview