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The State of Georgia Distilleries (updated)

The State of Georgia Distilleries (updated)

(UPDATED: May 2017) 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 back in 2011. 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 Georgia distilleries and spirits marketers. 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 (EDIT: It’s getting much better!).

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. 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 May 2017):


ASW DistilleryASW Distillery
, Atlanta, since 2011
Sourced Products: American Spirit Whiskey (currently distilled in Charleston, SC), and Fiddler Bourbon (a series of sourced whiskeys with unique finishes at ASW, plus an “unfilled” straight bourbon)
Distilled Products: Resurgens Rye Single Malt Rye Whiskey, Armour & Oak Georgia Apple Brandy, White Dog Rye Malt Spirit
Upcoming: Potentially a peach brandy using Lane Southern Orchards peaches, plus other small batch releases and additional Fiddler releases.

Distribution: GA, TN, SC, MD, PA, DC (with a strong focus on Georgia)
Tours available in Atlanta

 

Dalton Distillerydalton distillery, Dalton, since 2015
Distilled Products: Raymond’s Reserve Straight Corn Whiskey (111 proof), Raymond’s Reserve Cinnamon, Raymond’s Reserve Gluten Free (82 proof, made from corn and sunflower)
Upcoming: Raymond’s Reserve Sunflower Whiskey (also gluten free)
Distribution: Georgia, Texas, New Jersey
Tours available in Dalton

 

4166892Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, Dawsonville, since 2012
Distilled Products: White Lightning, Georgia Corn Whiskey, Georgia Mountain Apple Pie, Bill Elliott Georgia Apple Brandy, Moonshiner Jeff’s Presidential Rye Whiskey, Single Barrel Bill Elliott HWY 9 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 Savannah Bourbon (see below)
Distribution: Various

Ghost Coast Distillery, Savannah, since 2017
Distilled Products: Vodka 261, Vodka 261 Orange
Upcoming Products: Bourbon being aged
Distribution: GA
Tours available in Blairsville

 

Grandaddy Mimm's

Grandaddy Mimm’s, Blairsville, since 2012
Sourced Products: (previously sourced from Georgia Distilling Co., now distilling as of 2016)
Distilled Products: Mule Kickin’ 140 proof, 100 proof corn whiskey, 80 proof apple brandy, 40 proof apple brown betty, 40 proof fresh peach cobbler, 40 proof wild cherry cobbler
Upcoming: Have applied for a distilling license
Distribution: GA, TN, TX, CA
Tours available in Blairsville

Independent Distilling CoIndependent Distilling Company, Decatur, since 2014
Distilled Products: Hellbender Corn Whiskey, Hellbender Bourbon, Independent Rum, Aged Rum, Outlier Series Limited Releases
Upcoming: 100% wheat whiskey currently aging in barrel, other small batch releases
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Decatur

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, Snow Cream Liqueur (ltd winter release), 5th Article 1887 Rye Whiskey, Embers Georgia Straight Bourbon, Lotoko Spirits
Upcoming: Other longer-aged whiskeys
Distribution: Georgia, and hope to expand to TN and SC
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, Corn Squeezins Georgia Corn Whiskey
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Clayton

Old Fourth DistilleryOld Fourth Distillery, Atlanta, since 2014 (read more: Old Fourth &Atlanta distilling history)
Distilled Products: Vodka, Gin, Lawn Dart Ginger Lemon Liqueur
Upcoming: 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, Single Estate Georgia Agricole
Distribution: GA, FL, SC, TN, CA, NY, NJ, PR, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Australia, and parts of the Caribbean
Tours available in Richland

rm rose distillersR.M. Rose, Dillard, since 2016
Sourced Products: Georgia Corn Whiskey, Mountain Apple Corn Whiskey, Blackberry Corn Whiskey, Fire on the Mountain Cinnamon Corn Whiskey, and Good Neighbor Peach and Lemon Whiskey
Upcoming: TBD
Shop open in Dillard

SAVANNAH BOURBON COSavannah Bourbon Co., Savannah, since 2014
Sourced Products: Savannah 88 Bourbon, Savannah Sweet Tea Lemonade Bourbon  (both from Georgia Distilling Co. – to be confirmed)
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, 229 Vodka, Peach Vodka, Apple Vodka, 229 Distilled Gin.
Upcoming: Aging brandy produced from Still Pond grapes, initial release in 2017.
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Arlington (with Still Pond Winery)

