After years of planning, sweat, setbacks and growing pains, Chattanooga Whiskey Co. has installed the first legal whiskey still in Hamilton County since Prohibition.
The still is a custom 100-gallon unit from Louisville, Kentucky’s Vendome Copper and Brass Works, a leading manufacturer of distillation systems for various types of spirits.
Chattanooga Whiskey employees are working toward opening their micro-distillery at 1439 Market St. while still searching for a new location for the larger Tennessee Stillhouse (which is both the future location where Chattanooga Whiskey will be made here and the larger umbrella company over the local whiskey product).
Located next to The Hot Chocolatier and across from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, the micro-distillery will provide a brick-and-mortar tasting room, event space and guided tours of the distillation process.
The Vendome piece will be a centerpiece of the establishment aesthetically, but for Chattanooga Whiskey co-founder Tim Piersant, it represents much more.
“It’s anything but simple,” Piersant said. “Most importantly, it is the result of a victory. It validates all of the support and hard work that went into the Vote Whiskey campaign. We want the community of Chattanooga to see the first legal still as their reward.”
And Chattanooga Whiskey has hired one of the best to oversee the process. Grant McCracken is a former head brewer for Samuel Adams in Boston.
He comes to Chattanooga with years of experience and a passion for bringing whiskey back to Chattanooga.
“It’s really amazing to think that every single step we take on this path is the first one of its kind in 100 years,” McCracken said.
Piersant told the Times Free Press in December that the micro-distillery should be opening in February.
How it works
The process of making whiskey is complex and includes many stages prior to the distillation.
McCracken and team will cook the recipe-a mix of corn, rye and malted barley-to produce a “distiller’s beer, “or “wash.”
“This is very similar to beer, with an alcohol content between 6 and 14 percent and between 86 and 94 percent water,” he said. “Since alcohol turns to a vapor at a lower temperature than water, when we heat this mixture up in the still and ‘distill’ it, the alcohol and water separate.”
The vapors will then encounter a cooler/condenser and return back into liquid form with a higher alcohol content. This process also imparts the majority of flavor into the product that was created during the fermentation.
“The liquid is then collected and transferred into a white oak barrel, where it ages and gains color [and] flavor, and mellows over time,” he said.
McCracken’s job will be to run the processes of fermentation, distillation and aging of whiskey in barrels. He will also be tapped to create new recipes other than the 1816 and 1816 Cask.
Over the next few weeks, crews will work to get the space ready for the public.
“The still is, of course, very important to the process but only one small piece of the engineering puzzle,” he said.
“We’re also busy selecting and ordering all our raw materials.”
The final blessing will be the finalization of a distiller’s permit. After that, whiskey can be made in Chattanooga.
“Our employees and investors have been through the emotional roller coaster of a startup company that faced so much adversity, and we will enjoy the fruits of our labor-but we will enjoy sharing them more,” Piersant said. “Here’s to making up for 100 years of Prohibition.”
Disclaimer: Nooga.com‘s parent company is Lamp Post Group, which has a business relationship with Tennessee Stillhouse. Editorial decisions for this publication are made independently of Lamp Post and Tennessee Stillhouse.