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How Chattanooga Got Its Whiskey Back


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Roseanna Youngs



Chattanooga, a city nestled in the picturesque Tennessee Valley, is not only known for its stunning natural beauty but also for its rich history in the world of whiskey. As one of the pioneering cities in the distilling industry, Chattanooga played a significant role during the days of Prohibition and the subsequent decline of whiskey production. However, in recent years, this vibrant city has experienced a remarkable resurgence in its whiskey culture, reclaiming its status as a premier destination for whiskey enthusiasts.


The temperance movement and the nationwide prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 dealt a devastating blow to Chattanooga’s once-thriving whiskey industry. Local distilleries were forced to shut down, and the art of whiskey-making nearly disappeared from the city’s landscape. For decades, whiskey enthusiasts and residents alike lamented over the lost heritage and longed for a comeback.


But as the saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and the passionate individuals in Chattanooga were determined to bring whiskey back to its rightful place. It was a long and arduous journey, filled with legal battles, legislative changes, and a strong sense of community spirit.


Thanks to the tireless efforts of whiskey advocates and the changing attitudes towards alcohol regulation, the legislative landscape gradually shifted in favor of spirit production. This led to the legalization of distilleries in Hamilton County, paving the way for the rebirth of the Chattanooga whiskey scene.


Prohibition and the Decline of Whiskey in Chattanooga

Like many other cities across the United States, Chattanooga endured the dark era of Prohibition, which had a significant impact on the local whiskey industry. The 18th Amendment’s ratification in 1920 made the production, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages illegal, effectively shutting down Chattanooga’s thriving distilleries.


Prior to Prohibition, Chattanooga was home to several renowned distilleries that produced high-quality whiskey. Companies like Old Tennessee Distillery and Moccasin Bend Distillery were known for their craftsmanship and their contribution to the local economy. However, as the temperance movement gained momentum and anti-alcohol sentiments prevailed, these distilleries were forced to close their doors.


The closure of distilleries not only affected the whiskey producers but also had widespread economic repercussions for Chattanooga. The once-bustling industry that provided jobs and brought prosperity to the region was suddenly wiped out. Many families and workers faced unemployment and financial hardship as a result.


During the years of Prohibition, clandestine moonshine operations popped up in the surrounding hills and valleys. Bootleggers and illicit distillers tried to keep the spirit alive, catering to the demand for alcohol. However, the quality of moonshine often left much to be desired, and the associated risks of consuming poorly regulated spirits were a cause for concern.


With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the nation celebrated the return of legal alcohol. However, in Chattanooga, the legacy of the whiskey industry took longer to recover. The effects of Prohibition lingered, and it would be many years before the city could reclaim its former glory.


The Fight for Whiskey Revival

After the repeal of Prohibition, Chattanooga began its journey towards whiskey revival. Whiskey enthusiasts, historians, and local entrepreneurs spearheaded efforts to revive the city’s once-thriving whiskey culture.


One of the key figures in this fight was Tim Piersant, a Chattanooga native who recognized the rich whiskey heritage of the city. Piersant, along with his partners, embarked on a mission to bring whiskey back to Chattanooga by establishing the city’s first legal distillery in nearly a century.


The process was not without its challenges. Whiskey-making regulations were strict and often favoring more established distilleries in other parts of the country. Piersant and his team had to navigate complex legal frameworks, lobbying for changes that would make it easier for smaller-scale distilleries to operate.


The whiskey revival movement gained momentum as more people became aware of the city’s historical significance and the potential economic benefits of a thriving whiskey industry. Community-driven initiatives and advocacy groups emerged, tirelessly campaigning for a change in legislation and garnering support from both locals and visitors.


A pivotal moment came when lawmakers, who recognized the economic potential of the whiskey industry, passed legislation that allowed for the establishment of craft distilleries in Chattanooga. This opened doors for not only Piersant but also other passionate individuals and entrepreneurs who were eager to contribute to the city’s whiskey revival.


With the legal framework in place, Chattanooga’s whiskey scene began to flourish once again. New distilleries emerged, each with its unique approach to whiskey-making. The focus shifted towards producing small-batch, artisanal whiskeys that showcased the city’s commitment to quality and craftsmanship.


Today, Chattanooga is home to a vibrant community of whiskey makers, each with their distinct style and flavor profiles. These distilleries not only offer a wide range of whiskey products but also create opportunities for visitors to learn about the whiskey-making process through tours and tastings.


The fight for whiskey revival in Chattanooga is a testament to the city’s resilience and its deep-rooted connection to its past. It is a triumph of passionate individuals coming together to resurrect a once-forgotten tradition and bring it back to life.


