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Making Chattanooga Whiskey

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Toni Zablocki, the spirits manager for IMBIBE Chattanooga, speaks about a raffle that the store is having during MainX24 giving people the opportunity to purchase one of three bottles of Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year bourbon and a single bottle of Thomas H. Handy sazerac rye whiskey.
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Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year bourbon and a single bottle of Thomas H. Handy sazerac rye whiskey.

Imbibe bourbon raffle

Imbibe bourbon raffle

› Each person who enters may only win a chance at one whiskey.

› Submissions must be submitted in person and only from 10 a.m. -2 p.m.

› Winners will be announced between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday.

Fast facts

› Bourbon is America’s only native spirit, as declared by Congress in 1964. It must be made with a minimum of 51 percent corn, aged in charred new oak barrels, stored at no more than 125 proof and bottled no less than 80 proof.

› Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon, crafting about 95 percent of the world’s supply.

› Bourbon production has increased more than 170 percent since 1999 (485,020 barrels in 1999 compared to 1,306,375 barrels in 2014), with premium small batch and single barrel brands driving the bourbon renaissance. › U.S. distilled spirits exports topped $1.5 billion in 2013. Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey made up more than $1 billion of that amount, making it the largest export category among all U.S. distilled spirits.

Source: The Kentucky Distillers’ Association

Bourbon lovers can enter a drawing Saturday for a chance to buy — not win — one of four rare bottles of Kentucky bourbon at Imbibe, a 1-year-old liquor store in Chattanooga's hip Southside neighborhood.

It may sound pricey to charge $100 per bottle for the three bottles of 10-year-old Old Rip Van Winkle and $175 for the sole fifth of Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye — both of which are released once a year in small quantities as part of the "antique collection" of Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Ky.

But it's actually a good price, said Toni Zablocki, Imbibe's spirits manager.

"There's very often kind of an exorbitant markup," Zablocki said of the highly sought-after bourbons that sell online for around $500 a fifth.

The annual scramble for Buffalo Trace's high-end product is one sign of a burgeoning demand for bourbon that shows no sign of slowing, said Tim Piersant, the founder and CEO of the Chattanooga Whiskey Co.

"I think it's great for the industry," Piersant said. "You can argue that there are products that are available that are equally good for less money, but it's not about that. It's about being able to share something extraordinarily special. It builds the reputation of the craft."

"[Bourbon's] the fastest-growing segment in the alcohol world," Piersant said. "For 10 years, it's been growing rapidly."

One reason for the bourbon boom was the popularity of "Mad Men," the award-winning TV series that for seven seasons chronicled a fictional group of cocktail-drinking, cigarette-smoking executives at a Madison Avenue advertising agency.

"Any kind of trendy shows that create cultural shifts are always impactful," Piersant said. "I wouldn't attribute 100 percent of the success to 'Mad Men,' but I would give 'Mad Men' credit for accelerating the boom."

The Chattanooga Whiskey Co. currently fills most of its bottles with bourbon made at a distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ind.

But it also makes about a barrel a week at its microdistillery on Market Street across from the landmark Choo Choo hotel, and it has a new distillery under construction in the former Newton Chevrolet building at the corner of M.L. King Boulevard and Riverfront Parkway. It should open in the spring and will be able to produce 14 barrels a day.

Even after the new distillery gets going, the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. microdistillery will stay in business to produce high-end whiskeys similar to the rare Pappy Van Winkle and other Buffalo Trace bourbons that people line up to buy, Piersantsaid.

"The Pappy Van Winkle to Buffalo Trace? That's what the microdistillery products will be to Chattanooga whiskey," Piersant said.

Other liquor stores that get small shipments of the sought-after Buffalo Trace antique collection bourbon keep lists of customers who want to buy it.

"It's pretty much first-come, first-serve," said Zane Peters, manager at Riley's Wine & Spirits at 4818 Hixson Pike, which keeps a list of people to call when the annual shipment comes in. "If we don't get a response back, then we move on to the next person."

Imbibe started such a list, Zablocki said, but then decided the drawing — which will coincide with the Southside's MainX24 24-hour festival on Saturday — was a better way to go since people at the bottom of the list might never get any of the rare bourbon.

"We're hoping to have this be a more fair way to divvy the bottles out," she said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or or 423-757-6651.