‘Embracing Heritage’

I have been writing about Tennessee Hills Distillery since the beginning of the year for the Herald & Tribune, a weekly newspaper in Jonesborough, Tennessee. It’s been fun following Stephen’s story and seeing the progress over the last few months.

Distillery slowly emerges on Fox Street

Published Herald & Tribune July 1, 2014

The home of Tennessee Hills Distillery is coming to life as renovations are completed and the installation of equipment will soon be under way.

Stephen Callahan, the sole owner of Tennessee Hills Distillery, said the business’ motto, “embracing heritage,” has been applied to everything that has been done since the beginning of the year.

Stephen Callahan operates the historic elevator in what will soon become Jonesborough’s new distillery. Photo Credit Charlie Mauk.

Stephen Callahan operates the historic elevator in what will soon become Jonesborough’s new distillery.
Photo Credit Charlie Mauk.

He said it is important to him to respect the building, the Salt House, and the history of moonshine and whiskey.

“It’s kind of our way to preserve history,” he explained.

History runs deep in Callahan’s family.

“My granddaddy was a preacher and he made whiskey,” he said. “My other granddaddy was a bootlegger.”

When Callahan made his dream job a reality, opening a distillery, he wanted to include the people closest to him — his brother David and best friend, Buddy Arrowood.

“Hopefully we are going to run a successful business,” he said.

Callahan said Doug Lowrie, the owner of the Salt House, has been very accommodating throughout the redesigning process. He said he’s been able to craft the building into the best facility for the distillery by maximizing the space.

The Salt House has gone through a transformation to prepare it for a tentative October opening.

The first thing Callahan tackled was the floors on the bottom level.

“There were no floors downstairs,” he said. “There were dirt floors.”

Concrete footers were poured under the floor that was installed so it could hold the weight of the equipment, which will include a 300-gallon still and three 600-gallon fermenters.

Instead of purchasing a still from Confederate Stills of Alabama, which was Callahan’s original plan, he decided to construct his own. This will allow him to have the exact type and shape of still that he wants.

“I really believe in doing things ourselves. Any old moonshiner should be able to build his own still,” he said, adding that by building his own still it can become a showpiece for the business.

The still should take no more than two weeks to build.

Once the equipment is installed, a 15-foot tasting bar will be constructed with copper details, as well as copper fume hoods over the equipment.

After the floors were finished, the interior walls were redone while keeping the old rustic feel of the Salt House. Callahan said they left the bare bricks on the walls to keep the original decor.

wpid-20140625_155610.jpgThe “coolest” part about renovating the Salt House was working on the elevator, he explained.

“The elevator was an essential asset in the building,” Callahan said.

The hand-operated elevator will be used for moving inventory from downstairs to the second floor.

“The alcohol will be taken upstairs on the elevator to the bottling stations,” he said. “The elevator will be able to move grains and materials that are packaged and ready to ship. It will be an all-purpose elevator.”

He said he and his brother renovated the elevator by replacing all the cables. The original gears were kept, as well as the carriage and original hand rope.

While working on the elevator, he learned from an elevator preservation group that it is probably the only one in the state of Tennessee like it and one of the few in the country.

“It’s one of the first actual elevators installed in the whole country,” Callahan said.

The second floor of the Salt House had a drop ceiling added. The ceiling went from 17 feet to 12 feet, he said because they wanted to save on the heat and air in the building.

Overall, Callahan made sure the building was structurally sound for his business.

The outside of the building also received a face-lift.

On June 26, a new brick sidewalk and granite curbs were scheduled to be installed outside of the Salt House. Callahan said an entrance ramp to the front door also will be installed.

“The city is going to put a walkway across the road to match the Town of Jonesborough,” he said. “It’s a safety improvement for people visiting the distillery.”

Shrubs and flowers and a front patio with rocking chairs also will grace the entrance of the business.

The loading dock and gravel driveway will be added toward the end of July.

“Once you see the loading dock, we are close to opening up,” Callahan said.

A flag pole will eventually be raised outside of the building. Callahan said he wants to have a Prisoner of War flag outside of his business because his uncle was captured in the Korean War and didn’t survive.

The flag, he said, will recognize his uncle and other veterans who never made it home.

“I’m working with the Rolling Thunder and the veteran’s organization to help us have a ceremony when the time comes to raise the flag,” Callahan said. “It will let people of Jonesborough know who we are and what kind of company we want to be. We want to enhance Jonesborough.”

On Saturday, Aug. 30, Tennessee Hills Distillery will host Wheels in the Hills event, which will entail a poker run and car cruising, as well as bands and a barbecue. The proceeds from the event will go toward Shop with a Cop, a Jonesborough-based charity.

Eventually, Callahan hopes to make some Irish whiskey at the distillery because his family migrated from Ireland and he wants to keep the tradition of making Irish whiskey alive.

“I want to make a unique product that is near and dear to our hearts,” he said.


Other articles about the distillery:

Distillery coming to Jonesborough?, Published Jan. 21, 2014


Proposed distillery gets planning comission OK, Published Jan. 28, 2014


With one ‘no’ vote cast . . . Future downtown distillery clears next hurdle, Published Feb. 18, 2014


Board gives distillery final approval, Published March 18, 2014



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