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Rum micro-distillery to join King’s Tavern restaurant, gift shop

NATCHEZ — Natchez’s first rum micro-distillery could soon be coming to downtown.

Local businessman Doug Charboneau and his son Jean Luc are planning to open a rum micro-distillery in the building that formerly housed King’s Tavern bar on Jefferson Street.

The business will be separate from the restaurant and specialty gift shop Charboneau’s wife, Regina, is opening in the former King’s Tavern restaurant location. The gift shop will sell craft liquors, including rum from the distillery.

Doug Charboneau said he plans to appear before the Natchez Planning Commission next week seeking approval for a text amendment to the city’s development code to add micro-distillery and micro-winery to the definition of micro-brewery and allow the businesses in the B-2 and B-4 districts in the city.

Micro-breweries are currently allowed in the city code in the B-3 and both waterfront districts, City Planner Frankie Legaux said. The text amendment would expand the definition of micro-brewery to include distilleries and wineries, Legaux said.

A micro-distillery, also called a craft distillery, produces spirits in relatively small quantities. Charboneau said by industry standards, a distillery is considered a micro-distillery if it produces 40,000 or fewer cases a year.

“We will be doing a lot less than that,” he said. “If we do 3,000 cases a year, we’ll be doing well.”

Charboneau said after meeting with Mayor Butch Brown and Legaux about the potential distillery, Legaux suggested that the city add the micro-distillery to a list of changes to the city code that will be proposed publicly in September or October.

The city is currently in the process of updating its code with consultant Phil Walker of the Walker Collaborative to tailor the code to fit the city’s needs.

Charboneau’s business would be located in the B-2 district.

“But he’s right across the street from a B-3 (business),” Legaux said.

Several areas in downtown are like that, Legaux said, because downtown Natchez has expanded over the years as more businesses have moved in.

“A lot of towns started out with micro-breweries (in their codes) and realized micro-distilleries and micro-wineries are very similar in the way they’re done in that there’s not really an increase in traffic because it doesn’t take that many people to run it,” Legaux said. “And they’re very good for downtown areas.”

Charboneau said he is anxious to get his business going and decided to go ahead and seek approval for the text amendment.

Charboneau said micro-distilleries, micro-breweries and micro-wineries are popping up in downtowns across the country and are part of a growing trend.

Charboneau said his distillery will be very similar to that of Richland Rum, which is an artisan distillery located in historic downtown Richland, Ga.

In addition to producing rum, the micro-distillery will be open for tours when it is not operating, Charboneau said.

A new state law that the governor signed in March allows distilleries to provide visitors 21 and older free samples, Charboneau said. Visitors are limited to four samples of a quarter-ounce each in a 24-hour period.

Charboneau said he has wanted to open a distillery for more than 20 years.

“Ever since we had good rum in the islands and toured (the) Bacardi (factory) in San Juan, (Puerto Rico),” he said.

The micro-distillery will produce white rum in the beginning and age rum in oak barrels to be sold at a later date, Charboneau said.

With Old South Winery in Natchez and the potential micro-distillery in Natchez, Charboneau said the city would only need a micro-brewery to be possibly the only city in the country where visitors could tour all three in one day.

“If we had (a micro-brewery), we would literally be on the map as the only place where you could see all three in a day,” he said.

If the planning commission approves the text amendment, work will begin to gut the building and renovate it to bring the building up to code and current technological standards, Charboneau said.

If everything goes as planned, the micro-distillery  could open in the first quarter of next year, Charboneau said.