Chattanooga Whiskey distillery on the move again

Chattanooga Whiskey distillery on the move again

Downtown distillery scrapped as search begins for sturdier site

September 11th, 2014 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.


October 2011 -- Facebook campaign launches Chattanooga Whiskey

February 2012 -- The company's whiskey becomes available, but by law can't be made in Chattanooga

May 2012 -- Kickstarter campaign raises $11,427 in attempt to bring distilling from Indiana to Chattanooga

October 2012 -- Chattanooga Whiskey begins campaign to overturn Tennessee ban on distilling

March 2013 -- Chattanooga Whiskey announces 30,000-square-foot distillery on Southside.

May 2013 -- Gov. Haslam signs bill allowing local municipalities to choose whether to allow distilling

October 2013 -- Southside plans scrapped, larger distillery announced in heart of downtown in John Ross building

March 2014 -- $6 million John Ross distillery plans delayed amid construction concerns

September 2014 -- John Ross distillery plans scrapped, search for new site continues, micro-distillery announced

Source: News reports

Chattanooga Whiskey is moving into this building across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Chattanooga Whiskey is moving into this building across...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Whiskey, the upstart company that repealed a Prohibition-era law and helped kick off the startup movement in the Scenic City, is scrapping plans to build a distillery and tourist attraction in the John Ross building after structural concerns overwhelmed its vision for the site.

In the meantime, officials are moving forward on a smaller, micro-distillery located across the street from the Chattanooga Choo Choo on Market Street.

Vitok Engineers, among the top distillery engineering firms in the U.S., recommended that Chattanooga Whiskey not proceed with the existing Fourth Street plan for the Tennessee Stillhouse after core samples revealed that the former car dealership couldn't possibly sustain 500-pound barrels of whiskey stacked three-high, nor support a 2,000-gallon whiskey still and other heavy distillation equipment necessary to complete the site.

Though the huge whiskey still remains under construction by Vendome Copper & Brass Works, and a search committee is actively considering alternative sites for the Tennessee Stillhouse, it could be some time before Chattanooga Whiskey's full-scale distillery is complete.

"After having a negative experience with retrofitting a building, we believe building from the ground up is the best option," said Tim Piersant, co-founder of the company. "While we pursue that, our company recognizes the need to acquire a distiller's license as soon as possible, begin making product and change the name as soon as possible to say 'produced in Chattanooga, Tennessee.'"

The smaller of what is now two planned sites will be located in the commercial space on Market Street in downtown Chattanooga, next to the Hot Chocolatier, pending city approval. The storefront will support a 100-gallon whiskey still, tasting room, bar and event space in just over 2,500 square feet, Piersant said. The plan calls for educational outreach to Chattanooga's many visitors, as well as cocktail competitions that are open to the public.

"It's a small experience, so it should be a relatively short build," Piersant said.

If the City Council approves the site at its Sept. 23 meeting, work could begin as early as Oct. 1.

The tasting room will hold a few dozen visitors, and Piersant says that the company will use the space to encourage public feedback on its upcoming products and experimental whiskey cocktails.

"We should have pursued a micro-site a long time ago," he said in a nod to some public criticism of delays associated with the construction of the Tennessee Stillhouse.

The small distillery at 1439 Market Street represents the third building that Chattanooga Whiskey has publicly announced as a physical location for its emerging brand to interact directly with customers.

The first was a 30,000-square-foot Southside warehouse slated for completion in October 2013. That fell through when officials announced the now-scrapped 60,000-square-foot John Ross building on 4th Street, which would have doubled as a tourist attraction and was scheduled to begin construction in spring 2014.

Though the current plan for a 2,500-square-foot site in the shadow of the Chattanooga Choo Choo pales in comparison to the company's original ambitious plan for the Tennessee Stillhouse, Piersant promised that a large distillery is still in the works.

"We can take everything we've learned from the John Ross building and apply it in our search for the best land," he said. "The nine months of planning around the John Ross location has become an invaluable asset to our team in building a memorable experience in Chattanooga."

The John Ross building remains under the ownership of two investors in Chattanooga whiskey. Those owners are considering their options for the site, which could still support restaurant and office space, Piersant said.

Piersant and former partner Joe Ledbetter remain majority owners in the company, with a handful of other investors, including the Lamp Post Group, owning a minority stake. Ledbetter no longer works at the company, though he retains an ownership stake.

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