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Proposed distillery gets planning commission OK

Stephen Callahan is one step closer to opening a distilling company in downtown Jonesborough – a new company that will produce Tennessee moonshine.
Last week, the Jonesborough Planning Commission approved a distilling company overlay zone, as well as a zoning map with specific locations for the new overlay zone, to accommodate the possible business venture.
The commission voted to use Woodrow Avenue as the boundary for the zone that would include the Parson’s Table, the Widow Brown property and the Salt House for the zoning map.
Marcy Hawley, Innkeeper of Hawley House Bed & Breakfast, shared some concerns regarding zoning during the meeting. Her home is located at 114 E. Woodrow Avenue – next door to the Salt House.
“The question is I do not want my house rezoned,” she said. “From the map, it is hard to tell what is rezoned. I do not want to be part of the overlay district. I don’t want the county to think I’m commercial.”
Attorney Jim Wheeler assured her that nothing was going to be rezoned. He explained that the overlay district goes on top of the zoning.
“The zoning stays the same,” Wheeler said. “Within that zone, there is an area that will have different regulations.
Callahan said he noticed the Salt House was available while he was still in the process of researching investment opportunities. He got in contact with the building’s owner, Doug Lowrie, and since then, everything has pointed him toward the pursuit of establishing a distillery business in Jonesborough.
“I’ve been planning this thing for probably a year and a half to two years,” Callahan said.
He has researched the business, looking at similar companies in other areas. Callahan mentioned one distillery, in particular – Dark Corner Distillery in Greeneville, S.C. – that has a similar setting as Jonesborough and became a kind of an inspiration and a business model for him.
“They have done a really good thing down there with tourism in their town,” Callahan said. “It gave us an idea of what we wanted to do. They make a really high-quality product.”
Board Member Dean Chesnut expressed his excitement about the business opportunity during the meeting.
“It’s an awesome thing for the town,” he said.
Chesnut said distilleries are one of the biggest businesses in the country and he believes it would be a great tourist attraction for Jonesborough.
During Callahan’s presentation, Board Member Chuck Vest asked what kind of noise and odor the distillery would produce.
Callahan assured him that when visiting a Jack Daniels distillery he could not smell any of the odors, that it was all contained within the building. He also said an individual could stand right beside the distillery and not hear any noise.
The equipment Callahan will be using is from Confederate Stills of Alabama. His plans are to eliminate the need of a steam generator by using a peanut oil boiler to cut down the energy usage, which will also be more time efficient.
“We will be the first distillery in the country to have this specific still,” Callahan said. “Rather than having a steamer still, we are going to use peanut oil and heating elements and eliminate a lot of space.”
The equipment will be placed behind a glass wall, so individuals who tour the building can smell and almost feel the distillation process.
“Most of the time you can walk in off the street and I can give you a brief tour,” he said. “I want to operate the still and have the public come in and see the product coming out of the still.”
Callahan said they are keeping to the Salt House era for the distillery. The freight elevator inside of the building is currently being restored, so he will have access to the second floor for storage.
“We are restoring the original elevator that was used in the building,” Callahan said. “It’s a showpiece in itself because it is all hand operated.”
The Salt House, he explained, will be used as the business’ storefront.
He is already looking ahead, anticipating large demands for his product and the possible expansion into a national market. “Once we get to a certain capacity, we are going to build a secondary production facility in the country,” he said.
But for now, his sights are set squarely on the Salt House. “Our main goal for now is we are going to use the building for immediate exposure,” he said. “We will always keep the Salt House.”
Callahan plans include producing moonshine at the distillery by using grains from local farmers, adding that he wants to keep everything tied to local businesses when possible.
“Our main product is going to be Tennessee moonshine, a traditional recipe straight from the hills of Tennessee,” he said. “We are local and we want everybody to have the Tennessee moonshine experience. We want to stay true to our history.”
The moonshine will be made in small batches and placed into bottles with Callahan’s signature, as well as the date and batch number at the facility. The label will also include the inscription, “Made in Jonesborough, Tennessee.”
“It’s a personal business for me,” he said. “It’s my personal passion and I want to do it right. I want the customers to feel a personal connection with my product, a ‘made with love’ kind of deal.”
Callahan also hopes to create a series of limited edition bottles that explains the history of Jonesborough on every whiskey. He said that will be something special that will put Jonesborough on the map.
Other opportunities are also being explored to make apple brandy at the distillery.
The proposed business will also include a tasting bar and storefront where individuals can purchase a bottle of moonshine for off premise consumption, as well as merchandise. Callahan hopes to incorporate local crafts, jellies, jams, blacksmith projects and small furniture for the retail portion of the business.
“Hopefully, we can make Jonesborough proud,” he said.
With the approval from the Planning Commission, the item will now go before the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The board will have to approve the overlay zone and map on two readings, including a public hearing.
Callahan said while he waits for the approval from the BMA, he has to apply for his business license and trademark issues. Once the business license is obtained, he said he has to pursue bonds, which is needed to obtain the state and federal permits.
“If you get it right the first time, you can get it done fairly soon,” Callahan said. “It depends on the precision of your application process.”
Right now, he said it’s all a leap of faith as far as the outcome goes.
“Take a leap of faith and just go for it, that’s what we are doing,” Callahan said. “Once we get through the Jonesborough process, I think it’s going to get really exciting.”
If all goes according to plan, Callahan hopes to have the business up and running by the end of the year.