Atlanta Coffee Hunting (the outtakes)

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Atlanta’s newest coffee shops are an attractive bunch. I recently wrote a quick roundup of all the notable newcomers from the past year for Creative Loafing, and had plenty of interesting outtakes from my Atlanta coffee hunt, as well. Brash Coffee (above) … Continue reading

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Atlanta Restaurants: In Praise of Being Bold

Ticonderoga Club

Ticonderoga Club

There is something magical happening right now on the Atlanta restaurant scene. I’m not talking about the impressive numbers of new restaurants opening up on a seemingly weekly basis – though the numbers are indeed impressive. And I’m not talking about the big names coming to town – though names like Jonathan Waxman or Sean Brock are also noteworthy. I’m talking about restaurants that are bent on being bold. Being personal. Doing things differently. Crafting experiences with deeply human personalities that go beyond the surface-level sheen that so many of Atlanta’s restaurants of late have relied on.

So let’s pause now to celebrate the bold – those pioneers who may shape the very definition of restaurant dining in this city for years to come. Specifically, let’s celebrate three particular pioneering restaurants who are doing their thing in distinctly personal ways: the brand new Staplehouse, the barely open Ticonderoga Club, and tiny little Dish Dive, which opened just under a year ago. But before we dig in to why these three warrant celebration, it’s worth a quick detour to talk about how the stage was set for their arrival.

It’s clear that the past few years of economic growth in Atlanta has given restaurateurs a boost of confidence to go out on a limb. Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market both have been major engines driving restaurant openings, and neither would be here had the local economy (and the commercial real estate scene specifically) not ramped up significantly. In parallel, as the number of new restaurant openings goes up and up, the need to stand out and carve out a niche becomes more and more important. At this point, we’re all slightly, reluctantly, somewhat over the whole modern-Southern-local-farm-to-table-mania that seemed to guide every other new restaurant in Atlanta over much of the past decade. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Miller Union, Cakes & Ale, Empire State South, Restaurant Eugene, and their great forebear – Bacchanalia – are all restaurants that have brilliantly harnessed that mania and thrilled Atlanta diners in the process. But after a while, especially as the number of high profile restaurants in town increases, we simply need more diverse perspectives to have a well rounded dining scene.

Getting back to the embrace of the bold and personal that’s now happening, you could point to One Eared Stag as a precursor, with its ever-quirky personality and fearless combinations of flavors that can’t be disassociated from chef Robert Phalen. Or the completely unique, late-night-only, industry-centric Octopus Bar in EAV. Or Zach and Cristina Meloy’s Better Half, which is among the more prominent chef-driven supper clubs to have made the move to a full-scale restaurant, yet still maintains the personal touch of its supper club incarnation. If I had to pinpoint one single restaurant, though, that signaled to Atlanta that it was OK to go bold, it would be the aptly named Gunshow.

Gunshow's Instagram

Gunshow’s Instagram

With Gunshow, open since 2013, Chef Kevin Gillespie and his crew took an intentionally polarizing stance on the dining experience – in a way that was meant to better connect the kitchen (the chefs) to the dining table (the patrons). One by one, the chefs cart out their creations to the dining room, explaining the dish, serving it up when they get the nod. This is not traditional dining, and, with its bare bones environment and totally unique pacing and delivery, Gunshow admittedly pisses some people off. And it also thrills a lot of people who are looking for a meal that gleefully messes with expectations (and delivers some stellar, intriguing food packed with personality in the process). And Gunshow is smart enough to know that it’s OK to piss some people off as long as you’re deeply connecting with others. Something is clearly working, as Gunshow remains one of the hardest-to-get reservations in town.

Which brings us back to three newer restaurants that, like Gunshow, are proudly waving their own particular brand of freak flag. The first of the bunch, Dish Dive, made its mark by being unrelentingly small and personal. Dish Dive equals chef Travis Carroll in the kitchen and Jeff Myers manning the house. 16 seats inside. BYOB. A super-concise menu. And you can’t help but feel that it’s Travis and Jeff’s (figural) house you’re dining in. It doesn’t get much more personal than that.To borrow a popular expression, Dish Dive gives no f*cks about what a restaurant is supposed to be. They know what they are supposed to be, and who they are trying to delight, and they do it with aplomb.

