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Seacrets seeking license to distill spirits

(Feb. 13, 2015) Looking to increase production and lower overhead costs, Seacrets began what will likely be a lengthy legal process to distill spirits onsite in Ocean City.

The first step, clearing the state legislature, began when Sen. Jim Mathias [D-38] introduced SB 523 on Friday, Feb. 6, allowing for a limited craft distiller license in Worcester County.

“I’ve been working with some of the folks from Seacrets as to what their needs are, and I’ve been working with the industry as to what the industry would like to see,” Mathias said.

Seacrets had been outsourcing the distillation operations of an original line of spirits, including vodka, gin and light and dark rum, to Delaware Distilling in Rehoboth Beach.

“I’d rather put people to work here and I’d rather save the money by doing it on property,” Seacrets owner Leighton Moore said of the proposed move.

The distillery would go into the six-unit buildings on the left side of 49th Street, Moore said.

Seacrets also has a line of craft beer produced by Salisbury-based Evolution Craft Brewing Co. Moore said he has no plans to alter that arrangement.

Mathias is sponsoring the bill on the senate side, while Mary Beth Carozza [R-38C] is backing it in the House of Delegates.

“This bill has a positive local economic impact,” Carozza said. “Instead of Seacrets having to go to Delaware to distill its brand alcohol, this bill would allow limited production.”

Carozza said local breweries and wineries in the county have been granted similar hybrid licenses.

“I think it’s a smart bill and I think it has a good chance,” Mathias said. “This brings the capital investment and the jobs to Maryland and Worcester County. It also brings the additional opportunity of the destination to Maryland.

“As Seacrets continues to evolve and go forward, this is just another dynamic to what they’re doing,” Mathias continued. “I think it’s smart and we’re going to work every angle and every effort that we can to make sure this bill passes.”

Moore said the Seacrets line is selling well enough to consider increasing production, which would not be possible under the current arrangement with the Delaware facility.

“We’ve outstripped their ability as far as the size of their distillation plant,” Moore said. “Pretty much they’re just doing our product, and we need more product as it’s become more popular in the region.

“We’ll hopefully be able to get the law passed that’s been introduced to be enable us to up production, do it in Ocean City, be able to give distillery tours and have another attraction for the town and for Seacrets.”

If the bill passes the state legislature and is signed into law, Moore would then have to seek city and county approval, triggering a series of public hearings.

“The city hearing would be to enable people to understand it better, and the county would be for listing a distillery in Ocean City in conjunction with a D-class restaurant/bar,” Moore said, adding that county officials told him they would entertain the idea after it clears the state level.

“You start at the top and you have to work your way through all the governmental agencies to get you to the ability to start construction,” Moore said.

If passed, SB 523 would go into effect on July 1. Moore did not have a cost-estimate or a timeline for construction in mind.

“We have somebody that might be willing to be our distiller, but that’s not to say that we have made any final arrangements for that person or contractors because we don’t know if we would get slowed down or stopped at any level,” he said.

Last summer, OC Brewing Co. had a lengthy permitting battle with the city over construction on 56th Street. Moore does not anticipate a similar situation with the distillery.

“I think the problem that you have with breweries is different than you would have with a distillery,” he said. “With a brewery you have the hops and the yeast and there is an inherent smell. The smell is not, I hope, going to be a problem because there is very little, if any, smell in distillation.

“I believe the brewery also had to have large silos for those different ingredients to go into it, where with distillation you don’t have that vast quantity of ingredients that needs to be in silos,” Moore continued. “Those were the two things the immediate neighborhood would be concerned with.”

Moore said he and the staff at Seacrets are prepared to address any concerns that come up during state, county or city hearings.

“We do have neighbors and we’re always cognizant of their concerns and worries,” he said. “In the production of the design and the construction, anything that we think of that could be displeasing or a concern, or anything that anybody addresses to the different government agencies as a problem, we would try and remedy that onsite and in the plans before we started construction.”

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