“Embracing heritage”

Distillery ready to open in new year

Published in Herald & Tribune Dec. 24, 2014 issue

As of last week, Tennessee Hills Distillery can officially manufacture and distribute alcohol in the state of Tennessee, bringing the Jonesborough business one step closer to opening the doors early next year.

“I can’t believe it still,” Stephen Callahan, owner of Tennessee Hills Distillery, said of making progress in following his dreams and his moonshine roots. “Now we have to get our labels approved and wait on our first shipment of bottles and get our souvenir line in order.”

He hopes to open the doors if not by the middle of January, definitely by Feb. 1.

“I want to get the doors open, but want to make sure we can operate in a safe and efficient manner,” Callahan said.

The process of opening the distillery, which began in early 2014, has been steadily moving along. Callahan and his brother, David, have been working side-by-side turning the Salt House into the new home for the Tennessee Hills Distillery applying the business’ motto “embracing heritage” every step of the way.

“We built the stills in house, did renovations in the building specific to our needs. My brother and I did the iron gates, the tasting bar, the glass walls,” Callahan said. “Every piece of equipment, my brother and I fabricated in there.”

All the equipment needed to operate the business is now in the building.

The 300-gallon and 150-gallon copper stills were designed by Callahan.

“We built those in the Salt House pretty much right where they are sitting. I think that speaks a lot for our craftsmanship. We want equipment that is a work of art rather than just serving its purpose to make liquor,” he said. “We are really passionate about what we do. We want to get people a product made with passion and very high quality too.”

The still gives Callahan a wide range in terms of the product that can be made at the Salt House. He said he can make corn liquor that has a lot of flavor to vodka that has no flavor.

“We have a lot of versatility in the Salt House as far as the product,” he said, adding that everything will be made in small batches and hand-bottled.

The tasting bar was pieced together with chestnut that came from an old family barn that was more than a 150 years old.

“It was in really good condition in the barn,” he said. “I figured it would be a perfect place to put it on display.”

Callahan said the distillery is going to be a nice place to stop in, take a tour, have some tastings and hopefully buy a bottle of whiskey.

The outside of the building has also been enhanced with shrubs and a crosswalk. The loading dock, weather permitting, should be installed early next week.

“Jonesborough has been behind us 100 percent from the time I came to town and pitched my idea,” he said. “They helped us put in the crosswalks and have a nice venue.”

In addition to getting the Salt House ready for business, Callahan said they have already harvested crops for the operation. Eighty-eight acres or about 10,000 bushels of corn, were harvested from Callahan’s family farm in November and stored in a silo at Shell Mill in Jonesborough.

“That should last us hopefully for three quarters of the year, maybe the first full year,” he said.

Callahan said everything they are doing will be ground in an antique 1940s model stone mill because it adds to their businesses story.

“That’s pretty special,” he said. “We gave him (Mark Shell) a whole new business aspect. We are going to be using a lot of corn.”

Callahan said when crops are stone ground, they tend to keep a lot of their flavor profile.

The grains that are leftover, will feed the livestock on Callahan’s 100-acre family farm. He said they are getting ready to buy some more cattle to consume the access grain.

“It’s all going to be pretty personal and full circle,” he said of the process. “Everything is pretty much in Jonesborough and that’s how I like to keep it.”

He said they are waiting on barley to be delivered, which should arrive at any time.

The business will have a quick turnaround for their product due to grains being delivered to the Salt House every seven to 10 days.

Callahan said hopefully by March or April, they will have all of the flavors produced that are going to be released and available at the Salt House.

Callahan said he believes his business will be very well received once the doors are open.

“Our story, being from the oldest town, and being in a 174 year old building, and kind of preserving a historical site, and making it a functional historical building, is special to me,” he said. “That is being a part of history.”

Other articles about the distillery I’ve written:

January 2014

Distillery coming to Jonesborough?


Proposed distillery gets planning comission OK


February 2014

With one ‘no’ vote cast . . . Future downtown distillery clears next hurdle


March 2014

Board gives distillery final approval


“It’s a huge victory”

A few weeks ago I attended the final meeting concerning the craft distillery coming to Jonesborough. With the support of the Mayor and Aldermen, Stephen can continue to pursue his dream.

An email I received from Stephen after the article ran in the Herald & Tribune:

“I just wanted to drop you a note and tell you and everyone else involved how much I appreciate the positive articles pertaining to my distillery. The articles that you have written portrays us well and that will carry the distillery very far in the local markets! If I can do anything to assist you in any way please feel free to ask. Thanks again and I hope to hear from you soon!”

Board gives distillery final approval

Callahan gets ready to realize dream

Published March 18, 2004 in Herald & Tribune

With the final approval from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Stephen Callahan is now ready to continue his dream of opening a moonshine craft distillery in the Town of Jonesborough.

“I think it’s a huge victory, not only for us, but for Jonesborough,” Stephen Callahan said last week. “We have something to give Jonesborough. We are really happy that Jonesborough decided to allow us to come to town.”

The Board of Mayor and Alderman approved the second and final reading amending the Jonesborough Zoning Map, which establishes the location of the Distilling Company Overlay District Zone, during the March 10 meeting. The zone includes the manufacturing zones in the Depot Street area and in the Salt House, Parsons Table parking lot and the Parsons Table/Widow Brown’s lot area.

The BMA also approved the second and final reading for the Distilling Company Overlay District zone, which allows a liquor distillery to be located in certain areas in Jonesborough.

Alderman Homer G’Fellers was not present.

“I am really satisfied,” Callahan said. “I really appreciate all the support that everyone has expressed throughout the process, especially the city officials and the people of Jonesborough.”

Although the only opposition the craft distillery received was from G’Fellers, Callahan said board members had been very open-minded and willing to work for the best throughout the process.