Dish Dive's Instagram

Dish Dive’s Instagram

Meanwhile, newcomer Staplehouse furthers this idea of boldly building the restaurant-diner relationship in a few notable ways. First, they are a restaurant in service of a non-profit – the Giving Kitchen. And, while not the first restaurant to have a social mission as its underpinning, Staplehouse is certainly the most high profile. This gives them a built-in aura of true goodwill that – for those informed diners who are in on the aura – inevitably shapes the experience of dining there. You know you are supporting a cause with each ticket you purchase (more on that in a bit) and every bite you take. Even more, you know you are supporting the people who are most invested in that cause with each ticket you purchase and every bite you take. If you’re familiar at all with Staplehouse’s story, you know that the restaurant’s story is also the story of Jen, of Kara, of chef Ryan Smith. You could even say Staplehouse’s story is that of the entire Atlanta restaurant community in all its tragedy and triumph. This is a story, a dining experience, that people want to invest in.

Staplehouse's Instagram

Staplehouse’s Instagram: “Anything long lasting or worthwhile takes time and complete surrender.”

Point two on Staplehouse – did you notice that they are not taking reservations, but rather selling “tickets”? They’re the first restaurant in Atlanta to adopt the Tock ticketing system used by many of the country’s leading restaurants. You could argue that this is a business-minded step away from the personal trust inherent in the typical reservation approach, but really, this path of selling tickets just reinforces the commitment from the diner to the restaurant – when you buy that ticket, you have given them your cash, and you are in on the cause before you even step foot through the door.

Smartly, Staplehouse realized that the ticketed seats inside the restaurant couldn’t be the only way to engage with diners. They built an outdoor patio, with its own little kitchen, ready for all comers with a menu that’s more affordable than the glorious (but admittedly pricey) tasting menu inside… but every bit as creative. And Staplehouse consciously avoided giving this outdoor patio a standalone name and identity (think Holeman & Finch for Restaurant Eugene, or Star Provisions for Bacchanalia), but rather embraced that Staplehouse itself needed to have more than one way to connect with diners. Simply put, Staplehouse is approaching the mission to deepen the restaurant-diner relationship in new ways, and bridging the casual/fine dining divide in the process.

Now for what may be the boldest restaurant of the bunch… Ticonderoga Club. If you haven’t (yet) heard much about this new spot from Greg Best, Regan Smith, Paul Calvert, David Bies, and Bart Sasso, that was intentional on their part. Ticonderoga Club is the result of a long-simmering stew of hush hush ideas that started way back in September 2013 (if not earlier) when Best and Smith left their founding roles behind the bar and front of house, respectively, at Holeman & Finch. Roughly a year later, Best and Smith confirmed that they would join the party at Krog Street Market, but still the details were few, from the name (which wasn’t revealed until one week before the place actually opened in October), to the very type of bar/restaurant it was going to be. Finally, now that Ticonderoga Club is open (although still awaiting signature on a liquor license as of this writing), the months of mystery are starting to make sense… Best/Smith/Calvert/Bies/Sasso weren’t just creating a bar and restaurant, they were creating an entire mythology.

Ticonderoga Club's Instagram

Ticonderoga Club’s Instagram

Mythology, you may ask? Let’s just say that the Ticonderoga Club crew’s attention to storytelling rivals that of Homer himself. And this is not storytelling for the heck of it… the mythology here is in service of forging a bond between an establishment and its patrons. In an extensive reveal published by the Bitter Southerner, titled The League of Extraordinary Hospitalitarians, we learn that the Ticonderoga Club is actually (nix that… mythically) the Atlanta chapter of a 249 year old organization. The mythology extends in a printed Ticonderoga Club Quarterly, packed with philosophy and silliness in equal measure. The Bitter Southerner’s Chuck Reece hit the nail on the head, though, with the raison d’être of this whole elaborate backstory – which is fostering a feeling of gleeful hospitality. That won’t come as any surprise to fans of Best, Smith, and Calvert, who are all known for their skills as hosts, conversationalists, and all-around-fine-folks.

