published Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Chattanooga Whiskey maker hopes to crowd meeting

Supporters of the Chattanooga Whiskey Company fill the Hamilton County Commission room Thursday
Supporters of the Chattanooga Whiskey Company fill the Hamilton County Commission room Thursday
Photo by John Rawlston.

IF YOU GO

The Hamilton County Commission meets today at 9:30 a.m. in Room 402 of the Hamilton County Courthouse at 625 Georgia Ave., Chattanooga.

Courthouse centennial begins today

A yearlong celebration of the Hamilton County Courthouse's 100-year birthday kicks off today.

An exhibit featuring old photos and documents about the courthouse, which had its cornerstone laid in 1912, will be unveiled at a 2 p.m. gathering.

The exhibit will examine Hamilton County government and its various county seats over the past 200 years, primarily focusing on the people, events and buildings in the early years.

Gina Hatler, the county's public relations director, said she hopes the event will draw more people into the courthouse to learn its history.

"It is a very public building -- It should be enjoyed," she said. "It's not just about getting your license renewed or coming to court. We're hoping this spurs some conversation."

More than 400 people have signed up to crowd into Hamilton County Commission chambers today in support of bringing whiskey production back to the county.

The Chattanooga Whiskey Co. will give a 10-minute presentation during the commission's agenda session about the economic impact liquor distillation could have here.

"Our leaders need to hear that the people want more jobs, they want more revenue, they want more tourism," said Joe Ledbetter, co-founder of Chattanooga Whiskey.

While liquor distilling was made legal in most Tennessee counties by a 2009 bill, Hamilton County was excluded from the bill -- meaning while liquor can be sold and drunk in Hamilton County, it cannot be made here because of opposition by members of the Hamilton legislative delegation.

Ledbetter and business partner Tim Piersant started distilling Chattanooga Whiskey -- in Indiana -- in 2011.

Since then, they have organized a campaign they call "Vote Whiskey" to try to amend the law so they could make Chattanooga's namesake drink in Chattanooga.

The County Commission does not have the power to change the statute on liquor distilleries, but it could make a formal appeal to state legislators to change the law.

The commission chambers have room for only about 100 people, according to a count by the county clerk's office. On the Facebook event page, 450 of the more than 6,000 people invited had signed up to go to the meeting.

"We're telling folks to be positive, be respectful, be patient," said Ledbetter. "It's about they're standing with us. They may be standing in the foyer, they may be standing outside across the street. But they're standing with us."

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