Billy Kaufman, a California film and television art director turned sustainable farmer and Tennessee distiller, will be the Babson Center for Global Commerce’s 2017 Entrepreneur in Residence. Kaufman will deliver a public lecture, titled “Sustainability and Craft Distilling: An Intersection of Entrepreneurship and Small Farming,” at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in Gailor Auditorium.
The lecture is open to the public, and a reception will follow in the foyer of the auditorium.
Kaufman left his film and television career in 2001 to purchase a 400-acre farm in rural Cannon County, near Murfreesboro. Since then, he has developed the farm following the principles of sustainable agriculture. In 2010, he and his brothers founded the Short Mountain Distillery, a specialty small-batch spirits distillery.
Tennessee has a long history of whiskey production; in 1810, histories of the period report, the state had nearly 15,000 registered distilleries. But by the 1840s, crusades to limit the production of alcoholic beverages gained strength, culminating in a national ban on sale or production of alcohol, known as Prohibition, in 1920. During Prohibition, illegal distillers produced large quantity of “moonshine” whiskey at clandestine stills, often operated at night to avoid detection.
With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Tennessee strictly regulated distilling and sale of alcohol, and for decades the state had only two legal whiskey makers.
When the state legislature relaxed the distillery law in 2009, Kaufman became one of the first entrepreneurs to enter the business. A year later, he won a county-wide referendum which allowed him to open the distillery. In 2011, construction of the distillery began and the following year, Short Mountain produced its first run of traditional Tennessee moonshine whiskey.
As a pioneer in the Tennessee craft distilling business, Kaufman soon learned that one obstacle to success was “the giant mound of legislation” already enshrined in law. In 2014, he organized the Tennessee Distillers Guild, which represents many of the state’s distilleries, including giants Jack Daniels and George Dickel and a growing number of small-batch craft distillers.
The guild monitors the industry’s interests in the Tennessee Legislature as well as promoting the state’s long tradition and legacy of distilling with the “Tennessee Whiskey Trail” program.
Today, Short Mountain produces the first Organic-certified Tennessee Whiskey, bourbon, rye, wheat, and malt whiskeys as well as numerous moonshine varietals. As soon as the distillery was operational, Kaufman began promoting it as a tourist destination. With its proximity to Nashville, it has become a popular site for events, including weddings. Kaufman also operates an on-site cafe featuring the farm’s own produce and beef.
It was important for Kaufman to stay true to his original goal of sustainable farming, but his efforts to add value to the farm have meant that he spends much of his time as a business executive.
“Now I have a farm manager,” he notes. “Be careful what you wish for.” Becoming an entrepreneur, he says, has given him “a life that makes me happy. I’m on track. I sleep well.” Still, he warns, “as an entrepreneur, I’m the last one to get paid. It’s definitely not easy.”
Kaufman grew up in California and he earned a B.A. degree in art history from Colby College, a small, highly selective liberal arts institution in Waterville, Maine.
The Humphreys Residencies bring entrepreneurs to Sewanee to meet with students, visit classes, and deliver a community lecture. The residencies are made possible by a gift from David (C’79) and Debra Humphreys. Kaufman’s lecture is cosponsored by the Departments of History, Earth and Environmental Systems, and the Babson Center for Global Commerce.