Is Ticonderoga Club quirky as hell? You bet. But isn’t it nice to see folks go out on a limb and do something different, especially when, at the end of the day, you know that they’re doing something different on your behalf? Ticonderoga Club, Staplehouse, Dish Dive… they’re all pushing the hospitality envelope in their own clever, even magical, ways. They’re not the only intrepid trailblazers in town doing so, but their lead is one to take notice of and celebrate. If their bold steps lead to something great, we all win.

by Brad Kaplan, November 6, 2015

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What do you get when you mix Georgia pecan nut milk and South Carolina coffee rum?

Treehouse Pecan Milk Rum

I wasn’t planning on having my day shot to hell. But then the nut milk delivery lady showed up. That’s right, I said nut milk. delivery. lady. She handed over the frosty glass jar of her sweet Georgia pecan nut milk, and was heading back to her car, when she turned and delivered the words that would indeed shoot my day (my life?) to hell – “if you’ve got any vodka, it’s great in a White Russian!” She said it so cheerfully. And why shouldn’t she? If any drink can be spoken of in cheerful terms, surely it is the White Russian. Especially one made with locally-made, hand-delivered, sweet Georgia pecan nut milk.

As I carried my pecan milk back into the house, I was already mentally checking my liquor cabinet. Hmm, vodka? Yes. I hardly touch the stuff, but I do make sure to always have a bottle on hand for guests. And I knew exactly where the fifth of Cathead vodka was in the cabinet, hidden behind a bevy of gins, collecting dust in the back corner. The only other thing I would need for a White Russian was Kahlua, and surely I… no… dear God… I don’t  have any Kahlua.

I went down to the liquor cabinet to check, and sure enough… no Kahlua. That led me into the rabbit hole of searching the internet for homemade Kahlua recipes, but frankly I didn’t have the patience. (One of the recipes included the step of steeping vanilla beans for THREE WEEKS! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THREE WEEKS!? My nut milk would never last three weeks, never mind the fact that I would need to go buy some fresh vanilla beans to get it going, and if I’m doing that, I could just as easily have gone out and gotten the goshdarnt Kahlua in the first place).

Treehouse Pecan Milk RumLuckily, I discovered an old bottle in my liquor cabinet that eliminated the need for Kahlua. It was a Java Rum from Sea Island distillery on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. I had bought it on a visit to the distillery several years back, and was super impressed at the time (though apparently not impressed enough to drink much of the stuff, as the bottle was still nearly full). In any case, I twisted off the cap, took in a deep whiff, and knew right away that my lack of Kahlua was no problem at all. Better still, the Sea Island Java Rum even eliminates the need for vodka as well, since it clocks in at 70 proof (Kahlua is just 40 proof).

OK, so, coffee rum? Check. Nut milk? Check. Ice and glass? Check. That’s it. No recipe needed, just mix the two to taste and give it a swirl, then sip, and OH MY LORD this is good stuff. The subtle pecan notes in the creamy nut milk, which also has small amounts of honey and vanilla, works wonders with the chewy, dark-chocolatey, coffee-intense Java Rum. This is the kind of thing that I could drink gallons of over breakfast. Or after dinner. Or during any of the minutes that take place in the span of hours between breakfast and after dinner. In fact, if I were to open a chain of coffee shops that only offered this one drink, 24 hours a day, it would bring the Starbucks empire to its knees within weeks, even factoring in the seasonal bump for PUMPKIN SPICE!

So what do we call this drink? This heavenly blend of sweet Georgia pecan milk and South Carolina-bred coffee rum? You could riff on the White Russian and call it the White Southern. And that makes sense theoretically (it is white in color, and it is in fact Southern), but, um… no. I wouldn’t say the name sounds unintentionally racist, but it kinda sounds unintentionally racist.