Legislative Changes and Legalization of Distilleries

The legalization of distilleries in Chattanooga was a significant turning point in the city’s whiskey revival. It was the result of years of advocacy work, legislative changes, and a shift in public perception towards the alcohol industry.


Prior to the legalization, the regulations surrounding distilleries in Tennessee were stringent and heavily biased towards larger, more established producers. These regulations made it difficult for smaller-scale distilleries to enter the market and thrive. However, with the growing interest in craft spirits and the economic potential they offered, there was a need for legislation that would support and encourage the establishment of distilleries in Chattanooga.


Advocacy groups and whiskey enthusiasts worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the outdated regulations and the need for change. Through grassroots efforts, community engagement, and collaboration with lawmakers, their voices were heard, and steps were taken to reform the laws governing distillery operations.


Eventually, legislation was passed that facilitated the formation of craft distilleries in Chattanooga and paved the way for a new era of whiskey production. These legal changes allowed for the creation of smaller, artisanal distilleries that could thrive alongside larger operations, creating a diverse and vibrant whiskey scene in the city. The new laws not only simplified the licensing process but also provided a framework for quality control and consumer safety.


With the legalization of distilleries, the city experienced a surge of entrepreneurial spirit. Distillery owners and aspiring whiskey makers seized the opportunity to showcase their craft and contribute to the cultural and economic revitalization of Chattanooga.


Today, these distilleries play a vital role in the local economy, attracting tourists and whiskey enthusiasts from far and wide. Visitors have the chance to not only taste a variety of locally-produced whiskeys but also gain insight into the art of distilling through guided tours and educational experiences.


The legislative changes and the subsequent legalization of distilleries have not only reinvigorated Chattanooga’s whiskey industry but have also created a supportive ecosystem for innovation and experimentation. The city has become a hub of creativity and craftsmanship, with distilleries constantly pushing the boundaries of flavor profiles and production techniques.


The journey towards the legalization of distilleries in Chattanooga serves as a reminder that legislation can be a catalyst for positive change. It demonstrates the power of grassroots movements and community engagement in shaping the future of an industry and revitalizing a city’s cultural heritage.


The Birth of Chattanooga Whiskey

One of the most remarkable success stories in Chattanooga’s whiskey revival is the birth of Chattanooga Whiskey, a brand that has become synonymous with the city’s whiskey culture. The journey of Chattanooga Whiskey is a testament to the passion, dedication, and entrepreneurial spirit of its founders.


It all started with a vision to revive the historical whiskey-making legacy of Chattanooga. Tim Piersant, along with his partners, embarked on a mission to create a distillery that would not only produce exceptional whiskey but also celebrate the city’s rich heritage. They wanted Chattanooga to once again be recognized as a prominent player in the whiskey world.


To bring their vision to life, Piersant and his team meticulously researched the city’s whiskey history, delving into the archives to uncover historical recipes and production methods. They were determined to create a whiskey that paid homage to Chattanooga’s past while embracing the innovations of the present.


With a deep understanding of the craft, Chattanooga Whiskey set out to produce their signature bourbon. They sourced the finest ingredients, including locally-grown corn, rye, and malted barley, to ensure the highest quality of their spirits. The water, a crucial element in whiskey-making, came from the pristine Appalachian Mountain watershed that flows through Chattanooga.


To perfect their recipes and techniques, Chattanooga Whiskey embarked on an extensive process of trial and experimentation. They collaborated with industry experts and conducted countless tastings and refinements to create a flavor profile that captured the essence of the city’s whiskey heritage.


The dedication and craftsmanship paid off, and in 2012, Chattanooga Whiskey became the first legal whiskey distillery to operate in Chattanooga in over 100 years. The release of their signature whiskey created waves in both the local and national whiskey scenes, garnering praise for its exceptional quality and distinct character.


Since its inception, Chattanooga Whiskey has expanded its product line to include a range of expressions, each with its unique flavor profile and aging process. From their flagship Tennessee High Malt to their limited-edition experimental releases, Chattanooga Whiskey continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in the world of whiskey.


Today, Chattanooga Whiskey’s distillery and tasting room have become must-visit destinations for whiskey enthusiasts and tourists alike. Visitors have the opportunity to learn about the whiskey-making process, witness the magic happening in the distillery, and savor the flavors of Chattanooga Whiskey through guided tours and tastings.


Chattanooga Whiskey’s success story is a testament to the power of passion, innovation, and a deep appreciation for heritage. It stands as a shining example of how a once-forgotten tradition can be reignited, bringing joy, economic growth, and recognition to a city that holds whiskey close to its heart.


