BROOKVILLE — It’s expansion time for Blackbird Distillery.
The state’s first licensed moonshine distillery that opened in 2014 makes its product from start to finish with its own unique recipe. It started as a hobby for David Black Jr., then turned into a passion that has evolved into an impressive business model.
The business is located along Maplevale Road not far off the northern part of Allegheny Boulevard and Route 36. The location is ideal as travelers off Interstate 80 can easily find Blackbird, which is open seven days a week.
“It’s still a hobby, but it’s a lot of work,” said Black at Monday’s short shovel turning ceremony that included State Rep. Brian Smith and State Sen. Cris Dush along with Lara Bell, Vice President Senior Credit Officer of Clarion County Community Bank.
“We plan on turning dirt by the end of this week and our goal is to get under roof by winter,” Black said.
The 8,000-square-foot expansion plan basically moves Blackbird’s production plant into the addition with the retail space expanding into the current production room. The current layout, including the outdoor seating area, is 4,500 square feet.
“I think it’s going to be a huge attraction for the state and we get a lot of people off Interstate 80 with our signs,” said Jen Black, David’s wife who works on the retail end. “Most of our business is from people off Interstate 80 with our signs and locally as well.”
Right now, the facility does have some outdoor seating, but expansion could allow for the addition of inside seating, although details are yet to be worked out for exactly how Blackbird wants to best serve its customer base.
“It is wonderful to see this kind of thing happening in our community and I understand what’s said about not knowing quite where the business is going to go. I have my business background and own my own businesses,” said Smith. “You kind of grow where your customers take you. So you have ideas in your head, but as you grow, you just have to do what your customers want and hopefully get there some day. It’s a great deal to be here for the ground-breaking and I’m proud of them.”
Along with the moonshine, which features over 30 flavors, are smoked meats and cheeses, different canned goods, drink mixes and hot sauces.
Six employees are currently on the staff and Black says that they could easily employ 10 on the retail end. He said that Blackbird produces 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of alcohol a year. The business is licensed to produce up to 100,000 gallons annually. The current building set up is unable to get to that total and Black isn’t sure that’ll be the goal, but expansion was necessary.
David’s son Anthony serves a manager’s role at Blackbird and he outlined how the business relies on local resources for its material, such as bottles from Pittsburgh, all grains picked up locally including corn from a Corsica area farmer, who gets back the “mash” material left over from production and feeds his cows with it.
“I’m definitely excited about it and it’s pretty cool, especially over the last eight years and where it’s come so far,” Anthony Black said. “I was in college and dad mentioned opening a distillery and I thought that was pretty cool, but I wasn’t sure how great it would be and then when I worked here in the summer of 2013, it was like, ‘Wow, people like to drink alcohol.’”
The entire project is funded through Clarion County Community Bank.
“We love the hometown, the local people, supporting the area, growing our communities and providing the jobs, bringing the people in, growing in our areas and growing in the recreational side instead of industry-based any more,” said CCCB’s Bell. “Promoting that and being part of that is what we’re proud of.”
Dush echoed the thoughts of Smith and Bell, noting how Blackbird has been a strong part of the community.
“I’m excited for all three of these guys because they give back to the community constantly and they’re known (across the state),” Dush said. “I have legislators who stop here and have told me about the place. When COVID hit and there was a shortage of hand sanitizer, they graciously stepped up to the plate and provided alcohol to the area hospitals. They deserve the ability to expand and grow the business. They’re good partners in the community.”