That leads us to the inevitable Big Lebowski reference and the equally inevitable moniker – the Southern Dude. Perfect. You get your Big Lebowski/Dude/White Russian connection for the inspiration of the drink, and you get your Southern emphasis for the Georgia pecans and the South Carolina rum that make it unique. I need to get busy printing up t-shirts and bumper stickers and ironic trucker hats featuring the Southern Dude and plentiful references to nut milk.

Now, about my day being shot to hell… I may have had just one of these tasty beverages. Or I may have downed the entirety of those two bottles of nut milk and rum. Either way, I am now working diligently on my business plan to launch a chain of coffeeshops dedicated to spreading the joy that is the Southern Dude. It will come in sizes ranging from 4oz up to a gallon. And, like the nut milk company that inspired the drink, we’ll even deliver. But that’s the only drink we’ll offer. Except maybe a seasonal Southern Pumpkin Spice. Because how else are we really going to beat Starbucks?

Treehouse Pecan Milk Rum

Good news from the fine folks at Treehouse Milk, who produced the pecan milk discussed above: “We promise, everything tastes better with pecan milk. Pecans are high in vitamin E and manganese, which is good for your heart. They are packed with 19 vitamins and minerals, and come from a farm in South Georgia.” They also make almond, cashew, macadamia, and cacao almond milks; and they really will deliver right to your door (if you live in Atlanta, for a small fee – I highly recommend it). Also found at fine shops and coffee shops like the Mercantile, Savi Provisions, and Spiller Park.

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The State of Georgia Distilleries

The first legit Georgia spirits I ever tasted were from Thirteenth Colony, down in Americus – a vodka, a gin, a young corn whiskey. This was five years ago. At the time, Thirteenth Colony was one of the few craft spirits games in town (err, state). But today? There are more than a dozen distillers and spirits marketers at work in Georgia. That may sound like great progress, and it is, but… this same craft spirit boom has been happening all over the country, and Georgia is actually well behind the curve thanks to a not-quite-friendly legal environment.

How not-quite-friendly is Georgia? I asked Jim Harris, the owner/distiller at Moonrise Distillery and past president of the Georgia Distillers Association, for his take on the situation, and he put it bluntly… “My sincere advice for anyone considering building/operating a distillery in Georgia – DON’T DO IT! Go to South Carolina, Florida, etc. – all of which are ‘spirit friendly’ states to distilleries. Georgia is years away from allowing on-site sales, (and) operating tasting rooms properly.”

RGP-LOGOThat said, many of today’s Georgia distilleries are indeed finding a way to succeed despite the challenging regulatory environment. Old Fourth Distillery is thriving in Atlanta, Richland Rum is now selling their heralded Georgia rum as far away as Europe and Australia, and there are a few micro-distilleries like Lazy Guy getting really creative with their offerings.

Thus far, moonshine and unaged corn whiskey are the most prevalent spirits here in Georgia. Why? Well, it fits with our heritage, that’s for sure. A good number of the legal distillers in Georgia proudly claim their moonshining roots. And there’s a good amount of locally grown corn to supply the process. But it’s also relatively quick and inexpensive to produce unaged whiskey, with no long term aging in barrels that would require extra capital, space, and patience. Beyond moonshine, though, you can find a pretty wide variety of distilled products in Georgia – from Richland’s superb estate rum made with their own Georgia sugar cane, to several nice vodkas and gins (Thirteenth Colony and Old Fourth), to fruit brandies (Dawsonville) that also reflect a bit of local heritage.

Here’s a list of currently operating Georgia distillers and spirits brands, noting which are currently sourcing their product vs. distilling themselves, upcoming plans for expansion, distribution footprint, and availability of tours. If you have any updates for the list, do let us know in the comments or by email, and I will keep it up to date. There’s a very good chance I’ve missed a few things with this initial list. A handy map of Georgia distilleries is also provided at the bottom of the page. Cheers to drinking locally.

