Drop Zone Distillery, Knoxville, November 2022 (Photo by Heather Ryerson)
(Today’s article is by guest writer Heather Ryerson)
Step into Drop Zone Distillery and you will instantly understand its name and a bit more about it’s owner. Rod Parton served 8 years in the Army as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne division and he is also a Gulf War Veteran, reaching the rank of sergeant before the end of his military career. He spent 28 years in law enforcement and 3 years as a fireman on the dive and recovery team in Blount County. In his company’s logo, you will see his commitment to the servicemen and women he still honors.
Rod began learning the trade of moonshine distilling when he was barely 14 years old. And though his full-time gig was law enforcement, “shining” was always something he loved and had done on the side.
Rod is a fourth-generation moonshiner using and building on his great-grandpappy’s 3 grain recipe that dates back to 1934. The Legacy Moonshine is his grandfather’s recipe and Granny’s Apple Pie Moonshine is straight from his grandmother’s kitchen. After getting tired of the boys having all the fun, she asked for some moonshine to make her own blend to serve the ladies while they were quilting. I can attest to its smoothness and the real apple pie flavors with each sip. Rod uses fresh fruits to make many of his shines.
Drop Zone Distilling is leased to take a 6,000 sq ft. space in Kern’s Food Hall when it opens in 2023. The space will have a performance stage, bar, tasting pods big enough to seat a group. They will also serve classic comfort food that pairs well with their products in addition to cocktails and the moonshine they produce.
For now, you can head out to his 1,800 sq ft tasting room and distillery on E. Gov. John Sevier Hwy to choose your favorite moonshine or spirit and get to know Rod and his award-winning Master Distiller, Ross Miller. As you walk in, you will see photos and memorabilia that pay homage to Rod’s paratrooping days as well as his commitment to supporting law enforcement. There is merchandise for purchase as well as the shelves of moonshine, rum, vodka and Salted Caramel Whiskey.
The bar is a glass-topped display case filled with law enforcement and military service organization patches. A window into the distilling room reveals a view of their 300 gallon still and area they use to process the ingredients to make their products from start to finish. They do their own distilling, bottling, and labeling and will continue to produce their products in house to preserve the integrity of the process and keep it small batch.
They currently have 7 moonshines with varying strengths and flavors. All of us Vols fans can get behind the Volunteer Spirit moonshine that is flavored with a hint of orange. His most recent is Legacy 110. Rod has also been working on a classic rum that is now available. He spent time in St. Martin several years ago and learned how to flavor his rum the Caribbean way, and he plans to do a coconut, mocha and spiced rum soon. There is a potential for an apple rum as well and even a gin in the future.
He also intends to produce bourbon and other whiskeys as soon as next year. These will be marketed under the franchise name of “Pappy Parton’s” to honor his own grandpappy and his moniker as “Pappy” to his granddaughter, with of course, his own last name.
Their vodka is distilled 21 times and has already been put up against Tito’s and Kettle with positive results. I was impressed with the product and each of the flavors I could identify in the drink. If you think about the kid that got a chemistry set for Christmas and loves experimenting with his new toy, you get a sense of how much fun Rod is having with his still and playing around with new flavors.
An important aspect of the business is the ability to be a give-back business. Sales from three different products currently benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, Folds of Honor, Thin Blue Line of Tennessee, and Thin Red Line of Tennessee are the groups supported at this time.
Drop Zone Distillery offer tours and tastings at no cost, but I challenge you to do a tasting and walk out without at least one new favorite. They will have a grand opening celebration on December 16th at 1pm. In the meantime, they are offering some Christmas shopping deals that require a visit the distillery.