Stillhouse Creek Craft Distillerystillhouse creek distillery, Dahlonega, since 2016
Distilled Products: White Gold unaged whiskey
Upcoming: 1829 Straight Bourbon, Gold Dust whiskey, botanical gin with local lavender
Distribution: Georgia
Tours available in Dahlonega

 

 

thirteenth colony distillery

Thirteenth 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 has set up equipment, now aiming for summer 2017

Watts Whiskey Distillery, Avondale Estates, launching 2017

 

Updated: May 2017

Georgia Wine, American Wine

Georgia Wine, American Wine

Wolf Mountain Vineyards Wine

Last night I drank some Georgia wine, and I’ve got good news and bad news for you about it. The good news is that the wine, from Wolf Mountain Vineyards outside Dahlonega, was darn good stuff – a crisp, floral, grapefruity blend of chardonnay and viogner. The bad news? It’s not really Georgia wine. At least not if you focus on where the grapes came from. The label simply says, “American Dry White Wine.” Based on that label, the grapes that went into it could have come from New Mexico, or North Dakota, or New York City. I love America, but designating a wine as just “American” feels a little… lost. That lost feeling led me looking for answers about the state of Georgia’s wine industry.

Winemaking is not easy. Winemaking in Georgia? Even not-er easy. One of Georgia’s most well respected grower/winemakers shut down earlier this year after repeated losses, due to the impact of our admittedly erratic climate. I reached out to Wolf Mountain’s winemaker and vineyard manager, Brannon Boegner, to get his thoughts. He said that, “over the past 13 years of making wine in Georgia, we’ve experienced ‘acts of mother nature” four times which have caused us to lose our entire crop.” Now, Georgia is not alone in this depressing fact – “acts of nature” have had major negative impact in places ranging from Washington State to Bordeaux and Burgundy – but our track record here is not reassuring.

Wolf Mountain VineyardsIs it possible Georgia is just not meant to be a rich and reliable wine growing region? Whatever the case, Georgia winemakers and growers continue to soldier on against the adversity of mother nature. And you have to respect their tenacity.

Wolf Mountain Vineyards is one Georgia winery that has done well. They make award-winning wines (“over 100 medals in major U.S. competitions, including Georgia’s first ever Gold medals at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles International Wine Competition”). They have a beautiful winery/tasting room/café/event space in the north Georgia mountains, and they consistently see more demand for their wine from winery foot traffic alone than what they can possibly supply. And maybe that’s part of the problem. The need to balance both the supply side of making wine and the demand side of being a successful winery. Is it possible Georgia wineries like Wolf Mountain are TOO successful??

Better yet, does it really matter if the wine sold in Georgia wineries takes advantage of the excess of wine grapes being produced in the fertile soil of California? I bet you’re saying, “heck yeah,” but think about this… do breweries in Georgia use 100% local hops? Do they use even 1% local hops? Would you expect a Georgia distillery making vodka or gin or whiskey to use only Georgia-grown grains? I bet your answers to those last three questions are NO, NO, and NO. So why does it matter if a Georgia winery brings in some California (or New York, or New Mexico, or Idaho) grapes?

Of course, wine is known for its sense of place – its terroir – much more so than those other beverages mentioned above. For the folks who are willing to spend $20 and more for a bottle of wine, it’s often not enough to know that a wine came from California, nor even that it came from Napa Valley, but that it came from a sub-appelation like Howell Mountain, or even a specific vineyard situated ON Howell Mountain. Wine geeks geek out over individual vineyards. In Burgundy, it frequently gets down to which specific rows at a particular elevation on a particular hillside are used for a particular wine. THAT is what “terroir” is all about – how those minute distinctions in the soil can translate into differences in the bottle.

Which brings us back to the problem of a $20 bottle of “American” wine that comes from a winery in the lovely, rolling hills outside Dahlonega, Georgia. We CRAVE the local. We ROOT FOR the local. And when our local wine, our Georgia wine, is made from non-Georgia grapes, there’s a natural tendency to feel that we’re being (at least a little bit) hoodwinked. Especially if you’re only looking at labels and not digging into the background of what’s really going on.

