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Georgia’s microdistilleries growing in number

Shawn Hall of Georgia Distilling Co.

Shawn Hall of Georgia Distilling Co.

“It won’t be too long until there’s a coffee roaster, brew pub, distillery and maybe a cacao artisan in every town,” said Bill Owens, president of the American Distilling Institute.

That prediction is about to come true for metro Atlanta. The region has Batdorf & Bronson roasting coffee, several microbreweries and Cacao Atlanta making bean-to-bar chocolate. Soon, it will have two microdistilleries.

Craft distilleries, much like craft breweries, are on the rise. According to the ADI, there are about 240 small distilleries in the U.S. and Canada. By 2015, estimates say the number will likely jump to 400 to 450.

In Georgia, the number has more than doubled in a year. There are currently five operating craft producers with three more in the works, two of them inside the Perimeter.

Like cheese makers or bread bakers, craft spirit makers are artisan producers. Kent Cost, the president of 13th Colony Distillery in Americus, calls it “every bit as much an art as it is science.”

Erik Vonk of Richland Distilling Co. near Columbus likens it to playing a musical instrument and explains that small-batch production allows crafters to “develop taste and aroma profiles more refined.”

Georgia’s craft distilleries buy local ingredients to distill liquors. Vonk grows sugar cane for rum. Others, such as Carlos Lovell of Ivy Mountain Distillery, are using local spring water and apples or sprouting and grinding their own corn.

Carlos Lovell of Ivy Mountain Distillery

Carlos Lovell of Ivy Mountain Distillery

They pay homage to Georgia’s tradition of moonshining.

Several of Georgia’s legal microdistilleries trace their roots to forbidden backwoods production. Eighty-five-year-old Lovell works from a recipe he learned as a child at his daddy’s hip.

Cheryl Wood of Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, who says she comes from “generations and generations of moonshiners,” uses a 150-year-old family formula.

Georgia native Casey Teague, the manager at Mac McGee’s Irish Pub in Decatur, believes white lightning helped sustain the economy during its heyday.

“Moonshine played a huge part in our history,” he said. “After the Civil War and Prohibition, it saved a lot of families. It put money in pockets and food on the table, especially in the South.”

Georgia’s microdistilleries make moonshine whiskey along with rum, vodka and gin.

The small businesses provide a boost to the local economy. Owens, the ADI’s president, emphasizes the benefit of increased tourism generated by these distilleries, which can “lead the revival of a town.”

While these craft distilleries are good for the consumer and for local and state economies, their success hinges upon modifying what Vonk calls “an antiquated legal and regulatory environment surrounding making and selling spirits that dates back to Prohibition years.”

Richland Rum uses medium-charred American White Oak barrels.

Richland Rum uses medium-charred American White Oak barrels.

Thanks to legislation spearheaded by state Rep. Rusty Kidd of Milledgeville, home to Georgia Distilling Co., it is legal for distilleries to offer the public samplings of half an ounce per person, per day.

But distribution laws prohibiting onsite sales of spirits is a major obstacle, one being addressed by Georgia Distilling Co. and Jim Harris of the soon-to-open Moonrise Distillery.

“We are trying to get the same legislation passed for distilleries as wineries,” Harris said. ”The Georgia Farm Winery Act permits wineries to have a tasting room and have limited onsite sales.”

Without onsite sales, Harris says, “it will be the downfall of most Georgia distilleries. … We won’t be able to make it.”

In addition to legislative challenges, craft distilleries, like any artisan producer of foods, must educate consumers on the value of handmade, locally sourced products.

“If a person has been drinking Jack Daniel’s all their life, it may take a lot to persuade them,” said Carlene Holder of Ivy Mountain Distillery. “We’ll do it. One taste and they are convinced.”

Georgia microdistilleries:

13th Colony Distillery

When 13th Colony started in 2009, it was the only “legal” craft distiller in the state. It now produces two varieties of vodka, Southern gin and Southern corn whiskey made in a custom-made 300-gallon still. No tours are currently offered. 305 N. Dudley St., Americus.

Dawsonville MoonshineDawsonville Moonshine Distillery

Operating in the “moonshine capital of the world,” Dawsonville Moonshine makes what it calls true unaged Georgia corn whiskey. This company, which launched in late November, uses a custom-made 250-gallon copper pot still for production. Tours and tastings are offered noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 415 Ga. 53 E., Dawsonville.

Georgia Distilling Co.

This company, started by Bill Mauldin and Shawn Hall, who refer to themselves as “two wandering moonshiners,” produces moonshine, vodka, sour mash, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, and apple and peach brandies. It uses Georgia-made stills ranging in size from 50 to 1,100 gallons. Look for tours of their facility to be offered early in 2013. 121 Blandy Way, Milledgeville.