“They are inceptive to our idea,” he said. “That shows us that we have a future here in Jonesborough. That tells us where we can be as a company in the next year. We have a big support group and a town behind us. That is what it is going to take to get this business off the ground; local support and we have that.”

With the proper zoning approved from the Town of Jonesborough, Callahan hopes to open the craft distillery by this fall.

“It’s a big process to take on and we are going to take it one day at a time,” Callahan said.

A formal lease has been worked up and completed with Doug Lowrie, the owner of the Salt House.

Renovations to the Salt House should be done before the end of the month.  Once the equipment comes in later this summer from Confederate Stills of Alabama, Callahan said finishing touches will be made.

The equipment will include a peanut oil boiler to cut down the energy usage, making Callahan’s distillery the first in the country to have that specific still.

“Now that we have a formal lease we can go ahead and start getting our bonds and file for our federal license,” Callahan said.

The process typically takes about six months to complete.

“We are at the mercy of the government in terms of licensing,” he said, adding that it could be less or more than six months.

The craft distillery also received its trademark for its name, Tennessee Hills Distillery LLC.

“This thing has the potential to go nationwide and the potential to outgrow our capacity fairly quickly,” Callahan said. “We already have plans to build a production facility. As long as we are in business, we will always have the Salt House as our store front. That is still our history and that is where we will be as long as we are in business.”

His hope is to eventually collaborate with other distilleries in a 100-mile radius, so everyone can help each other out.

“We all have a passion to do one thing and that is to make good alcohol,” Callahan said.

He said he also wants the Town of Jonesborough to know he will operate the distillery with respect for the community and willingness to work with others.


‘An authentic Tennessee moonshine distillery’

This article has been an ongoing topic I have been covering for the last month or so for the Herald & Tribune. A young Jonesborough resident is slowly clearing hurdle after hurdle to put a craft distillery in downtown Jonesborough, Tenn.

For my past articles click on the links below:

Distillery coming to Jonesborough:


Proposed distillery gets planning OK: https://meghan80.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/a-made-with-love-distilling-company/

With one ‘no’ vote cast . . .

Future downtown distillery clears next hurdle

Published in Feb. 18, 2014 Herald & Tribune

Stephen Callahan, who hopes to open a distillery in downtown Jonesborough later this year, received nearly the full support of the Board of Mayor and Alderman during an ordinances first reading last week – minus one vote.

Alderman Homer G’Fellers voted against the ordinance, he said, because of his personal beliefs.

“I have never voted for any type of alcohol in the town of Jonesborough,” he said.

G’Fellers said he believes a small quaint town like Jonesborough does not need a distillery business.  That belief, he said has nothing to do with the distillery itself or Callahan.

“We are really excited that we got the blessing of the Mayor and the Alderman’s,” Callahan said the next day. “We are really happy with last night’s outcome. That is a big victory and it makes me feel a lot better personally to know the mayor and alderman have supported this.”

The board’s approval, Callahan said, reassured him and his supporters that they are doing something possible and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel in regards to opening a distillery in town.

The BMA approved an ordinance that creates a Distilling Company Overlay Zone, as well as an amendment for the Jonesborough Zoning map. The map provides Callahan with the opportunity to submit a site plan when applying for state and federal permits.

Although the state allows for the manufacturing of wine or liquor, the town determines where a distillery can be located within town limits. An overlay zone is established for appropriate locations by the town for retail liquor stores.

“This is not about a specific venue yet,” Mayor Kelly Wolfe said. “It’s about a zone to allow the venue to exist.”

Callahan has been working with Doug Lowrie, the owner of the Salt House, for the craft distillery business location.

“It will allow Doug and I to continue to finalize the formal lease agreements,” he said of the board’s decision. “It gives me a piece of mind knowing that Jonesborough is going to support us.”

According to the Town of Jonesborough, the intent of the Distilling Overlay District is to “provide suitable locations for the possible operation of a distilling company meeting all state and federal requirements that legally manufactures and sells intoxicating liquors within the corporate limits of the Town of Jonesborough.” The purpose. according to town documents, is to enhance the local economy, while increasing the town’s potential, all while ensuring the safety and welfare of visitors and residents.

A distilling company can be located in the overlay zone if the manufacturing building is 500 feet away from an active church or school or 150 feet away if located in a central business district.

In order to be located in the overlay zone, a submitted site plan including the availability of parking; adequate pedestrian access; schematic of the building; an odor control plan and a business plan must be submitted to the Jonesborough Regional Planning Commission for approval.

Approval is also required from the Historic Zoning Commission, if the building is located in the historic district, for exterior building improvements and signage. Before a regular certificate of occupancy is issued, a landscape plan must be submitted to the Tree and Townscape Board.

The Jonesborough Regional Planning Commission will also review and approve the site plan and use of the property.

Alderman Chuck Vest said a distillery is a good opportunity for downtown, possibly establishing something to grow with years to come.

Callahan said he now has the business license and is starting to pursue the legal paperwork as far as bonds and permits from the federal and state government. He said as soon as he obtains the federal permits, the ball will really start rolling for the business.

“It’s becoming more of a reality every day,” he said about his dream of creating an authentic Tennessee moonshine distillery.

Callahan said within the next month he hopes to start ordering equipment for the distillery.

“This is my hometown,” he said of Jonesborough. “I feel really honored to bring a unique business to my hometown.”

His hope is to put the best legally made Tennessee moonshine on liquor store shelves across America.

“We are going to be a professional business and operate in a professional manner in respect to the town,” Callahan said. “We are trying to bring a quality, sophisticated distillery into the town of Jonesborough. We are hard working people taking a leap of faith and hopefully have something to be proud of.”

The ordinance will become affective after the passage of the second and final reading takes place.