Colin Fultz, Miner, Construction Worker, Entrepreneur, Owner/Kentucky Mist Moonshine (Opening September 2015); Whitesburg, Kentucky:
“I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve been to a lot of different places, but I always come back to here. It’s just a small town atmosphere, I guess.
I think everybody’s kind and gracious. In a lot of places you go to, you don’t get that. You don’t feel as welcome, or the people is pushy, trying to sell you stuff. Here it’s not like that. You can walk up and down the street, and if you want to go in somewhere, it’s fine, and if not, that’s fine.
I travel quite a bit. I like the Caribbean a lot, but I’ve not really lived nowhere, but here. I spend a lot of time in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
I was in Barbados a couple of weeks ago, and I didn’t think I’d be so happy to see Miami. I kind of felt like I was home when I got to Miami. (Laughs) But when I got to where I could really see the mountains, I was like, ahhh, I was relieved. When I crossed from Virginia into Kentucky, I was glad to be home.
[Growing up] we all had dirt bikes. We rode dirt bikes and played in the mountains. A lot of people would visit [and it would be] just kids hanging out, playing football and stuff like that.
I didn’t go to college. My father was always into construction, and he laid brick and block for people. When I got eighteen, I got married, and started working for him. I’d grown up working for him my whole life. I got a job underground at a coal mine, and that was in August or September of ’89, and I worked underground for, I guess, about six years.
I started my own contracting business that done underground contracting work, and I still do that today. We rent self-storage units, and my wife does a drug-testing company, and then, it just kind of evolved from that.
The six years that I did work underground, I worked for a place called Golden Oak Mining, and then I worked at a place called Reedco. I was eighteen, and a relative of my wife’s gave me a job. It kindly got me started underground, and then I was real ambitious, so I started work on the side for other mines. That is my career, I would say, contracting for other mines.
It was just because someone gave me a break, and asked me to do a job, and knew that my dad was in construction, and it kind of got me into the business. It got into me hiring a lot of people, and doing that a lot. And then in 1995, I quit working underground for anybody else, and just started working for myself fulltime doing contract work.
I worked for my Dad, outside doing contract work, building houses and stuff like that. It was much easier going underground. I didn’t have to worry about getting wet. I didn’t have to worry about it being too hot or too cold. To me, it was a lot better. I got more money. I stepped up.
Underground work, I love it, and I consider myself a coal miner. I have foreman papers and and I still keep all my training and stuff up. But you know, I’ll probably never really work underground again, but I still consider myself a coal miner.
We done one of the mines that exploded. I forget what year it was, but it was Kentucky Darby Mines, in Harlan County, and we went, and put some seals back. I’ve had a few little scrapes. I got hurt there just a little bit, building some seals back for ‘em. A rock fell on my leg, but nothing major, no real accidents.
Everybody’s moving, and everybody’s looking for different things to do. It’s just a hard time right now. They’re looking for alternative income because the economy is so bad. Even some of my family has moved for work to Western Kentucky. It’s just a hard time for coal right now, and I don’t see it getting any better anytime soon.
Everybody in Whitesburg seems like they’re motivated to try to try to make something happen here, like they’re interested in doing different. Everybody’s been very supportive of me in the venture. It just seems like they want something more here. They’re wanting tourism and everything.
[I will be opening a distillery called] Kentucky Mist Moonshine. We’re going to make flavored moonshine and regular moonshine, corn whiskey, and a lot of different things. We’re going to make, and we’ll be able to distribute and sell. We’ll be able to sell from the store here, and distribute nationwide.
My personal history was my grandfather. He always made moonshine, and he spent a lot of time in prison over moonshine, about eighteen years. He was in Atlanta Federal Prison for quite awhile. He was there when Al Capone was in Atlanta, before he got transferred to Alcatraz. To people here, it’s just a way of life. That was something that they could do for income, and a lot of families here done that. When I first started this, even my Mom and them, they don’t really want to talk about it. It’s kind of like a black mark in their past. I think it’s great. I mean I love it. I love listening to the stories. This is gold, what they tell you. My grandpa would load up the kids in the car, and fill the back full of moonshine when he needed to transport it, because he said the police would never stop a carload of kids.
[What makes moonshine different is] the process of making the mash. It’s how you go about that, and the temperature that you get right. Moonshine that we’ve got today is not what your grandpa made. What my grandpa made, he done it to make money. He didn’t care about how good it was. What I’m trying to make is something that’s clean, and I can mix with fruit and stuff like that. But you know, the old timers, they made it strictly from corn, because they didn’t have access to sugar cane, or any other kind of grains. They used corn, and you get a real strong flavor from a corn whiskey.
