Spirits - especially whiskey - is big business in Tennessee. But within the four walls of Jonesborough's Tennessee Hills Distillery, located in an 1840s salt house, homage is paid to the old ways. Maybe that's why it says Embracing Heritage right on the bottle.
(All photos courtesy of Tennessee Hills Distillery unless otherwise noted)
Owner and master distiller Stephen Callahan takes no shortcuts when it comes to distilling his spirits. When he first got started, he was only 26 years old, making him what was probably the youngest professional distiller in the country at the time. But he meant all along to approach his spirits the right way, which, according to Callahan, is the old way.
"I'm the young guy that believes that the old way of doing things is the best way when it comes to making booze," he told me.
(Owner Stephen Callahan with mascot Tennessee Hills Jack)
One example of the old way is sourcing as many ingredients locally as possible. Local barley and corn are stone ground at an antique mill before they make it into Callahan's copper stills.
"I think more and more consumers are starting to respect the craftsmanship that goes into these products," he said. "Consumers appreciate when local businesses work together to produce a truly unique product."
It's a product that is as unique as the town it is made in. We've written about historic Jonesborough before, Tennessee's oldest town. It's a place full of history, where nearly the entire downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places.
And while honoring the traditions of those who came before is an inextricable piece of Jonesborough's identity, Callahan and many of the town's residents are taking the reins and pushing Jonesborough into a new future, infusing it with a new spirit.
(Photo credit: Mike Stillwell)
Some might say that Tennessee Hills Distillery is the new spirit of Jonesborough - pun intended. In the end, that's really what Tennessee Hills is all about - embracing heritage while progressing into the future. It's the same pioneer spirit that the frontiersmen who originally founded Jonesborough carried with them as citizens of a young nation.
And that involves innovation.
Callahan and Tennessee Hills Distillery are deliberately challenging Tennessee's whiskey-centric distillation heritage by offering consumers a wide variety of spirits. From his un-aged Corn Liquor to his new rum brands, Angry Pecker and Dead Pecker - which some say is "morbidly delicious" - Tennessee Hills Distillery is working on satisfying the pallets of all drinkers.
You can visit Callahan and Tennessee Hills Distillery at 127 Fox Street in downtown Jonesborough, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. And while you're there, don't forget to say hello to Tennessee Hills Jack, the distillery's official four-legged mascot and greeter.