Chattanooga Whiskey founders to launch Freedom Moonshine in May

photo The founders of Chattanooga Whiskey are quietly prepping the launch of Freedom Moonshine in May.

The founders of Chattanooga Whiskey are quietly prepping the May launch of Freedom Moonshine, an unaged rye whiskey that will compete with established conglomerates and backwoods bootleggers alike.

Partners Tim Piersant and Joe Ledbetter will position Freedom Moonshine as an Americana-themed alternative to high-proof competitors like Gatlinburg, Tenn.-based Ole Smokey Moonshine and Madison, North Carolina-based Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon, which each sell hundreds of thousands of cases annually, according to food and beverage analysis firm Techmonic.

Piersant and Ledbetter, who declined to comment on the pending launch, have posted photos on social media platforms teasing the red, white and blue liquor, which will arrive on shelves stored in a jar wrapped in an American flag-themed label.

"It's almost time to let freedom shine," the group wrote on Twitter, echoing the brand's marketing campaign. "Find freedom this May."

Existing entrants into the fast-growing legal moonshine market have grown sales by distributing through Walmart and other mainstream retailers, rather than purely through liquor stores. Such mainstream acceptance of a drink that for decades has remained off limits to law-abiding citizens has caught the attention of larger distillers such as Jim Beam, which in 2013 released Jacob's Ghost, its own version of the unaged rye whiskey.

Ole Smokey estimated that it would sell 3 million moonshine-filled mason jars in 2013, using a process that saves on cost and maximizes profit by cutting out the aging process. That aging process for traditional, brown whiskey requires a constant supply of white American oak barrels. Those have been in short supply due to heavy rains in Missouri and Arkansas, leading to reduced allocations.

Unlike the illegal, untaxed version of Moonshine that's made in the hills of Appalachia without government oversight, Freedom Moonshine will be legal and pay taxes. But the founders will take a cue from their fore bearers in that the rye liquor will initially launch in red cherry, white rye and blueberry varieties, mimicking the flavorings added by unlicensed moonshine makers.

The launch of Freedom Moonshine comes after the group delayed the construction of its downtown distillery -- the Tennessee Stillhouse -- though officials have promised that the plans for construction to begin before the end of spring remain on track. In lieu of a Chattanooga-based production facility, Chattanooga Whiskey has instead imported its product from Indiana, where it is created at the former Seagram's distillery.

Freedom Moonshine marks the first major announcement the company has made since canceling its widely-anticipated New Year's Eve barrel drop festival at the end of 2013, and represents the biggest product launch since Piersant and Ledbetter introduced the original Chattanooga Whiskey following a popular Facebook campaign.

The company has taken a more conservative approach under Andrew Kean, the former chief operating officer for the city of Chattanooga who took the reins at the young company in November 2013 after a short stint under Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

Chattanooga Whiskey further increased the number of company stakeholders after raising millions of dollars in a private equity offering, which was part of a strategy to acquire funding for its $6 million downtown distillery. Its investors include Lamp Post Group, the venture incubator headed by the founders of Access America.

Despite thousands of followers on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Kean and the group's founders have said nothing publicly about the launch of Freedom Moonshine.

However, the company has pursued the idea since at least March 2010, when it claimed the Twitter account @LetFreedomShine.

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