Chattanooga Whiskey's downtown distillery opening delayed until 2015

Chattanooga Whiskey's downtown distillery opening delayed until 2015

March 25th, 2014 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Joe Ledbetter, left, and Tim Piersant are the founders of Chattanooga Whiskey Co.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

The plan to manufacture Chattanooga Whiskey here in the Scenic City has suffered another delay.

After more than three years, two separate site plans and one statewide political campaign aimed at legalizing the distillation of whiskey in Chattanooga, backers will push back the opening of the Tennessee Stillhouse until spring 2015 due to lingering legal and planning complications.

Though the company succeeded in its effort to repeal Tennessee's Prohibition-era laws that prevented the distillation of spirits in Chattanooga, the building is on hold until final plans are complete and the city signs off on construction.

Even after canceling a planned New Year's party in order to fully concentrate on the new distilery, the company is still coping with the challenge of transforming the hulking former car dealership at 329 Market St. into a full-fledged whiskey distillery and tourist attraction.

"The architectural plans are nearly complete, now we're on the mechanical, electrical and plumbing phase," said Tim Piersant, co-founder of Chattanooga Whiskey.

Chattanooga Whiskey, which today is distilled in Indiana, last week released a rendering of its planned headquarters at the corner of Broad Street and 4th Street, the second time the company has released such a rendering after a previous plan to distill in a Southside warehouse was scrapped in 2013.

Despite the apparent progress on designing the steel and glass structure, demolition still hasn't started at the new downtown site, the refurbishment of which was originally expected to cost north of $6 million and finish in Fall 2014. Architect Thomas Palmer's plans were originally slated to be complete by March 1, with demolition to be already underway. But that hasn't happened.

The city has also contributed to delays, taking longer than expected to integrate the new state liquor law into local zoning ordinances, even with Chattanooga's former chief operating officer pushing the change from his new position as president of Chattanooga Whiskey.

The company says it's trying to minimize the number of days that workers must close down the roads around the building by waiting until construction plans are complete, then tackling both demolition and construction as quickly as possible to minimize disruption downtown.

Chattanooga Whiskey plans to build a new distillery, christened the Tennessee Stillhouse, in the heart of the Scenic City's tourist district. The building, slated to open in spring 2015, will feature a renovated exterior and interior.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

"We're hoping to start construction and demolition by the end of spring," said Ashley Danford, brand manager at Chattanooga Whiskey.

The company will initially use about 30,000 square feet of the 60,000-square-foot building for the distillation of whiskey and for an attraction founders are calling the "whiskey experience," while the rest will consist of office space.

The first floor will contain a gift shop, and guests will be able to tour production facilities as well as a historical exhibit on the first and second floor. Barrel aging will take place on the third floor, and the fourth floor will be a tasting room.

As Chattanooga Whiskey takes over production in its namesake city from from Lawrenceburg, Ind.-based Midwest Grain Products Ingredients sometime in 2015, the new downtown distillery will begin using a 30-foot copper still handmade by Vendome Copper & Brass Works, Inc., which also makes tanks for Jack Daniels, Makers Mark and Jim Beam distilleries.

That still, along with four 2,700-gallon fermentation tanks and countless white American oak barrels, will make up the core of the 50-employee Tennessee Stillhouse in downtown Chattanooga. Moving forward, Chattanooga Whiskey will exist among a number of other brands manufactured by the Tennessee Stillhouse, the company's founders say.

"The process has taken longer than we originally anticipated, but this could have not gone more smoothly than it has," said co-founder Joe Ledbetter.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or esmith@timesfreepress.com with tips and documents.