Ivy Mountain Distillery

Opening Ivy Mountain allowed master distiller Carlos Lovell the opportunity to return to his family tradition of distilling legally. The company, which launched in June, produces sour mash spirits, aged sour mash whiskey, apple brandy and peach brandy. The distillery plans to offer tours beginning in the spring. 1896 Dick’s Hill Parkway, Mount Airy.

Richland Distilling Co.

Richland Distilling Co. produces a single product: rum. The all-natural rum is produced daily in small batches using a copper pot still and a recipe that has been in development for more than 15 years. The company offers tours five days a week and will accommodate groups or offer a rum-making workshop upon request. 333 Broad St., Richland.

Note: Products by all of these producers are available at Mac McGee’s Irish Pub in Decatur.

Distilleries coming soon:

Independent Distilling Co.

This craft distillery company run by Michael Anderson and Thomas Williams has signed a lease on a property in Decatur, where it plans to open next fall. The company will produce very small batches of whiskey, seasonal brandies and grappa using a 60-gallon still.

Moonrise Distillery

This new distillery, opening in January, will produce barrel-aged all-grain whiskey, moonshine and a selection of brandies, including apple, peach and blackberry. The distillery will use what it calls “old-fashioned Appalachian-style stills.” Moonrise plans to begin offering tours soon after opening. 31 Webb Road, Clayton.

Old 4th Distillery

This intown distillery expects to be up and running within three to five months and hopes to have product on the shelves by September. It will focus on vodka and gin. 487 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta.

–by Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog

12 comments Add your comment

Edward

December 28th, 2012
2:11 pm

Hopefully the laws can be amended to help these prosper.

I'm Thirtsy

December 28th, 2012
2:41 pm

I think this kind of development is great for all of the communities and people involved. Keeping alive traditions and beginning new ones. Shout out to Red Hare Brewery in Marietta.

I'm Super Thirsty

December 28th, 2012
2:52 pm

I definitely think the more the merrier when it comes to hand crafted alcohol; whether it be spirits or beer. Shout out to Burnt Hickory Brewery in Kennesaw!

Gwinnett Mom

December 28th, 2012
2:59 pm

I think this is a shame. With all the drung drivers out there why do Georiga need more places to make booze? Why doesnt Gov Deal do sometiong about this?

[...] Georgia’s microdistilleries growing in number [...]

Edward

December 29th, 2012
10:30 am

Gwinnett Mom: please stay home, locked inside padded walls with no TV or radio. Maybe even a hermetically sealed bubble to avoid germs. The world is just too dangerous for you and your children. Oh, no books, either, they might get dangerous ideas by reading.

HotlantaHobo

December 29th, 2012
12:19 pm

Ironically, many of the Kentucky distilleries are in dry counties and Jack Daniels tells you in their ads that they can’t offer you a drink on their tours for the same reason.

But most of the great distilled spirits (whiskey, brandy, rum) require long barrel times and you just can’t open a distillery and have these products ready to sell.

All this makes me wonder about the economic viability of the micro-distillery. Usually small distilleries in Scotland supply the larger ones for making blends, but now they do sell their products as single-malts. Seems that these locals might do well to make similar products that could come together in blends. And remember that the bible belt isn’t too keen on liquor. Remember what it took to get Sunday sales in Georgia after decades?

PTC DAWG

December 31st, 2012
10:04 am

Are any of these available in stores locally?

And what is a drung driver? :)

James

December 31st, 2012
11:42 am

@hobo – Note that these distilleries are making moonshine, so no aging required. Just conjecture, but I’d imagine the recent surge in interest in moonshine has opened the doors for those wanting to start a distillery, as the corn liquor can help pay the bills until some of barrel aged products are ready for consumption…

Jenny Turknett

December 31st, 2012
5:14 pm

PTC DAWG, yes, many of them are available in local stores. You can go to their websites to find out where specifically. I do know, however, that Dawsonville Moonshine is sold out everywhere at the moment (or was earlier this month when I researched the story). You can also taste products by all of the five operating distilleries at Mac McGee’s in Decatur.

e@eee.com

January 1st, 2013
8:12 am

The majority of folks who prefer micro- and small batch versus getting hammered at Tin Lizzy’s are for the most part responsible people who will take it home and have a drink from time to time. Nathan is not going to do anything since this is no different than any other business trying to make a buck. If we all take responsibility for ourselves versus trying to push our values on others, we might be alright!

Now relax, have a drink and watch some football! Happy New Year!

Jim S.

January 2nd, 2013
3:37 pm

With some legislative changes, I agree that this may be huge…I missed this article on the day it came out, but I’d like to learn how to distill spirits myself..any suggestions?