Distillery Tours and Tastings

A visit to Chattanooga is not complete without immersing oneself in the rich whiskey culture through distillery tours and tastings. The city’s distilleries open their doors, offering visitors an opportunity to witness firsthand the artistry and craftsmanship behind the production of Chattanooga’s finest whiskeys.


Chattanooga Whiskey, along with other distilleries in the area, welcomes guests to explore their facilities and learn about the whiskey-making process. The guided tours take visitors on a journey through every step of production, from the sourcing of ingredients to the aging of spirits in oak barrels.


During these tours, expert guides share insights into the history and heritage of whiskey in Chattanooga, as well as the technical aspects of distillation. Visitors can witness the intricate machinery and equipment used in the distilling process and gain a deeper appreciation for the skill and attention to detail required to create exceptional whiskey.


Sampling the whiskeys is, of course, a highlight of the tours. Visitors have the opportunity to indulge in guided tastings, where they can savor a selection of Chattanooga’s finest spirits. Experienced whiskey connoisseurs guide guests through the flavor profiles, highlighting the unique characteristics of each expression.


These tastings allow visitors to develop a deeper understanding of the complexities of whiskey, from the nose to the finish. Guests are encouraged to engage their senses, exploring the aromas, the balance of flavors, and the smoothness that comes with expert craftsmanship.


Distillery tours and tastings also provide a chance to interact with distillery staff, who are not just knowledgeable about the whiskey they produce but are also passionate advocates for the industry and the city itself. They are eager to share their expertise, answer questions, and foster a deeper connection between guests and the spirits they enjoy.


Aside from the educational and sensory experience, these tours and tastings offer an opportunity for visitors to purchase their favorite whiskey bottles as souvenirs. Many distilleries have onsite gift shops where guests can browse a wide selection of whiskey expressions and branded merchandise, allowing them to take a piece of Chattanooga’s whiskey culture home with them.


For whiskey enthusiasts, the distillery tours and tastings in Chattanooga offer a chance to explore the city’s whiskey heritage and witness the ongoing revival of the industry. It is a journey that combines history, craftsmanship, and a love for the spirit, providing an unforgettable experience for both novices and seasoned whiskey connoisseurs alike.


Local Impact and Economic Growth

The resurgence of the whiskey industry in Chattanooga has had a profound impact on the local community, driving economic growth and revitalizing the city’s cultural landscape. The whiskey revival has created a ripple effect that extends beyond the distilleries themselves, positively impacting various sectors of the economy.


One of the significant contributions of the whiskey industry to the local economy is job creation. The establishment and expansion of distilleries have generated numerous employment opportunities, ranging from distillers and master blenders to hospitality staff, tour guides, and administrative personnel. The thriving whiskey scene has created a demand for skilled workers, helping to attract talent to the region and strengthen the local workforce.


Moreover, the whiskey industry has stimulated tourism in Chattanooga. Whiskey enthusiasts from across the country and even internationally are drawn to the city to experience its rich whiskey heritage. Visitors not only enjoy distillery tours and tastings but also explore the city’s vibrant culinary scene and cultural offerings. This influx of tourists has bolstered the hospitality industry, benefiting hotels, restaurants, bars, and other businesses in the tourism sector.


The whiskey revival has also sparked a sense of community pride and engagement. Local residents have rallied behind the distilleries, embracing them as symbols of Chattanooga’s identity and heritage. This support has created a vibrant local market for craft spirits, with residents actively seeking out and purchasing Chattanooga-made whiskeys. This increased demand for locally produced products has boosted the bottom line for distilleries and encouraged further growth and innovation within the industry.


Additionally, the whiskey industry has led to the growth of ancillary businesses and services. Suppliers of raw materials such as grains, barrels, and packaging materials have experienced increased demand, creating opportunities for local farmers and manufacturers. The tourism industry has also seen a surge in related services, such as transportation companies offering whiskey-themed tours, souvenir shops selling whiskey-related merchandise, and specialized whiskey bars and lounges catering to whiskey enthusiasts.


Furthermore, the presence of a flourishing whiskey industry has elevated Chattanooga’s reputation as a food and beverage destination. The city’s whiskey culture has garnered regional and national attention, attracting food and drink writers, influencers, and industry professionals. This spotlight has helped put Chattanooga on the map as a must-visit destination for whiskey aficionados, further enhancing the city’s overall appeal and driving economic growth.


In summary, the whiskey revival in Chattanooga has had a significant positive impact on the local economy. The industry has generated jobs, stimulated tourism, fostered community engagement, and created opportunities for various businesses and suppliers. Moreover, it has contributed to the city’s overall reputation as a thriving and vibrant destination, ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for the whiskey industry in Chattanooga.


