Permits have been requested, a space found, plans drawn and construction started on Knoxville’s first distillery. Knox Whiskey Works will be located at 516 West Jackson Avenue in the Jackson Avenue Workshops building across from the McClung Warehouse site. It’s a very cool space that once included an apartment, which is how I first saw it on a City People home tour six or eight years ago. Work has started on clearing out some of the unnecessary elements of the apartment to make way for the distillery.
The project is backed by a number of partners, including Cindy Nichols, Anne Ford and Stanton Webster, who met me for an interview and a look at the new space. Some of you may know him as a bartender at Suttrees, but he’s been around downtown for a long time. You may have connected with him at Tomato Head in the 1990s or through his work with Holly Hambright. He operated several kitchens, helped Gregg White get La Costa off the ground when it first opened on Market Square. He’s worked at Nama when it was on the 100 block and he’s worked with Anne and Matt at Suttree’s since they opened.
Interestingly, though he has a love of whiskey, it may be more his agricultural background that prepared him best for the project. He grew up on a cattle farm, majored in agriculture at UT and always wondered why the deck seemed to be stacked against smaller agricultural endeavors. For this reason he values farms operated with sustainable methods and is very excited to have Riverplains Farm as a partner to provide the corn needed for the distillery. They grow only non-GMO, organic corn.
Old City White Whiskey, their first product will be a non-aged white whiskey. They have plans to do aged and other varieties of whiskey, but that takes time, so the initial offering will be un-aged. The entire process will take place at the Jackson Avenue location from the fermenting to the distilling, aging, bottling and labeling. The grinding will be done at Valentine Mills in Dandridge. The Jackson Avenue location will – maybe most importantly to you guys – include a small tasting room and retail space just off the street.
The operation will definitely be a craft distillery. Stanton laughed as he told me, “We’ll make in a month’s time what Jack Daniels spills in a day.” With the product grown, milled and distilled in east Tennessee, it will maintain a very local connection. You can expect any new lines to have similar Knoxville/East Tennessee-centric names as the first line. One of the partners has a physics background, which is helpful. All the partners are currently learning the business as rapidly as possible.
Anyone who has paid attention to Tennessee’s liquor laws knows how strange and bizarre they can seem. Cari Wade Gervin wrote one of the final cover stories in Metro Pulse on the topic. Just the fact that we’ve tied ourselves in knots over wine in grocery stores and still tell restaurants how many seats they must have to serve wine gives a pretty good indication of where we stand. The web may even be more tangled when it comes to production of alcohol and particularly craft whiskey. Still, Stanton indicates everyone involved has been very helpful and that it’s important they consider any precedence they may be setting.
He likes the connection of regional agriculture, production and retail and is pleased to be a part of that process. The larger group of partners will soon be announced and all are excited to get up and running, which will be sometime this spring, but as soon as possible. Sanders Pace Architecture developed the plans and the group is in the process of selecting a general contractor. It’s another step in Jackson Avenue growing up to be what we expected: one of downtown’s coolest corridors. Follow the Facebook link at the top and give them a “like,” and get ready for something completely different. We’ve got another reason to look forward to spring in the city.