Water is important. We get our water straight from the City here. Our local water here, is really good water. The only thing is you sometimes need a sediment filter, or some kind of filter. The water’s great, and the better quality stuff you put in, the better you’re going to get from it.
The building was built [in] the early 1900’s, and was originally a car dealership. Where we’re sitting right now, with the windows in front, this was their showroom. And then they worked on vehicles in the basement. It was called KYVA Motor Company. You can still see the name a little bit on the outside of the building. After they had this one, I guess they grew, so they built a building next door, which is this building over here, and that was their showroom. So they moved, and then they just turned this whole place into the service center. Through the years, it’s been all kinds of other things. When I got the deal from the City, I’m turning it into a distillery.
The room we’re in right now is the distillery room. These doors are closed. They’ll be closed all the time. This is going to be the storage area back here, and those two, the rooms here with the air conditioning units on top, that’s the bathrooms. This is going to be the gift shop area here, and the tasting bar over here. Then, we’ll be able to keep all the moonshine behind the bar.
Seems like stuff just comes to people [getting] opportunities to do things. I just come up with the idea. Well, my grandfather made the moonshine, I guess, to start with. So I got interested in it that way. And I was like, you know, my family never would talk about it and this or that. But I kept getting interested in it, so I decided I was going to buy me a still, try to do that myself. So I did, and I got to where I was making it, and friends was wanting it.
One day, I just said, well, my wife had been onto me about it, ‘You’re going to get in trouble over that.’ And I was like, ‘No, I don’t make nothing.’ I said, ‘I’ll just check and see how hard it is to get my license to do this.’ I called an attorney friend, and I said, ‘Could you check on that, and see how hard it would be for me to get my license? ‘Cause I have a place, a barn at home, I was planning on using.’
I thought he would call me back in a week or two. Well, he called me back the same day. He said, ‘I’ve checked on it. You know it wouldn’t be that difficult for you to get your license. If you done it within the city limits, you could have a gift shop and a tasting bar. If you do it anywhere it’s dry, you can only have the distillery and distributing.’ So he said, ‘Would you be interested in doing it in Whitesburg?’
I said, ‘Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t care, that would be great, but I don’t have a place.’ He said, ‘Well, what if the City helped you with a building? And then it kind of come from that.
The City kind of let us look at the building and then we started doing it. We’re getting close, but it’s been a hard job. The building was in such bad shape. At one time, they wanted to tear the building down, and put something else here, and then it was put on as a historical building.
I’m hoping to open the first or middle of September. At first, a lot of people didn’t want the distillery here. We had a little opposition about that. I think it’s going to be great for tourists. If somebody’s driving by, and they know there’s a distillery here, it will probably bring ‘em downtown. But some people, if they even try it, if they’re even close, like they’re in Pikeville or Hazard or something they’ll probably come here. So I think it will be good for the economy.
Right now, we’re focusing on the selling it from the distillery, but we’ve talked to a distributor for Kentucky. We’ve not ventured past that. We want to get open, and get a stockpile made. Then, we can move on to something different, because we’re just a small distillery.
A lot of the distilleries today, they don’t even make the alcohol they’re selling. They’ll buy the alcohol, and then they’ll flavor it with some kind of artificial flavoring. What we’re going to do is a little bit different. All of our flavors will be real fruit, infused real fruit. It’s a little bit more work, but I think it’s a little better quality in the end. But everything that you taste from here, will be made here. We won’t buy anything from anybody else, and resell it.
I just hope everybody sticks to what they’re wanting to do right now, and everything keeps growing, and don’t let the coal business get ‘em down, because it’s so bad. They’re just going to have to find other things to do, to make a living here.
Starting out we’re thinking like four or five people [will be employed there], and then we’ll just see from there, and we really don’t know, until we decide on the hours we’re going to be open, and how we’re going to run the still. It will have a lot to do with that. Yeah. I’ll have to run the still. Oh, I’ll have to run the still, for sure. (Laughs)
I hope that it will help the economy, and we’re going to do kind of like a consignment shop in our gift shop so that people that has stuff like honey, that wants to sell here, they’ll be able to. I’ve talked to quite a few people at the farmer’s market that makes stuff. We’re going to let ‘em sell their stuff here, and I think it’ll be good. I mean it will help. It will help us, and it will help everybody, too. We’ll have arts and crafts, [and] we’ve had people from spaghetti sauce to books, a little bit of everything. So anybody that has something to sell, that we can help ‘em with, we’ll probably let ‘em set it up, and we’ll try to sell it here in the gift shop.
We’re going to get a lot of people just coming in to tour the distillery, but they’ll be able to see a lot of local stuff that is made here, too, in the gift shop.”