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

Bill and Wanda Lee have grown accustomed to winning awards for the small batches of rum, gin, vodka and absinthe they distill at their Gate 11 Distillery at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, but nothing like the Double Gold Medal they earned this week for their Gate 11 Dry Gin at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

The San Francisco World Spirits Competition is one of the world's oldest and most prestigious spirits competitions. Over 3,800 spirits were judged by a panel of 30 international experts in a highly controlled blind tasting.

"We've won lots of awards at various competitions for all of our products," Bill said, "but this is the big leagues."

Wanda pointed out that to earn a double gold in the blind competition, each judge had to have given it a gold medal.

Before opening their small distillery two years ago, the Bill, a former chemist and research and development specialist, and Wanda, a former middle school teacher, spent three years perfecting their formulas for each batch.

"We had to determine what botanicals and what proportions to use and we ended up with eight botanicals plus juniper, [which is found in all gin] so it's nine. We tried out scads of different proportions."

Bill added, "It's all about the balance between the botanical, spicy and earthy flavors."

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Contributed photo by Jessica Gann / The Gate 11 Distillery Dry Gin won a Double Gold Medal this week at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Wanda said the gin can be sipped straight or used in a mixed cocktail.

"We get people in who say, 'Oh, I don't want to try the gin,' but they try it and end up buying a bottle," she said. "It's a very versatile gin."

She said the process of measuring out the botanicals by weight, placing them into a muslin bag, soaking them in a neutral spirit and then bottling the mixture to get the right proof takes about a week."

Exactly how winning the Double Gold Medal might impact Gate 11 Dry Gin is unclear, but Bill points out, "Nobody had heard of Tito's Vodka before it won the same award in 2001.

"I'm not saying we will be the next Tito's, but who knows," he said.

The distillery plans to have some sort of celebration on June 12, World Gin Day, and Bill also said the business has expanded its distribution to now include all of East Tennessee up to Knoxville and the Tri-Cities. They have also reintroduced their regular tours on Fridays and Saturdays at 1,2 and 3 p.m. and live music on weekend nights.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.