Leaders of Chattanooga Whiskey have been in heavy planning mode for the past few months-buying equipment for their downtown Tennessee Stillhouse, working on the design for the exterior of the distillery and creating an online public engagement campaign called Vote Whiskey.
“We created [Vote Whiskey] to tell the world our story, get people excited about Chattanooga,” Ashley Danford, brand manager at Chattanooga Whiskey Company and the Tennessee Stillhouse, said. “Hopefully, it will inspire people to change rules themselves.”
For anyone who doesn’t know, the Chattanooga Whiskey story goes like this: Founders Tim Piersant and Joe Ledbetter asked via Facebook whether people would be interested in drinking Chattanooga Whiskey. They got positive feedback.
-Chattanooga Whiskey is available in three states: Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina.
-The company recently hired several new team members, bringing the total to eight.
-Leaders hope the Stillhouse will open in 2015, which is the 100-year anniversary of whiskey being distilled in Chattanooga.
They learned that law actually prohibits them from distilling whiskey here, so-as they made their product elsewhere and started selling it-they also worked with lawmakers to change the law.
In June 2013, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill that allowed the product to be made here.
Fast-forward to October 2013, Chattanooga Whiskey leaders announced their new distillery will be downtown on the corner of Fourth and Broad streets.
The next month, they brought on the former chief operating officer for the city of Chattanooga, Andrew Kean, to be the new president of the company.
After a bit of dissension, Chattanooga Whiskey leaders canceled a New Year’s Eve party and then buckled down to focus on their goals-opening the Tennessee Stillhouse and supporting their two primary products: the 1816 Reserve and 1816 Cask whiskey products.
“This distillery is not just a production facility,” Ledbetter said last week. “We have two passions. No. 1 is to make great American whiskey. No. 2 is to create a great experience [at the Stillhouse].”
Although leaders aren’t ready to release all the plans for inside the building, Piersant said that the exterior will be significantly improved.
The 60,000-square-foot downtown location will be four floors. It will be a $6 million investment, officials said when they announced the downtown location.
“Out location, combined with Chattanooga’s growing tourism numbers, is going to be a real formula for success,” Piersant said.
And Ledbetter said that-even though the Stillhouse is the home of Chattanooga Whiskey-it isn’t only about Chattanooga Whiskey. It’s about the history of whiskey in Chattanooga and in America.
The first floor will have a retail shop where visitors can buy Stillhouse products and other merchandise, and the second floor is where visitors can get a taste of what the production process is like.
“The Tennessee Stillhouse is shaping up to be a world-class development and experience that will continue to set the bar higher for Chattanooga. It will add to the momentum that our great city and tourism community already enjoy.”
The third floor is where crews will age more than 1,000 barrels of whiskey, and the fourth floor is a tasting room for visitors to sample the products. Leaders said they plan to have industry networking events there, too.
They’ve recently purchased a copper column still, which is 30 feet tall and 12 inches in diameter. And the Stillhouse has the ability to hold four 2,700-gallon fermenters.
Construction is scheduled to start in late spring 2014.
When there was literally a “vote whiskey” campaign going on as the founders worked to change the law, it brought with it a high level of consumer engagement, Piersant said.
From a sales standpoint, it prompts people to ask questions, he said. So it’s an engagement/branding portion of the business.
And Danford said there will be a locator feature on the site, where visitors can see where the products are sold.
“We just love the concept of Vote Whiskey and encouraging people to change some rules themselves,” she said. “Rules are good, but if they are not good enough-change them.”
Updated @ 8:06 p.m. on 3/23/14 for clarity.