The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Prohibition-era statutes prevent distilleries in Hamilton County, so the whiskey that bears the city’s name is being made in Lawrenceburg, Ind.
“We called it Chattanooga Whiskey because that’s where we’re from,” said Joe Ledbetter, president of the company of himself and business partner Tim Piersant.
The company began with a Facebook page and a question about whether people would buy spirits called Chattanooga Whiskey. There are now about 16,000 Facebook followers.
Ledbetter said Chattanooga Whiskey launched on April 15 and has sold 3,000 cases of six bottles each so far. The company is also expanding its distribution, adding Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.
He said if the company could distill locally, there would be more than a dozen new jobs and more than $150,000 in tax and tourism dollars paid annually.
“We’re trying to restart an industry that was completely lost to Prohibition,” Ledbetter said. “We’re not talking about cheap brown bag package store liquor, we’re talking about Tennessee whiskey, something like more of a Woodford Reserve.”
Hamilton County was not included in 2009 enabling legislation that allows distilleries to open in 41 additional counties.
Ledbetter said the county was eligible, but the legislative delegation opted out.
An opinion last week from Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper confirmed that because Hamilton County was left out of the law, Hamilton County commissioners don’t have authority to approve the manufacture of whiskey in the county.
Ledbetter has hopes of seeing the statute changed to allow local distilling. He and his partner have met with local government leaders and have found support that could lead to eventual inclusion of the county in the legislation allowing distilleries.
“We (Hamilton County) met the requirements to be included in the law,” noted Ledbetter, who said eight people decided against it.
Moore, Lincoln and Coffee counties were previously the only places where distilleries could operate in Tennessee.