Matt Cunningham stands in front of a packed room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Clarksville, TN, clad in a checkered shirt tucked in to khaki chinos. Matt certainly doesn’t fit the image that “reality” TV has led us to picture as the Tennessee backwoods distiller; he’s young, articulate, has a college degree and all of his teeth. Today he’s announcing his plans for the Old Glory Distilling Company and showcasing the branding for the first suite of distilled spirits. He’s nervous and excited and clearly moved as he finally shares his dream with the masses.
The Kickoff event is well attended, including project collaborators, friends, family members, local press and leaders in the Clarksville business community. Both Theresa Harrington, Executive Director of Clarksville-Montgomery County Convention & Visitors Bureau and Tennessee State Senator Mark Green spoke to the crowd in addition to Cunningham, applauding his efforts.
The Old Glory site sits just off I-24 at Exit 4 with huge visibility from the highway. Once complete, a very large, open neon sign modeled after the famous Budweiser brewery sign in St. Louis will beacon passers by to the distillery. Hoping to bring additional tourists to Clarksville, Matt notes that this distillery is not just his, instead he wants it to be “Clarksville’s distillery, something the whole community can be proud of.” He mentioned that one way the community can get involved with the distillery will be through bottling and labeling parties, where volunteers will sign the bottles they help to assemble. Harrington half-joked that she hoped folks would have a few drinks and then stay at a nearby hotel for the night.
A collaboration between Dan Hanley and JTMJ Architecture, plans for the distillery, event space and tasting room were first unveiled. The distillery will house two American-made stills, a stripping still plus a 500 gallon Vendome pot still. The two story multi-use event space can host up to 350 people for weddings, parties, meetings, fundraisers or concerts and will have full view of the working distillery through large glass walls. A full-sized catering kitchen as well as bride and groom rooms complete this space, making it a must-have venue for business and social events alike. Barrel warehouses are set to occupy some of the remaining 7 acres of property on Alfred Thun Road.
Next, Cunningham shows off his logo and begins to list his flagship brands. The Old Glory moniker simply couldn’t describe this project any better. The American flag, or Old Glory, symbolizes hardiness and valor, purity and innocence and vigilance, perseverance and justice in its red, white & blue. Cunningham’s vision embodies each of these American characteristics and his branding encompasses the (Tennessee) stars & stripes in a modern way. Making whiskey is more American than apple pie, with roots going back to President George Washington. As Senator Green surmised, Old Glory is “a symbol for entrepreneurial spirit that made this country great.” Old Glory’s proximity to Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division doesn’t go without a respectful patriotic nod, either. Reading from what will be the back of one of the label’s flagship brands, Jumper’s Stash, Matt describes his rum:
What could possibly make a seemingly sane person jump from a perfectly sound airplane into harm’s way? We don’t know, but we think it merits a toast with a glass of this fine spirit. As you might deduce from the name of this rum, we’ve got a soft spot for paratroopers; specifically the brave men and women of the 101st Airborne Division and the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Their home base, Fort Campbell, is located just a few clicks away from our pot stills here in Clarksville, Tennessee. In honor of their fighting spirit, we’ve crafted a rum distilled from primo sugar cane molasses, which imparts it with distinct flavors, and makes it great for mixing, sipping, pouring and toasting to missions accomplished.
Additional brands set to launch with the distillery’s opening include Smooth Shine Tennessee Moonshine, Old Glory Tennessee Vodka and White Hat Whiskey. Cunningham exhibits both ingenuity and respect for those who paved the way with his wheat-based shine saying, “working in the shadow of whiskey making royalty here in Tennessee we weren’t about to come out of the gate with a high-octane, corn and sugar based hooch that can peel paint off an M1-Abrams tank!”
The vodka will be filtered with the same sugar maple charcoal that makes a whiskey Tennessee Whiskey. Matt is quick to point out that Old Glory will primarily be a Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon producer but that those releases are several years down the road… at least 4. He goes on to explain that 80% of their initial spirits will be put in barrels to age. We won’t have to wait quite as long for the White Hat Whiskey; he’ll be speed-aging some of that in smaller barrels and expects to release it after about 2 years.
Not willing to gamble the next four years away, just hoping for the best, Cunningham employed the consultation of industry veteran Dave Scheurich. With over 40 years of experience in the production of distilled spirits, Scheurich’s resume includes stints at Seagram’s, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.
Projected to be open by Fall of 2015, Old Glory Distillery completes a trifecta for the booze traveler at the I-24/TN-KY State line. Beachaven Winery sits down the road and MB Roland Distillery is just a few miles over the state line. Matt hopes his distillery will be the “gateway” between the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the newly developing Tennessee Whiskey Trail. Old Glory is a member of the Tennessee Distillers Guild.