Compared to Tennessee’s biggest and oldest distilleries, Thompson’s Station distiller Heath Clark has a postage-stamp-sized location in this small Williamson County town.
Hopping of Highway 31, visitors just have to take a couple of sharp curves. Turn right at the church, left at the hair salon. Park in the chunky gravel under the now-blooming trees. It’s not hard to miss in the center of town that has yet to fully develop.
Growing up in Coffee County, Clark lived only a few miles from the internationally acclaimed Jack Daniels distillery. Occasionally making his way over to Moore County from time to time, he became engrossed in the process of the yellow corn mash transforming into a candy-colored liquid.
“I loved the smell of the place long before I had tasted Jack Daniels,” he said. “You can’t beat the smell of whiskey, and I just loved it. As I got older and made more trips, the efficiency of their operation was mind boggling.”
After graduating from law school, Clark found himself working in Franklin for a healthcare company. He apparently talked about whiskey – the differences, the nuances – a lot. So much so that his boss finally told him to stop talking about it, to just go do it.
Clark hadn’t even thought about wanting to make whiskey in the first place.
“It never crossed my mind to go make whiskey,” he said. “That was an eye opening idea – to just go make whiskey. I made an outline of things you need to do on a piece of paper. Roman numeral number one was get permission.”
So Clark started looking at the places permission was already granted. Moseying down Interstate 24 on the weekends, he searched through Coffee County trying to find a spot to start his business. He studied zoning regulations in correlation with parcels for sale.
And somewhere along the way on curvy back roads in his home county, he wondered, “What would happen if I changed state law?” (continue reading)