Jonesborough's historic Salt House is home to Tennessee Hills Distillery. The building constructed in the 1840s was used to store salt during the Civil War. It now houses the reality once only a dream to Tennessee Hills Distillery founder Stephen Callahan.
The distillery is an ideal stop for tourists. The renovation process has been rigorous, but it appears to be worth it. The distillery is open to visitors for tours and sampling of the spirits created on site. The tour provides a great location to see the steps in the liquor-making process - from mashing and fermentation to distillation in the hand-made copper stills built at the distillery.
Jonesborough visitors can see firsthand how the product is bottled. No sense in stopping there. They can taste the products and purchase the Tennessee Hills Distillery products in the showroom. Offerings run from shirts and shot glasses to bar mats and bourbons. The flavors found in the tasting area please many pallets. It should be noted, that while all are welcome, you must be 21 to taste and purchase the alcoholic beverages.
"Our motto is Embracing Heritage, and we apply this idea into everything we do at Tennessee Hills Distillery. It is our belief when it comes to making spirits, the old way is the right way. This is achieved by incorporating age-old recipes and distillation methods, handed down for hundreds of years, and carried to America by our Irish forefathers." - Stephen Callahan, Owner of Tennesse Hills Distillery
Callahan says they only use the finest, locally grown, yellow dent corn and barley. These are stone-ground in an antique mill. They only produce their premium spirits in small batches for quality assurance. They hand bottle them in the Salt House and prep them for sale all on-site.
Callahan's passion for distilling products in an authentic manner is genuine. He believes their technique is unique to the Tennessee Hills brand.
Last year, Tennessee Hills Distillery expanded its footprint. A room was built onto the side of the distillery, adding room for tables and a bar. The location continues to close its distillery at 6 pm for tours and purchases. The new addition offers extended hours with nightly entertainment and cocktails.
To service their new clientele more efficiently, Callahan invites food trucks to the establishment. The culinary units park on the railroad side of the Salt House, near the loading dock. Patrons walk across the front of the building to order food, which they can consume inside or on one of the outdoor tables.
New partner and brews
Callahan is partnering with Scott Andrew, of Retail Service Systems, purchasing the assets of JRH Brewing Company on West Walnut Street in Johnson City, and the Preston Woodworking building. JRH had to sell due to economic reasons during the current pandemic, leaving an opening for expansion for THD.
Callahan sees the project as 3-phase. The first phase will transform the JRH building into Tennessee Hills Brewing and Distilling. He sees this happening and being able to open by June of next year. The primary focus will be brewing beer, but there will be enough room for a distillery. This will give Tennessee Hills room to grow its distribution area.
The Walnut Street location will sell its products made on-site, but will also be the test location for new recipes. Recipes can be tried and perfected here before they go into full production.
As with the expansion at the Salt House, the Walnut Street site will also have a cocktail bar and taproom. The preliminary designs have included a small stage and outdoor seating. The Preston Woodworking building will transform into a museum, restaurant, and production facility for distilling, brewing, and making wine. Tours of the facility will provide an overview of how the operation works, and how alcohol progresses from the mill to bottling.
The new location will become the company’s main production facility. Tennessee Hills will produce wine, sangrias, seltzers, beers, and ready-to-drink cocktails. Callahan says he should be able to produce 50 barrels of whiskey a day from the location.
“The alcohol business can go from one hot thing to the next, so what our factory will allow us to do is pivot and go whatever direction we want to.” - Stephen Callahan
Phase two involves building a boutique-style hotel shaped like a barrel barn. Callahan says they are working with ETSU on a distillation and fermentation sciences minor, that will see students this fall. The company's West Walnut Street location will facilitate taking on interns and providing them with hands-on experience.
Business as usual
Callahan emphasizes that their Jonesborough location will continue operations as always on-site. Some production will continue at the Salt House in small batches. They will also continue a full tasting experience, tour, and cocktail bar here.
Tennessee Hills Distillery bought the rights to JRH Brewing's recipes for three years when they purchased the brewery's equipment. John Henritze, former owner of JRH Brewing said he feels Callahan and Andrew will do justice to the JRH Brewing name.