Nearly a decade ago, Tim Piersant caught the entrepreneurial bug.
Instead of following his father’s footsteps at the family business, DisplayCraft, the young Auburn graduate tracked a new trend in the American beverage space—craft distilling. He desired to start a distillery in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
It made sense. After all, the area was ripe with distilling history, and Tennessee claimed the world’s No. 1-best selling whiskey—Jack Daniel’s—as its own.
There was just one problem: Chattanooga made distilling illegal after Prohibition and hadn't changed the law. For those hopping just now onto the distilling trend, this is very common. Prohibition wreaked a havoc on distilling that it may take another 100 years from which to recover.
Piersant and his business partner at the time (more on that later) lobbied lawmakers to legalize distilling, while they sourced whiskey from a little known distilling haven in Lawrenceburg, Ind. That was 2011 and a lot has changed in the past eight years, including the complete rebranding of Chattanooga Whiskey’s products.
In August, Chattanooga Whiskey 91 will replace the company’s 1816 Reserve, and Chattanooga Whiskey 111 will replace 1816 Cask. While straight bourbons, these four grain bourbons (distilled at their distillery) include three specialty malts (malted rye, caramel malt barley, honey malt barley) and have pushed Piersant to do something extremely unusual in American whiskey. He is shying away from marketing his product as a bourbon. Instead, he’s calling it, "Tennessee High Malt,” albeit it’s clearly classified and labeled as a bourbon. "Every consumer who walks in our doors, says 'you're not bourbon' and that got us to thinking, 'what are we?' and we wanted to celebrate our roots from Tennessee, but we are not a traditional Tennessee whiskey," Piersant says.
To learn of this strategy and what the past decade has been like as a craft distiller, we sat down with Piersant...
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Published by Forbes on June 30, 2019: Written by Fred Minnick