List of Georgia Distilleries and Spirits Brands (as of October 2015):

AMERICAN SPIRIT WHISKEYASW Distillery, Atlanta, since 2011
Sourced Products: American Spirit Whiskey (currently distilled in Charleston, SC)
Upcoming: Will soon be distilling on site in Atlanta (Q1 2016), with a sourced wheated bourbon currently being aged, and plans to distill apple brandy from Georgia’s Mercier Orchard apples (likely release 2017), potentially a peach brandy using Lane Southern Orchards peaches, and a variety of sourced and extra aged spirits (similar to the Smooth Ambler model). Bourbon and malted whiskey are also in the plans.
Distribution: GA, TN, SC, MD, PA, DC (with a strong focus on Georgia)

Dalton Moonshine Distillery, Dalton, since 2015
Distilled Products: Real Georgia Moonshine
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Dalton

4166892Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, Dawsonville, since 2012
Distilled Products: White Lightning, Georgia Corn Whiskey, Georgia Mountain Apple Pie, Georgia Apple Brandy, Moonshiner Jeff’s Presidential Rye Whiskey
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Dawsonville

Fruitland Augusta Peach VodkaFruitland Augusta, since 2014
Sourced Products: Georgia Peach Vodka, Georgia Peach Sweet Tea (both made with Georgia peaches, bottled in Florida)
Upcoming: working with city of Augusta to explore options on building a distillery
Distribution: Georgia

Georgia-Distilling-CompanyGeorgia Distilling Company, Milledgeville, since 2011
Distilled Products: Private label producer for Goodtime Moonshine & Vodka, Georgia Vodka, Doc Holliday Rye Whiskey, Copperhead Georgia Sour Mash, Rod and Rifle Whiskey (to be confirmed), plus Grandaddy Mimm’s and Savannah Bourbon (see below)
Distribution: Various

Grandaddy Mimm'sGrandaddy Mimm’s, Blairsville, since 2012
Sourced Products: Moonshine, Corn Whiskey, Apple Brandy (all from Georgia Distilling Co.)
Upcoming: Have applied for a distilling license
Distribution: GA, TN, TX, CA
Gift shop in Blairsville

Independent Distilling CoIndependent Distilling Company, Decatur, since 2014
Distilled Products: Hellbender Corn Whiskey, Hellbender Bourbon, Independent Rum
Upcoming: 100% wheat whiskey currently aging in barrel
Distribution: Georgia

lazy guy distilleryLazy Guy Distillery, Kennesaw, since 2014
Distilled Products: Kennesaw Lightning Corn Whiskey, Threesome Whiskey, Cold Heart Whiskey, The General 151 Proof, Side Track Bourbon (sold out, returning Q1 2016), Snow Cream Liqueur (ltd winter release),
Upcoming: 5th Article 1887 Rye Whiskey (Q1 2016)
Distribution: Georgia, and hope to expand to TN and SC in 2016
Tours available in Kennesaw

Lovell BrothersLovell Bros. / Ivy Mountain Distillery, Mt. Airy, since 2012
Distilled Products: Georgia Sour Mash (unaged), Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey (aged)
Distribution: Georgia

MOONRISE DISTILLERYMoonrise Distillery, Clayton, since 2012
Distilled Products: James Henry Georgia Bourbon and Georgia Rye, Moonrise Georgia Bourbon and Georgia Rye
Upcoming: Possibly Corn Squeezins moonshine
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Clayton

Old Fourth DistilleryOld Fourth Distillery, Atlanta, since 2014 (read more: Old Fourth and Atlanta distilling history)
Distilled Products: Vodka, Gin
Upcoming: Gin (est. December 2015), Bourbon (sourced, aging in Atlanta until approximately 2019)
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Atlanta

Richland-Rum-logo-471x320Richland Rum, Richland, since 1999 with a major ramp up in 2012 (read more: Happy Hour interview with Richland’s Erik Vonk)
Distilled Products: Single Estate Old Georgia Rum
Distribution: GA, FL, SC, TN, CA, NY, NJ, PR, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Australia, and parts of the Caribbean
Tours available in Richland