Wolf Mountain’s Boegner noted that, in Georgia, the “white grape cultivars are especially susceptible to freezes or frosts which can wipe out an entire vintage.” Their solution has been traveling out to California to team up with growers in regions ranging from the Russian River Valley, to Mendocino, to the Sierra Foothills. Clearly, Wolf Mountain does not take this task lightly. Boegner went on, “I travel to these vineyards to talk with the managers and establish a relationship in which they grow the grapes to our specifications. All grapes are delivered to Wolf Mountain and the wines are produced here.” Wolf Mountain also joined up with nearby Frogtown Cellars to form the Georgia Fine Wine Alliance. While Wolf Mountain has focused their vineyards on red cultivars, they rely on Frogtown to provide Georgia-grown white grapes, at least when available.

Wolf Mountain and Frogtown also aim to follow a strict truth in labeling policy of only labeling wine as “Georgia” wine when 100% Georgia grapes are used. Legally, winemakers can go up to 25% from out of state before they have to change that Georgia label, so this is a much stricter practice than what is legally required. Very few Georgia wineries are following this practice now – blending in out of state grapes is common practice, though not commonly made clear.

So, back to that bottle of Wolf Mountain Plenitude I mentioned at the outset. For the 2012 vintage, Boegner used a blend of Russian River (California) chardonnay and Mendocino (also California) viognier. This is basically well pedigreed California wine being made here in Georgia, by a Georgia winemaker. Why no Georgia grapes in the mix? Boegner said the 2012 vintage from their Georgia partner, Frogtown Cellars, was wiped out by a freeze. But, Boegner went on to note that his “decision to bring in fruit fluctuates from year to year based on growing conditions and availability.”

To that point, in 2011, Wolf Mountain’s Plenitude was made with 100% Georgia-grown grapes. And it received a 90 point rating and a gold medal at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition. Not too shabby. Wolf Mountain is purposefully labeling their wines as either 100% Georgia, else 100% American,  “keeping the two product lines distinctively separate.” I admire the stance. At the same time, I’m a little bothered by the fact that Plenitude’s label reads, “our Family Estate represents the ultimate North Georgia Wine & Food Experience.” Sure, it’s marketing speak, but surely the ultimate North Georgia wine experience involves wine made from grapes grown in North Georgia. Am I being too nit-picky?

Noted Atlanta sommelier Steven Grubbs (of Empire State South) was the one who recommended Wolf Mountain’s Plenitude to me. He recently took a trip through Southern wine regions, visiting Wolf Mountain and a few other Georgia wineries before heading on into the Carolinas and Virginia. He enjoyed the Georgia wines, but noted that he was “disappointed” by the news that the wineries were supplementing their own grapes with California fruit. Some, like Doug Paul of Three Sisters, another Dahlonega area winery, say they  simply refuse to make wine from grapes grown outside Georgia. That’s one way of approaching the issue, and probably the more stubbornly Georgia way to do it. But it’s not necessarily the path to the best wine, or the best winery experience for visitors.

Back at Wolf Mountain, it’s evident that the Boegners are both dedicated winemakers and smart businesspeople. I know they’re committed to the cause of Georgia wine. They’ve calculated what it takes to make very good wine, hopefully at a profit, that will keep the crowds driving up into the Dahlonega hills for a taste of wine country. I just wish our Georgia climate were more conducive to their endeavors. I wish that our Georgia wineries were not just places that make wine IN Georgia. I want them to be places that make wine OF Georgia. And I really wish they could succeed in doing so. But I’m just not sure that’s the case – at least on a year in and year out basis. I guess that’s the bad news. But when you’re up in the hills outside Dahlonega, enjoying a delicious wine made in the very same winery who’s offering you this sweeping view, maybe that bad news is not so bad after all. At that point, being “American” feels like a fine place to be.

IMG_2495Tasting Notes:
Wolf Mountain Vineyards, Plenitude
American Dry White Wine, 2012
13.8% Alc. by Volume
Approx. $20 Retail (available at Whole Foods in Atlanta or from the winery)

“Plenitude” is a blend of chardonnay and viognier, fermented and aged in stainless steel, with whole cluster pressing. The nose is lightly floral and grapefruity, a bit of cantaloupe too, with a lightly herbal edge (is that oregano?). I’d probably peg it as sauvignon blanc, but you can pick up both the chardonnay and viognier pretty well if you think about it.

