PHELPS, N.Y. (WROC) — 10 months ago, funeral director Peter Cheney was fresh off of his win of “Master Distiller.” The Phelps native made a promise that he was working on crafting a distillery of his own. This past weekend, he ended his chase of “smokin’ tails,” and opened a distillery with a name that ties him to moonshiners of old.
The name, “Smokin’ Tails Distillery,” pays homage to the name of old moonshiners across the US. The bandits of bourbon, menaces of moonshine, and villains of vodka, would run from the cops so fast their rides would leave a spirit trail of thick burnt rubber smoke.
But while Cheney connects himself to tradition, there is one important distinction to his business:
“We are legal as far a distillery,” Cheney said over Zoom.
They have a handful of spirits available at his distillery only, and between Cheney and his son Tom they have manpower to keep up.
“We have Apple Pie, Sinister Cinnamon (their take on Fireball), rye whiskey, we also have the four grain that I did on the show, and we have a raspberry vodka,” he said.
They are also working on a bourbon.
But this creation of Smokin’ Tails taps into his most valuable resource; beyond his TV fame, the dedication to his craft, or the income from his day job (which he still runs full time) of being a funeral director.
It’s the community.
“To us, that’s what this is about,” he said. “Community involvement, other local businesses, supporting each other.”
He only started this side business because some of his buddies at the lake egged him on to open a distillery. He said that none of these guys drink liquor.
“The only stuff we’ll drink is your’s,” he said.
He said he did enough paperwork at the funeral home. He acquiesced, and would eventually bog himself down in more paperwork.
For Cheney, getting the paperwork done from the state. They only gave him 15 days to get everything together — after some COVID delays, naturally — but little did he know what they actually meant:
“Oh, and by the way, you have to have your tasting room completed,” he said.
Cheney was stunned, but called a friend who owns a mill. They took black walnut, and milled every single piece of wood that you can see in the new tasting room. Cheney said most of the wives in the family even all learned to sand the wood.
“We finished the whole place in 13 days,” he said.
But once they opened, the support continued. Opening weekend, Cheney said he had calls from all across the country, from New England to Kentucky, asking if they can have the goods shipped — a process Cheney is still ironing out — and he had a line out the door of people from all across the state.
“We even had someone from West Virginia,” Cheney said. “It’s humbling to think that people are that interested in our distillery.”
He was running down to only five or six bottles total for some of his most popular spirits. He says he can keep up for now, and says its his most important goal:
“I’m interested that everything that comes off the still is high quality. If it’s not good enough, it’s not going out,” he said.
But his sell rate is nothing like the Apple Pie Moonshine cupcakes.
“The first day, we sold out in ten minutes,” he said.
Which is another local connection; a local woman who did the Cheney’s wedding called up, and wanted to help. She ended making cupcakes that sell like… Well, hot cakes.
But big picture, Cheney says that he’s happy to big part of something bigger.
“Phelps is becoming a destination.,” he said. “You’ve got Crafty Ales and Lagers right around the corner from us, we have the Waterside Wine Bar right down the street from us, and then there a new place called Local Palate, which has all farm fresh foods.”
He says it’s perfect for a COVID safe trip. If you’re looking to get some smokin’ tails yourself.