Spirits have long been a part of the history in the South, as ingrained in the landscape of its heritage as—well, the very grain used to produce its strongly flavored liquid gold. As gold it once very may well have been, in long ago days when distilling spirits was the sole source of income for farmers whose production of corn was too poor to be sold at market, but good enough to be ground into grain that was cooked and distilled into spirits. It’s an old and glorious tradition, one fraught with danger and so many fine elements of an adventure story, and a tradition that has become a point of pride, particularly in the states of Tennessee and Kentucky.
Taking on the responsibility of continuing that tradition has become a point of pride, as well, and that was something that Clarksville native Matt Cunningham wanted to bring his to hometown by establishing a distillery of his own, giving his new venture a name that befitted his vision—Old Glory Distilling Company.
For an enterprising young man full of hometown pride like Cunningham, travelling all over the nation and seeing the community spirit that fueled their homegrown distilleries was a sobering—and exiting—experience that gave him the grain of an idea for his own path. “I wanted to start something here that we could all be proud of, and I’ve been other places around the country where these new distilleries were something that the town really rallied around and made everyone excited. There was pride in what was happening there, and everyone seemed to have a sense of personal ownership in that,” 26 year-old Cunningham explains. “I wanted to bring that kind of pride and excitement to Clarksville, and seeing that same community response to us is really rewarding and extremely gratifying to me.”
Only a few months into its already successful stream of production, the newly constructed building that houses all 23000 square feet of Old Glory Distilling Company is spacious enough and equipped to handle the entire process of producing the spirits bearing its name. Each of the one thousand gallon batches are cooked in the company’s single cooker, then sent on to its five fermentation tanks before being distilled. “We’re a grain-to-glass company,” says Cunningham. “We bring the grain into our doors, we have it ground up, and we make it all here from scratch, right under our roof.” With the exception of the grain grinding, everything indeed is handled in-house, and even that will eventually be a step in the process that will need no outsourcing. In keeping with Cunningham’s passion for maintaining a sense of community ownership, his grain grows ten miles down the road at a local farm, and his grist-work is done by a close family friend who owns a cattle farm nearby.
The community, friends, and family are all indeed behind him and his dreams for Old Glory. His brother, Wes, has been at his side every step of the way, while his father served as the contractor for the impressive facility built with the look and feel of the 1940s, a time when, Cunningham feels, “people really took personal pride in their work.” And he’s certainly giving the people of Clarksville reason to be proud and come together. With the 7000 square foot event space located at the distillery, he’s also giving them the perfect place to do all of that gathering. Four eight-foot by eight-foot plate glass picture windows overlook the distillery equipment, showcasing the metal pots and pipes and gadgetry as if they were on exhibit at a museum. “The distillery really is the main feature of the venue, and we designed the space to highlight that,” Cunningham says. There is much to highlight at Old Glory, much to take pride in. This is a glorious part of the region’s heritage—and, if Cunningham has anything to do with it—it’s going to become a part of Clarksville’s legacy, and one it will savor for generations to come.