UPDATE: The Etowah City Commission voted Monday night to prohibit the distillation of liquor inside city limits, according to a news report. See more about the commission's action in Thursday's Times Free Press.
Longtime residents of Etowah, Tenn., remember Coca-Cola being bottled in a plant downtown that had big windows overlooking the whole process.
"There's a lot people in town that remember that; it's kind of one of those old memories that they treasure," said Kevin Caruthers.
Caruthers plans to have the same setup at Hillborn Crafted Spirits, the distillery he hopes to open in late November or early December downtown in a two-story brick building on the city's main drag next to where the Coca-Cola bottling plant used to be.
"Anybody can stand on the sidewalk and look and see how everything's being done," he said.
Caruthers said he and a silent partner will spend about $300,000 on the project, which includes renovating the building in the 600 block of Tennessee Avenue and installing a still of Caruthers' own design.
"We built our own equipment," he said. "Basically, it's our own style."
The distillery will offer free tastings of "white whiskey" and different-flavored liqueurs made from it, Caruthers said. The distillery's whiskey will be at least 51 percent corn, said Caruthers, who wants to keep secret the other grains in the mix. Hillborn Crafted Spirits will bottle its product in custom 750-milliliter bottles that will retail for between $25 and $30, he said.
"We will be set up for national distribution from day one," Caruthers said. "We're [geared] more to the high end."
Caruthers, 43, said he filed paperwork about six weeks ago with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for a permit to distill. It could take up to 240 days to get approval, he said, but he expects the federal bureau to move faster than that.
"There is zero chance of not getting approval," Caruthers said.
The Etowah distillery is joining a handful of new distilleries in East Tennessee taking advantage of a change in Tennessee's whiskey laws to allow the establishment of small distilleries in 41 additional counties to the three allowed before 2013 where Jack Daniels and George Dickel were produced (Lincoln, Moore, and Coffee). Even with the more open distillery laws, however, 26 of Tennessee's 95 counties are still completely dry and 60 other counties, including McMinn where Etowah is located, only allow alcohol sales in selected cities and portions of each county.
Caruthers, who sees the distillery as part of the resurgence of downtown Etowah, said he previously worked in the home medical supply business, information technology and building street rods and motorcycles — which came in handy when he made the distillery equipment.
"This [distillery] has just been a dream of mine for a long time," he said. "I'm just trying to revitalize and add a little economic boon to my hometown."
Most Etowah residents look forward to the distillery opening, Caruthers said.
"They are," he said. "There's been a little opposition, as you would expect in a small town in the middle of the Bible Belt."
Visitors to the Etowah Carnegie Public Library have talked a little about the distillery opening nearby, said library Director Lara Crockett.
"On a personal level, I think it's a good thing for Etowah," Crockett said. "I think it will contribute to Etowah's growth."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusi ness or 423-757-6651.