SAVANNAH BOURBON COSavannah Bourbon Co., Savannah, since 2014
Sourced Products: Savannah 88 Bourbon, Savannah Sweet Tea Lemonade Bourbon  (both from Georgia Distilling Co.)
Distribution: GA, SC

Still_Pond_Distillery_Tours-01-250x160Still Pond Distillery, Arlington, since 2012
Distilled Products: Muscadine Moonshine, Double Barreled Moonshine, Peach Moonshine, 80 Proof Vintners Vodka, 99 Proof Vodka
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Arlington (with Still Pond Winery)

thirteenth colony distilleryThirteenth Colony, Americus, since 2009
Distilled Products: Southern Gin, Southern Vodka, Plantation Vodka, Southern Corn Whiskey, Southern Bourbon Whiskey, Southern Rye Whiskey
Upcoming: expansion of custom single barrel offerings, including unique finishes and barrel proofs
Distribution: GA, FL, SC, TN, KY, NH, VT, MI


Upcoming Distilleries…

Hope Springs, Lilburn, has filed for permits and ordered equipment

Ghost Coast Distillery, Savannah, details TBD

R.M. Rose, TBD, website lists Georgia Corn Whiskey, Mountain Apple Corn Whiskey, Blackberry Corn Whiskey, Fire on the Moutnain Cinnamon Corn Whiskey, and Good Neighbor Peach and Lemon Whiskey – they are banking on the pre-Prohibition equity of the R.M. Rose & Co., which sold and produced a number of whiskies and other spirits to great acclaim

Samon Distillery, Clem, details TBD

Stillhouse Creek Craft Distillery, Dahlonega, working with Dave Pickerell as consultant; will be producing a gin, White Gold unaged whiskey, Gold Dust aged whiskey, and 1829 straight bourbon

Watts Whiskey Distillery, Avondale Estates, details TBD


Updated: November 17, 2015

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Old Fourth Distillery and the history of Atlanta booze

Old Fourth Distillery Atlanta

“Atlanta’s distillery.” Right now, it’s true. Old Fourth Distillery IS Atlanta’s distillery – the first legal one we’ve had in more than a hundred years. Back in the day, before Prohibition, Atlanta was by all accounts a booming whiskey town. So booming, in fact, that the hand of Temperance came down hard and strong here, well before Prohibition blanketed the country in a fuzzy whiskey-wanting funk. We went dry. At least by the letter of the law. And no one in Atlanta could conquer the law books and regulatory red tape that pushed us down until Old Fourth Distillery came along. I’m not saying they’re our savior, but now, thanks to O4D, Atlanta may rise once again as a hub of whiskey and spirits production. Rise. Up.

Old Fourth Distillery AtlantaRecently, I headed down to Edgewood Avenue to chat with the O4D gents – Craig Moore, Jeff Moore, and Gabe Pilato. Their micro-distillery sits all shiny behind a welcome room packed with Atlanta distilling memorabilia – the old and the new playing nicely off each other. I knew about the vodka they were distilling down on Edgewood Avenue, the vodka that has been embraced locally by leading bars like Kimball House in Decatur that have been eager for a truly local spirit to serve. And I also knew about the gin they’ve been working up for some time – testing and tasting until they get it just right (that gin should be out before the end of the year, just waiting on the government to catch up and approve the stuff). What I didn’t really get until I visited O4D was the extent to which they have both embraced and literally built upon Atlanta history.

IMG_0240The bead board on the walls, the marble on the counter, the wood in the tables – it’s all repurposed material steeped in Atlanta history, whether from the very same building O4D now sits in (the bead board), or from the gutted John B. Gordon Elementary School down the street that was built in 1909 (the marble). Jeff Moore told me, “We want to protect those kinds of things from being forgotten. It’s part of our story to be related to this area, this city.” Moore went on, and you could tell from his excited intonations that he digs into the minutia when it comes to rooting out the history of his building and the neighborhood:

IMG_0250The marble (on the table), that was once dividers in the boys’ stalls in the school, you can see wher the toilet paper holders were. This is actually the same exact marble that was used in the Lincoln Memorial – from Tate, Georgia! We clad the walls with bead board that’s a hundred years old from this building, but also made displays with extra board that went out to liquor stores… and to now have that sitting in stores around Atlanta is very cool. We also used it inside out on the tables – you can see the stamp of Brooks Scanlon Lumber Company… if you’re a railroad guy, you know Brooks Scanlon… and you’d never find that until you pulled it off of our ceilings and looked at the back, and there it is. There are so many interesting stories like that. The seats are old church pews from nearby. It was unbelievably fortuitious how all these things came together – we didn’t have a design firm, we just let the materials we came upon help shape the space.

