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Agents inspect distillery
No moonshine found on site
3 ATF Visits pic
ATF agents arrived in Dawsonville early Friday morning after receiving tips that moonshine was available at a distillery exhibit. - photo by Stephanie Griffin Dawson Community News

Federal agents reportedly paid a surprise visit to downtown Dawsonville early Friday, ready to shut down what they had been told was an active moonshine operation.

Instead, the agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives left several hours later after determining the alleged tip was false.

Attempts to reach the ATF were unsuccessful.

The situation began Friday morning.

Betty McGehee, utility billing clerk for the city of Dawsonville, said two ATF agents came into city hall and asked to see the owner of Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery and the Moonshine Festival organizer.

The turn of events surprised Calvin Byrd, president of KARE for Kids, which organizes the Mountain Moonshine Festival.

"I thought I was going to jail," Byrd said. "About four hours later, after the ATF looked around, we were all clear and everything was fine."

Dwight Bearden, who will oversee operations once the distillery opens in a 6,500-square-foot space in city hall, said the agents had apparently received complaints that moonshine was being made there.

A crew had unloaded the still about 2 p.m. Thursday in anticipation of the weekend festival, which pays homage to Dawsonville's storied bootlegging past.

Operation permits are still pending, but Bearden and owner Cheryl Wood had planned to offer tours of the distillery during the 44th annual event. There were no plans to serve moonshine.

In fact, state law prohibits providing samples of distilled spirits. It also forbids distillers from selling spirits on site.

The liquor must be sold to a distributor, who would then sell the alcohol to consumers.

"We had to roll the doors down," Bearden said. "[The ATF agents] wouldn't allow us to show the still, but we've got nothing hooked up.

"We don't even have the boiler yet. It's running about two months behind."

Agents searched the building and examined the inoperable machine.

"We went through all the building, and they found no moonshine here," Bearden said. "About 4 o'clock [Friday afternoon] we actually got to open the roll up doors so the people can see the still."

Bearden, a fourth-generation moonshiner, said it will be a couple more months before the distillery opens. It will feature recipes that have been passed down over the years.

"I learned from my daddy, who learned it from his daddy. Back then, they done it to actually survive," he said. "Today, we're making it to put legal moonshine made in Dawsonville in liquor stores."