Challenges and Opportunities for the Whiskey Industry

While the whiskey industry in Chattanooga has experienced a remarkable revival, it is not without its challenges. Understanding and addressing these challenges can help the industry continue to thrive and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.


One of the primary challenges faced by the whiskey industry is the ever-changing regulatory landscape. Laws and regulations surrounding alcohol production and distribution can be complex and subject to frequent updates. Staying in compliance with these regulations requires constant vigilance and adaptability. Distilleries must stay informed and agile to navigate the legal framework and ensure that their practices align with the evolving standards.


Another challenge lies in maintaining consistency and quality in the face of growing demand. As the popularity of Chattanooga whiskeys increases, distilleries must scale their production without compromising on the meticulous attention to detail that goes into crafting exceptional spirits. It requires careful planning, investment in infrastructure, and a commitment to maintaining the integrity of their products.


Whiskey production is also influenced by external factors such as climate and barrel aging. Environmental changes can impact the maturation process, creating variations in flavor profiles. Distilleries need to be aware of these potential fluctuations and adapt their production techniques to consistently deliver high-quality whiskeys.


Additionally, the whiskey industry must grapple with the challenge of market competition. As more distilleries emerge and the craft spirits market becomes increasingly crowded, standing out and capturing consumer attention becomes more challenging. Building a strong brand, creating unique flavor profiles, and offering captivating experiences through distillery tours and tastings are some strategies to differentiate and thrive in the competitive landscape.


Despite these challenges, the whiskey industry in Chattanooga also presents significant opportunities for growth and innovation. The rising interest in craft spirits provides an avenue for distilleries to experiment with new flavors, production techniques, and aging methods. By pushing the boundaries of what is traditionally considered whiskey, distilleries have the opportunity to create new and exciting expressions that appeal to a wider consumer base.


Furthermore, the increasing global demand for premium and small-batch whiskeys opens doors for Chattanooga distilleries to expand their reach beyond local markets. By focusing on quality and building strong distribution networks, they can tap into the national and international markets, further fostering economic growth and establishing the city as a hub for whiskey excellence.


Collaboration and knowledge-sharing among industry players is another avenue for growth. By fostering partnerships with other regional distilleries, businesses, and educational institutions, Chattanooga’s whiskey industry can continue to nurture a culture of innovation and craftsmanship. Sharing expertise and resources can lead to the development of new production techniques, the exploration of unique ingredients, and collective marketing efforts to promote Chattanooga as a premier whiskey destination.


Overall, while challenges exist, the whiskey industry in Chattanooga has a promising future filled with opportunities for growth, innovation, and continued success. By tackling these challenges head-on and capitalizing on the strengths of the region, Chattanooga’s whiskey industry can continue to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the ever-evolving world of whiskey.



The revival of the whiskey industry in Chattanooga stands as a testament to the city’s resilience, passion, and commitment to preserving its rich heritage. Through overcoming the challenges of Prohibition, advocating for legislative changes, and embracing the opportunities presented to them, Chattanooga has successfully reclaimed its place as a prominent player in the world of whiskey.


The journey towards whiskey revival in Chattanooga has not only brought back the art of distilling but has also reignited a sense of pride and community engagement. The industry has created jobs, stimulated tourism, and bolstered the local economy, leading to a renewed sense of vibrancy in the city.


Distillery tours and tastings have allowed visitors to immerse themselves in the whiskey-making process, gaining an appreciation for the craftsmanship and dedication that goes into producing Chattanooga’s exceptional whiskeys. The city’s distilleries have become destinations in their own right, attracting whiskey enthusiasts from near and far to experience the flavors and stories woven into each bottle.


The whiskey industry in Chattanooga, while flourishing, does face its fair share of challenges. From navigating the ever-changing regulatory landscape to maintaining consistency and quality amidst growing demand, distilleries must remain vigilant and adaptable. However, these challenges also present unique opportunities for growth and innovation.


As the whiskey industry continues to evolve, there is a chance for Chattanooga distilleries to push boundaries, create new flavors, and expand their reach into national and international markets. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing among industry players can further fuel innovation and establish Chattanooga as a hub for whiskey excellence.


In conclusion, Chattanooga’s journey towards whiskey revival is a story of determination, perseverance, and the power of a community united by a shared passion. The city’s whiskey industry has revitalized its cultural identity, stimulated economic growth, and put Chattanooga on the map as a must-visit destination for whiskey enthusiasts. With a strong foundation of heritage, craftsmanship, and innovation, the future of Chattanooga’s whiskey industry looks bright and promising.