The Jonesborough Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend a zoning overlay that will allow commercial distilling at the historic Salt House on Foxx Street. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)
A new craft distillery specializing in the production of corn mash liquor has cleared the first hurdle on the track to opening for business in downtown Jonesborough.
The Jonesborough Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend a zoning overlay that will allow commercial distilling at the historic Salt House on Foxx Street.
Stephen Callahan, a 26-year-old researcher at Eastman Chemical Co., Kingsport, with a passion for the traditional Appalachian distilling process, has requested the special zoning for the 160-year-old, two-story Georgian style building under renovation by Jonesborough investor Doug Lowrie.
Callahan’s plan is to put his distilling operation behind glass so that tourists will be able to observe the process and sample and purchase the finished product for off-site consumption.
With the Planning Commission’s recommendation, Town Administrator Bob Browning said the zoning overlay request will go on to the Board of Mayor and Alderman for consideration at its next regular meeting on Feb. 10.
Contacted by phone on Wednesday, Callahan described the Planning Commission’s recommendation as the first step on a long road ahead for the distillery.
“There’s a moonshine boom going across America right now and that’s where my heritage is from. It will be nice to carry that over through the legal process and do something good for Jonesborough, too,” the young Jonesborough native said.
“Our first product will be the traditional moonshine mash that’s distinctive to this region. The recipe we’ll use is the same one that any good moonshiner in this area would use because we are Tennessee and we want to give people that experience.”
“Apple brandies and ciders will be a secondary product but are still up in the air right now. Starting out our focus will be moonshine and getting that off the ground. We have a long way to go. But last night’s (Planning Commission) meeting was a big step in the right direction.”
As the zoning request moves forward, Callahan said he will be seeking the state and federal permits and licenses needed to produce and sell moonshine. “I will know a lot more in about a month,” he said.
In a preliminary presentation to the board, Browning said Callahan has done considerable research on the project and lined up a partner and the resources needed to get the business off the ground. He also noted that Lowrie, who has restored several other prominent buildings in Jonesborough’s historic district and is known for selecting tenants who have the potential for success, has been impressed with Callahan’s research and background.
Using Dark Corner Crafter Distillery, a similar enterprise in Greenville, S.C., as his model, Browning said Callahan’s distilling company will include a tasting area and a gift shop for sales of souvenirs and bottled products.
“The distillery operation could be a greater tourist draw,” Browning said. “It won’t be a Jack Daniels distilling operation, but it could be a significant contribution to Jonesborough being a major tourist destination.”
If approved by the board, the craft distillery will add to the long and varied history of the Salt House. Built in 1840, the building earned its moniker during the Civil War when the county court took possession of the mercantile and warehouse property to store and ration salt that was shipped into Jonesborough by train from Saltville, Va.
It was formerly owned by Jonesborough businessman and onetime postmaster William Crouch, who operated a grocery store and post office in the building. After the war, it served as a general merchandise store, a Masonic hall and for several decades as a hardware supply store and warehouse.
In the mid-1970s, former Jonesborough mayor Jimmy Neil Smith, founder of the town’s storytelling center, operated a folk art shop in the building. But for the past several years, it has sat empty.