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Essential: John Manis of American Craft Distillers of Lynchburg

{Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh of a multi-part series highlighting all the essential folks in Moore County. Readers nominated each interview subject. To nominate someone, email editor@lynchburg-times.com.}

It was an idea whose time had come … small-batch, artisan hand sanitizer. That’s the impression we get from John Manis — one of the co-owners of American Craft Distillers of Lynchburg. We met on a Friday afternoon recently at their location on the Lynchburg Square.

A native of Indiana, Manis came to southern, middle Tennessee by way of Orlando. He and his wife, Cathy, live in Tullahoma but own property on County Line Road.

Five years ago, he and Ray Tucker of Moore County, decided to open the Lynchburg Winery on the historic Lynchburg Square. In 2018, they added American Craft Distillers of Lynchburg. Today they produce wine with locally-grown grapes as well as distilled spirits like moonshine, rum, vodka, and, of course, whiskey. The distillery side is one hundred percent tourism based. They don’t ship whiskey or sell through a distributor. Instead, they rely of foot traffic from the square to move product.

“The square is where the magic is,” Manis says.

Though he didn’t know it at the time, whiskey-making was actually a family tradition.

“Right after we opened, my uncles messaged me to let me know that it’s actually in my blood,” he says. “My grandfather Kirkpatrick made moonshine in Rogersville near the Cherokee Dam. He was a corn farmer and owned a grist mill.”

It’s those whiskey making instinct and a desire to do good in his community that gave Manis the idea to start making hand-santizer out of the high-proof ethanol they use to produce spirits. American Craft Distillers of Lynchburg were one of the first of Tennessee’s smaller distilleries to produce it.

With his partner, Ray Tucker’s, role in the local healthcare scene it seemed like a natural fit. Tucker works as the Director of Surgical Services at Southern Tennessee Regional Health System in Winchester.

As the COVID-19 situation evolved, more and more individuals and institutions started meticulously cleaning and disinfecting multiples times a day. That increased usage disrupted the supply chain for regular sanitizers made from isopropyl alcohol. That’s when Manis decided to step in.

“We’ve got product. We could do this,” Manis says he told Tucker. And Tucker agreed.

As a small-batch distillery, the hand sanitizer project began small-batch as well … first in 16 gallon batches, then 55 gallon batches, and finally in 300 gallon batches to meet demand. The first 25 gallons they produced went to the Winchester hospital. After that, they started handing it out to Moore County first responders and healthcare professionals and then to the surrounding counties.

“We’re small,” Manis says. “We can’t help everybody but we can help our locals.”

According to Lynchburg Winery General Manager Alissa Fly, they donated hand sanitizer to as close as Bedford and Franklin counties and as far away as Huntsville and Murfreesboro. Manis says after the first round of deliveries, they started producing sanitizer to sell to consumers due to high demand.

“What they were normally using in a month, was gone in three days,” he says.

At this point, Manis says they were selling 100-200 bottles a day.

“The week before last,” Fly says. “I opened four minutes early at 10:56 a.m. at there was a line out the door. By 10:06 a.m., I’d sold 26 bottles and we completely sold out by noon.”

To date, they’ve sold around 2,000 consumer bottles … some in bulk to local trucking companies like Titan Transfer and Big G. Manis says the revenue from the consumer sales went right back into producing more hand sanitizer. For every one bottle they sell, they give away five more.

Manis says demanding is waning enough that he can slowly return to his bread and butter … distilled spirits but he’s been grateful for the experience.

“It’s been worth it because we know we’re helping our community,” he says. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently owned and operated newspaper that publishes new stories every morning. Covering Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

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