BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) — Barely a year removed from a small operation in Jonesborough, the Tennessee Hills brand announced a second multimillion dollar project Monday that will include a major automated distillery and museum in Bristol.
Scott Andrew partners with Tennessee Hills founder Stephen Callahan and said the pair saw such rapid growth in demand after a Johnson City expansion last year that they needed to look for additional space. Working with Tom Anderson, an economic developer with the City of Bristol, they found their way to an eight-acre hill that’s the first one drivers see as they enter the Volunteer State from Virginia.
“We saw this hill, it wasn’t even for sale,” Andrew told News Channel 11 while standing on the property Tennessee Hills bought a couple months ago. It includes a 19,000-square-foot building that National College had left empty for two years due to COVID-19 — and probably by next fall, a 34,000-square-foot distillery that will pump out up to 7,200 bottles of spirits in a span of hours. Callahan’s current operation in Jonesborough produces about 1,000 bottles a week.
“I just drove up here and knocked on the door,” Andrew said of the hilltop location a stone’s throw from the Pinnacle shopping center and not far from the new Bristol, Va. casino. “I called them, they were up in Virginia, and they said ‘yeah, we’d be interested in selling it. We were fortunate to be able to craft a deal with them and buy the property, which is perfect for Tennessee Hills.”
Tennessee Hills is investing $21.3 million, including about $8 million for high-tech distilling equipment that will occupy the new $11 million building. They’ll retrofit the former college into a space that will include classrooms for distilling and business classes, a museum dedicated to Tennessee’s statewide history as a whiskey hotbed, and the rugged entrepreneurialism that has marked Northeast Tennessee for centuries.
The project fits well enough with Bristol’s focus on lifestyle tourism that the city is donating 45 acres of land across Highway 11-W, adjacent to The Pinnacle.
“It fits very well going back to the birthplace of country music, just all the growth that we’re having,” Anderson said. “All the growth that we’re having, there’s a lot of outdoor enthusiasts, tourism, events that we have going on more and more and they just mesh very well with that and they’re willing to put the resources behind it.”
The 45 acres will become what Anderson called an “adventure park.” Andrew referred to the wooded site, a mix of steep terrain, about five acres of flat land and a valley.
“We’re canvassing a bunch of ideas,” Andrew said. “We’ve got everything from an outdoor adventure park to a Smokestillery restaurant to cabins and somewhat of a resort complex on top of the ridgeline similar to what you might see in Gatlinburg, except a little more of an industrial Tennessee Hills look.
“If we can we’re probably going to combine a lot of those things together, and we really just agreed to develop everything that was usable as we develop these ideas, based off of the $20 million we’re already investing in this site.”
Jobs in the mix
The overall concept is likely to create dozens of new jobs. In fact, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) sent out its own announcement about it Monday. ECD is providing workforce training grants and other incentives in addition to the help coming from Bristol.
“Tennessee’s strong business climate and skilled workforce continue to ensure success among companies like Tennessee Hills Distillery,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a release. “I thank this Tennessee brand for its commitment to job creation and look forward to seeing many more years of success in Northeast Tennessee,.”