More important than the materials that have gone into the O4D space, Moore professed a strong connection to the story of distilling in this city:

IMG_0369We’ve gained a connection to the lost history of distilling in Atlanta, being the first one in a hundred plus years to produce spirits here. Atlanta could have been a hub of whiskey manufacturing, but the temperance movement came along and wiped that out, so to recall that history – we feel it’s very important. It’s the first thing we talk about on the tours we give here at the distillery, and it’s presented in our bottle design, too. We have a lost history of distilling, but also a lost history of manufacturing things in Atlanta, and it’s really important to us to share that whole idea of purchasing locally produced goods.

Moore picked up his well worn copy of the book, Prohibition in Atlanta (if topics like “Rowdyism, Snake Nation, and Slab Town” intrigue you, go get this book), and started thumbing through, calling out interesting facts of Atlanta’s distilling history. The man digs his history. And that history makes its presence felt at O4D, which houses a significant distilling memorabilia collection and has more still under wraps:

IMG_0365This entire collection (on display) was provided by Butch and Debbie Alley. They are prolific collectors of Atlanta distilling history, and this is the largest  display of Atlanta distilling history anywhere. The interesting thing that you find is that we really only know about the most prolific – like R.M. Rose Distilling Company – there were others… L. Cohen; A. H. Harris; Julian; Meyer and Co.; Cox, Hill and Thompson… they were all operating circa 1900, but you don’t find hardly any information on them. As we tell the story in our tours, we’re always asking if anyone knows about any of these, through a family history, or whatever – and it’s a very difficult thing.

Indeed, memorabilia from R.M. Rose dominates the collection – both in the numbers of jugs and bottles, as well as in the pile of printed material in protected sleeves that Moore keeps tucked away. Moore explains why Rose has risen to the top when it comes to the historical accounting of distilling in the area:

IMG_0359R. M. Rose was a pioneer in making sure that everything that left his facility had his logo on it – most of the others had generic, unmarked jugs. Paper items from the 1800s are hard to come by, but we purchased a collection and are trying to figure out how to properly display it and keep it safe at the same time. We have order sheets from R.M. Rose, and you can see all the things he was offering – not just corn whiskey, but gin, and brandy, and Kentucky whiskey, more. There’s a V.O.S. dry martini (bottled) cocktail. You have to admire their attention to detail (on these papers) – they clearly weren’t moonshiners as we think of it. That’s not how it was – these were businessmen, and they were big parts of their community at the time. “Ask the revenue officer,” (their slogan) was on everything. Rose was a marketing pro, putting his name and face on everything, at a time when the temperance movement was nailing the coffin on his business.

IMG_0356Their manufacturing was in Vinings, with offices and a retail store on Broad Street, and his big warehouse was on Auburn Ave. Around 1907, R.M. Rose was forced out of Atlanta, and moved first to Jacksonville, Florida, and later to Chattanooga. (At that time) it was not illegal (for consumers) to purchase spirits from Atlanta, so they would send R.M. Rose a money order and Rose would put a jug on a train for them (the consumer) to pick up. And 1907 to 1917 was their most prolific time period to advertise to make sure Atlanta knew he wasn’t completely gone. Right around 1917, the kibosh was put on that completely and R.M. Rose soon filed for bankruptcy.

The R.M. Rose marketing materials and order sheets from that period before 1917 are simply fascinating, both from an historical booze perspective as well as a marketing perspective. Here are some great tidbits from the marketing piece pictured above – “12 GOOD REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD ORDER FROM ROSE”

#4: More of our whiskey is prescribed by Physicians in Georgia than all other brands combined. (It’s good for you!)

