For Chattanooga native Joe Ledbetter, whiskey is about history, passion and communication.
“It facilitates relationships,” he said. “It facilitates business in a lot of ways. Deep thoughts are discussed over a dram of whiskey.”
Ledbetter and his business partner Tim Piersant love whiskey so much that they have started Chattanooga Whiskey Company.
“The idea began with my love for scotch whiskey,” Ledbetter said. “Then I moved into bourbon and American whiskeys. Drinking it is 50 percent of the fun for me. The other 50 percent is learning about the heritage, the stories—the people behind the brands.”
The duo ultimately wants to distill whiskey in Chattanooga, but it’s currently illegal, likely because the topic hasn’t come up or lawmakers haven’t revisited the issue, Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter and Piersant are creating a Chattanooga-inspired whiskey recipe and they will unveil the brand on Friday via Facebook.
Before prohibition there were several whiskey distilleries in Chattanooga and Ledbetter said he and his business partner want to bring it back.
They have hand-crafted aged whiskey that has been distilled in Lawrenceburg, Ind.
“We have our own recipe that really captures that pre-prohibition type whiskey,” Ledbetter said.
Still in negotiations with distributors, they are working with investors and The Company Lab and hope to have the brand on store shelves and in restaurants—such as Urban Stack—by early 2012.
“It’s really interesting to reach back to Chattanooga’s roots and try to bring something back that was historically significant,” Sheldon Grizzle, founder of The Company Lab, said.
Ledbetter and Piersant hope to talk with local officials about the possibility of changing the rules barring distilling in the area.
“We respect the Chattanooga laws and the government in Chattanooga,” he said. “We don’t blame them for not being able to distill it. We would like to change it. We are going to ask respectfully."
In the meantime, the whiskey will be bottled in the Chattanooga-area, possibly in Marion or Sequatchie counties.
On Friday, Ledbetter and Piersant invite the public to log onto Facebook, where they will unveil more details about their plans.
At that time, the website will also be launched and interested parties can sign up to get more information sent as it becomes available.
For the last three weeks, the Chattanooga Whiskey Company Facebook page has posed the question—would you drink Chattanooga whiskey?
More than 2,000 people have “liked” the page since that time. Many people are writing on the Facebook page, inquiring about the project and asking where they can get a taste.
“We think the answer is ‘yes,’” Ledbetter said.
In addition to selling it in Chattanooga early next year, they will launch the brand in Nashville, Knoxville and Washington, D.C.
Ledbetter and Piersant are working with a Chattanooga label-making company and T-shirt company in an effort to keep as much work in the area as possible.
Local graphic designer Steve Hamaker, with Stevaker Design, is working on the Chattanooga Whiskey Company labels, logos and website.
Another local business owner, Anthony Sims of SIMSdv, is writing the copy for the website and helping to craft the story.
The project is a tribute to Chattanooga’s heritage, Ledbetter said.
“It really comes out of our passion for other people, togetherness and communication, but also for a need for a Chattanooga Whiskey,” he said. “We’ve got several beers that are really great brands but we don’t have any really great whiskeys.”