Lee Kennedy built his first distillery in the basement of his mother’s house while he was in high school. All he used was a diagram drawn by his uncle on a cocktail napkin and a copy of “The Foxfire Book,” a book on Appalachian culture with a section on moonshining.

“As a teen, I was very interested in distillation initially from the cultural heritage aspect of it. My family is Scotch-Irish, and growing up in the South, you always hear about moonshining,” Kennedy said. “[My mom] didn’t know it at the time, but I had a still in her basement—literally a 5-gallon still and fermentation tanks. Luckily, I didn’t blow her basement up.”

After graduating from Auburn University in 2001, Kennedy said, he came back to Middle Tennessee and worked in the financial services industry for a time and began to read more about the chemistry behind distilling in his spare time.

“I bought a larger still online, and it just became a major passion of mine,” Kennedy said.

Then, in 2009, the state government made whiskey production legal in every county in the state by overturning distilling prohibition laws that were enacted in 1910. Kennedy said that at that point, he decided to start Leiper’s Fork Distillery on 30 acres of land that belonged to his family.

Since opening in the summer of 2016, Kennedy said Leiper’s Fork Distillery has been dedicated to making its rye, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey with locally sourced grains and water.

•“I’m super committed to sourcing as hyperlocal as I can, and our corn is actually grown on my farm up the road, four miles from the distillery,” Kennedy said. “Our wheat comes from Williamson County; our barley and our rye come from southern Kentucky. ... I’m trying to make a whiskey that’s an expression of its surroundings—that’s important to us.”

Kennedy said the distilling business is like a Christmas tree farm: There is a lot of overhead cost and wait time until the business is able to make its products ready to sell to the public. Leiper’s Fork Distillery’s first batch of four-year Tennessee whiskey is set to hit the shelves this November. For now, visitors to the facility can take a tour with tastings for $18.

“We’re manufacturing a product on Day One, and if we’re doing that product justice, it won’t see the light of day for four, five or six years,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had to figure out a way to absorb all of those costs for the first four years, and the way we’ve done that, until 2020, has been through tourism.”•

Leiper’s Fork Distillery

3381 Southall Road, Franklin



Hours: Tue. 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Mon.