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Micro-distilleries get OK in Kendall

Vodkempties in5-gallcontainer small distillery northern Illinois. | Sun-Times MediFile

Vodka empties into a 5-gallon container at a small distillery in northern Illinois. | Sun-Times Media File

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Updated: March 27, 2013 6:06AM

YORKVILLE — Micro-distilleries have gotten the OK to set up shop in Kendall County.

The County Board has approved allowing such operations with a special use in an A-1 agricultural zoning district or in a B-3 highway business district, or without a special use in M-1 or M-2 manufacturing districts.

The move paves the way for Three Angels Brewery, which already operates a nano-brewery at Ashley and Caton Farm roads, to apply for a special use for a micro-distillery in the county, at the same location as the brewery.

They board is expected to vote on the application in March.

It would be the first distillery in the county. Or at least the first legal distillery in the county.

That’s a key distinction, because history suggests there have been plenty of distilleries in Kendall County that were, ahem, off the books.

It is, after all, a county with lots of open spaces, isolated areas and corn.

While distilling liquor for sale without the proper licenses and permits is considered moonshining, even today, the real heyday for moonshining was during Prohibition.

And Kendall County had plenty of that back in the day.

“Oh, absolutely,” said Roger Matile, a Kendall County historian who writes a weekly history column in the Kendall County Record newspapers. “There was a lot of it around here. The revenuers and the sheriff would close them down, and they’d pop up again somewhere else.”

For example, Matile pointed to a newspaper article from March 28, 1923, detailing the Kendall County sheriff and his deputies finding “one of the biggest stills ever found in this part of the country in one place and a large supply of beer and whisky in another … . ”

The large supply of beer and whiskey was found in Plano, run by Stanley VanKirk and Charles VanKirk, who was better known as “Bumps.” Also charged in connection to the raid was “Pidge” Robbins, according to the news story.

The still was found on the John P. Schickler farm, known as the Paul Hawley farm, north of Oswego on the west side of the river. Schickler had been a saloon owner and operator before prohibition who switched to farming.

“Here, on Monday morning, the officers found a modern still working at full tilt turning out alcohol,” the article said. “The still was of 23 gallon capacity a day, connected to a pump operated by electricity for cooling and assisted by a special gas arrangement.”

For the record, since the new ordinance approved by the County Board says a micro-distillery can produce as much as 15,000 gallons a year, that big still would have been considered a micro-distillery.

On Oct. 15, 1930, federal prohibition agents made a raid on “a huge still on what is known as the Independent Farm, about a mile east of Plano within a quarter of a mile of Route 18 (now Route 34),” the newspaper wrote.

In 1931, there are reports of raids on a corn crib three miles southeast of Yorkville, and a raid on a still four miles east of Plattville, in NaAuSay Township.

Matile said while there were some big still operations in Kendall County, the real money in that time was in buying denatured alcohol and processing it into what was considered drinkable alcohol.

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