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From salt to mash: Tennessee Hills Distillery poised for fall opening

June 24th, 2014 11:00 pm by Nathan Baker

From salt to mash: Tennessee Hills Distillery poised for fall opening

Crews continue work inside the Salt House in Jonesborough in these January file photos. (Photos by Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)

Four months after receiving approval from the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen, interior renovations to the Salt House are mostly complete, and the Tennessee Hills Distillery is on course to begin selling craft spirits by the fall.

Stephen Callahan, the distillery’s principal owner, said workers will begin installing sidewalks and flowerbeds outside the Fox Street building in mid-July, about the time the tanks and equipment arrive for the moonshine and apple brandy production.

“We mostly wanted to keep the original feel of the place, we’ve left bare bricks in some places, and have the original plaster and hardwood floors,” Callahan said Monday.

On the first level, the distillery will house a tasting area to the immediate right of the entrance with the custom tanks for liquor distillation to the rear, behind a glass wall to allow visitors to watch the process.

A refurbished rope-driven elevator, installed in the historic building sometime during its service as a salt repository, will lift the oaken barrels of alcohol to the second floor for aging.

Upstairs will be the bottling room, where the libations will be poured from the barrels into containers to be sold in the retail store.

With limited space in the Salt House, Callahan said he is considering a nearby warehouse for future storage, but will start out using smaller barrels to reduce the time needed for the aging process of the liquor.

For the product line, Callahan said he’ll start with a number of flavors of corn whiskey, but he hopes the distillery will be known for its apple brandy.

“Our family comes from mountain people, and we made our liquor out of apples,” he said. “One of the distillery’s mottos is ‘embrace your heritage,’ and we’re getting back to that tradition with a signature apple brandy.”

The brandy will likely take a little more than a year before it’s ready, so 88 acres of corn, planted at a local farm, will go into the first batches of moonshine, which should be ready by the distillery’s October opening.

For distribution, often a struggle for craft upstarts, Callahan said he already has a plan for getting Tennessee Hills’ products in stores, although he’s keeping it under his hat.

“We’ve got a couple of angles for distribution,” he said slyly. “There are companies better suited for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

While the liquor is distilling, the new company’s website should go live soon, and Callahan said the response has been good on Facebook.

“There are more people than you’d think giving us support,” he said. “Just working inside here, we have to keep the doors shut or people will wander right in to talk to us about how excited they are. It’s nice to meet everybody, but it slows you down when you’re trying to get a distillery open.”

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