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Illegal whiskey stills were once commonplace in the woods of St. Mary’s County during Prohibition and the decades afterward. Now the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau is requesting a zoning amendment to allow distilleries in rural areas.

The St. Mary’s County commissioners heard comment on the matter Tuesday.

George Baroniak of Dameron brought in an unopened bottle of rye whiskey made in Pikesville. “We used to have a very fine tradition in Southern Maryland. We made excellent whiskey. We’ve lost a very fine tradition in St. Mary’s County,” he said.

The zoning amendment would allow distilleries in the rural preservation district, the rural service area, the village mixed town use and more urban town mixed use zone.

A producer would need one license to manufacture the distilled spirits and another license to bottle it and sell it to a wholesaler, said Yvonne Chaillet, zoning administrator for the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management.

To comply with state law, “a distillery cannot hold special events or tours” as local wineries can, she said.

In the rural preservation district, the distiller must cultivate the grains on the property or elsewhere in St. Mary’s County and the maximum output is 27,500 gallons a year.

Joseph Wood, a Mechanicsville farmer, said he supports distilleries because it encourages the growing of local grain. Mainly, local grains are shipped to the Eastern Shore to feed poultry, but the industry is suffering there, he said.

Richard Copsey of Mechanicsville has been the driving force to start a distillery in St. Mary’s County and he said his neighbors have been interested in the project.

Baroniak said it’s unlikely a distillery is going to produce 27,500 gallons. It takes natural spring water with no iron to make rye whiskey and the number of farms with that amenity is “few and far between,” he said. Well or public water won’t do it.

Del. John F. Wood (D-St. Mary’s, Charles) said he would introduce legislation next year to allow distilleries to host events. “We all know it’s part of our heritage,” he said. “This will help the farmers some.”

Leonardtown farmer Robert Jarboe said his concern would be about the amount of traffic heading down a private lane to go to a distillery event.

The commissioners will take further public comment before making a decision.

jbabcock@somdnews.com