#8: We own more Old Georgia ‘Primitive Method’ Whiskey in stock and in bond from one to six years old than any other dealer in the South. (Even back then, the good old days had their charms.)

#9: We have the largest and most complete stock of rare old whiskies, wines and brandies than any other dealer in the South. (And even back then, whiskey geeks chased rare stuff.)

#10: We have never made a misleading statement in any of our advertisements. We say what we mean – and mean what we say – and can prove every statement. (Truth in advertising – and labeling – was worth mentioning, back then as today.)

#12: We receive orders from consumers from nearly every State in the Union, whocheefully pay the express charges. (These guys were not just for locals – they apparently played on a national stage.)

And based on an order sheet from that period between 1907 and 1917, the variety of goods IMG_0348that Randolph Rose offered as a retailer was truly impressive, though they clearly weren’t distilling the majority of it. Indeed, as happens today, it’s a bit hard to figure out what exactly was produced by R.M. Rose (who does call themselves “distillers”) vs. sourced from elsewhere. In the category of things clearly sourced, there’s California port and sherry, a Spanish sherry, a dessert wine of unknown provenance. Then, less clear, there’s a Lone Pine brand corn whiskey (“old-time corn whiskey at a reasonable price, with the flavor of real Georgia Corn”), and Old Woodruff brand bourbon from Kentucky, neither of IMG_0346which seem to be distilled by Rose. There’s Rose’s Purity – “for fifty years… the South’s leading medicinal and family whiskey… a perfect blend of fine old whiskies” – that seems to be a custom blend for Rose. Or Sir Randolph Dry Gin – “distilled by my own formula… superior to the imported.” There are actually eight different rye whiskeys, one of which is Randolph Rose Bottled in Bond, which seems the most likely to have been distilled by Rose themselves. I’d love to be able to go back in time and sort out the distinctions between each of these, the most expensive of which ran for $6 for 4 quarts – roughly the equivalent of a $30 750ml bottle of rye today, adjusted for inflation. The cheapest spirit was, not surprisingly, the “mountain dew corn whiskey,” which ran for roughly the equivalent of $13.25 today.

IMG_0371Most intriguing are the bottled cocktails – Rock and Rye (“very fine in warding off colds”), Wild Cherry Cordial and Rum (“fine in case of colds or grippe”), Manhattan Cocktail (“made after my own recipe, and superior to the best served in high class clubs”), or Martini Cocktail (“an especially good article made with Sir Randolph Dry Gin”). All $1 each (equivalent to $24 today). What I wouldn’t do for a bottle of each of those to see how the folks were drinking in 1907, and what their benchmarks were when it came to cocktails.

In any case, the history of Atlanta-related distilling and booze marketing is fascinating, and the present of Atlanta distilling has the opportunity to recapture some of that long lost intrigue. O4D is paving the way, from their very prominent focus on the city’s rich history, to the fact that we once again have a legal still operating in the city. When I was meeting with Jeff, Craig, and Gabe, a call came in and they let me know they had to rush out – 45 barrels of whiskey were about to be delivered, ready to be racked into O4D’s warehouse to sit for at least four years. Jeff wrapped up our discussion by bridging the divide between the Prohibition era and Atlanta’s future as a homebase for distillers:

We’ve worked to challenge some of these Prohibition-era laws that are still on the books today. There was no one asking before. And I don’t want to be the only distiller here (in Atlanta). American Spirit Whiskey recently broke ground (installing their stills in Atlanta), and we get calls almost every day from other folks interested in starting something. Atlanta deserves to have choices of locally made products. We want this to pick up steam. 

Indeed, we do. Get your butt down to O4D to take a tour, soak in the history, and sample the Atlanta-made vodka and (soon, soon) gin. What are you waiting for? Was the past hundred plus years not long enough?

Old Fourth Distillery Atlanta IMG_0260 IMG_0275 IMG_0234


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