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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Gate 11 Distillery owner Bill Lee stands for a portrait at behind the bar at Gate 11 on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A Chattanooga distillery that opened last year in the Chattanooga Choo Choo has been nominated as one of the nation's top new distilleries by the editors of USA Today.

Gate 11 Distillery, which Bill and Wanda Lee opened with a cocktail bar in part of the historic former railroad depot in downtown Chattanooga, was only the second distillery to open in Chattanooga since alcohol production was banned during Prohibition more than a century ago. Gate 11 opened at the former railroad depot Gate 11 in February 2019, four years after Chattanooga Whiskey opened the first modern-day distillery in Chattanooga after convincing the state Legislature to remove the ban on distilleries in Chattanooga.

Lee, a native of Bledsoe County and a Baylor School graduate who previously managed the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co., a plant in Benson, Minnesota, says he saw an opportunity to use his expertise and the appeal of Chattanooga's Southside to open another local distillery.

"The pandemic this year has been a huge challenge, but we've opened up our outdoor bar in the gardens here at the Choo Choo and will continue to sell to local bars and stores in the area," Lee said. "All of our drinks are made on hand-made stills and our focus is on creating quality experiences and unique tastes. It's great to have this third-party validation of what we are doing from these experts."

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Gate 11 Distillery owner Bill Lee stands for a portrait at behind the bar at Gate 11 on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The micro-distillery produces its own vodka, gin and rum, which were each recognized as award-winning drinks in March by American Craft Spirits Association. Gate 11's vodka won a second place silver award, while the distillery's dry gin and rum drink each took home a third place bronze award.

Gate 11 is also making and aging Tennessee bourbon, rye and malt whiskies.

Nationwide, craft brewers and distilleries have multiplied in recent years and in 2019 ahead of the coronavirus pandemic the number of craft distilleries in the United States grew by more than 11% to over 2,000 distilleries, according to the American Craft Spirits Association.

From among the new entrants into the industry, a panel of five editors and industry experts picked 20 candidates for the annual readers choice contest for best new distillery by USA Today.

"We think we have a great location in one of the historic landmarks of our city and we're glad to get this recognition," Lee said.

Voting in the Readers Choice contest continues until noon Monday Sept 14 and winners will be announced on Friday, September 25.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Gate 11 Distillery owner Bill Lee is photographed at Gate 11 on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

 

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