This has nice body to it, a bit lush, but the stainless steel fermentation keeps it crisp. The acidity is bright, not quite sharp, but very present. Grapefruit again is most prominent. It’s got great balance between that acidity and the round floral notes and the fruit. Very enjoyable stuff. And 100% American. Made right here in Georgia.

Georgia’s BlackStock Winery Shuts Down

Georgia’s BlackStock Winery Shuts Down

There was sad news yesterday from one of Georgia’s pioneering winemakers – David Harris emailed friends and posted to Facebook that he is closing BlackStock Vineyards and Winery. The reasons cited included “repeated crop losses due to the exceptionally warm winters.” An inconvenient truth, indeed. Harris worked tirelessly over nearly two decades to grow great grapes and make great wine in north Georgia, and he met with a good deal of success until this recent turn of events.

While dealing with weather difficulties is nothing new for growers, there’s an increasing recognition that climate change will be a major concern for wine growers the world over (just Google “climate change and wine” and read the litany of news articles). Seeing warmer winters driving out one of the leaders of Georgia’s young wine industry, though, is truly sobering. Many Georgia winemakers are relying on bringing in grapes from other regions, which may fill the bottles but also undermines hope that Georgia can actually grow worthy grapes.

BlackStock earned many awards for their wines over the years, with a range of merlots and viognier in particular that were among the best Georgia wines made (and which I’ve personally enjoyed very much). BlackStock has also been one of the few Georgia wines readily available at retail in Atlanta.

Here’s the full text of Harris’ letter posted to Facebook:

Dear Friends of Blackstock,

I am very saddened to inform you that we are closing the vineyards and winery at Blackstock. It has been a wonderful experience to get to know all of you and be a source of relaxation, fun times and great pleasure, through hosting you at the vineyard and providing wines for your table. In the end, we have suffered from repeated crop losses due to the exceptionally warm winters and the early bud-break dates. This has resulted in normal frost dates having a devastating effect to our crop. We have also felt the sting from selling fruit in a soft economy and the importation of grapes and wine into Georgia wineries, eroding our market when the crop was plentiful.

I had a wonderful dream and lived it for 17 years, but while pages turn and chapters close, beautiful memories were made in this exceptional setting that will not soon fade, and I must thank you all for being a part of that story. I am especially thankful to our small group of “angel” investors, several of whom have passed away now. This was a very classy group of individuals who shared my vision and dream and saw it come to fruition in every aesthetic way, I am just sorry that we couldn’t make it sustainable.

While, in many ways, our fate was sealed on April 12th, I have been through every scenario imaginable to try to survive, but have also been through the roughest part of the reality emotionally. I have realized that some of our most passionate patrons are going to have a sense of shock and true grieving and, for them, please do not hesitate to reach out by email, FB, or text. I truly hope someone ends up continuing operations here after I have moved on.

Personally, I have been blessed with another opportunity for which I am passionate and thankful. Unfortunately, it is going to take me away from Georgia. I will miss my many friends made at Blackstock, but hope to stay in touch. Here’s to a Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all!

Sincerely,
David A. Harris

Georgia Wine Country

Get Your Growl On: The Beer Growler, Athens, Georgia

Get Your Growl On: The Beer Growler, Athens, Georgia

If you’re a beer lover in Georgia, you’ve probably heard about The Beer Growler in Athens – currently the only place in the state to buy beer by the growler, a 64oz. bottle that is filled from the keg at the store and sealed for freshness (and because the police say so). We paid a visit to the six-week-old shop to pick up some beer (of course) and to get the lowdown on all things “growler.” Growlers are a popular form of beer distribution in many states, and are picking up steam – the New York Times recently covered the growler takeover of the New York beer scene. The key benefits are getting access to fresh (and sometimes rare) beers from the keg in a re-usable (AKA environmentally friendly) jug, which often means better pricing AND better quality. Good deal for everyone, right? Well, regulatory issues have prevented widespread adoption of growlers. And in Georgia’s notoriously unfriendly beer environment, it wasn’t until very recently that the folks behind The Beer Growler – Denny, Paul and Sean – were able to clear the regulatory hurdles in Athens (though those hurdles still remain in Atlanta).

The Beer Growler has a constantly evolving lineup of 20 beers on tap, ready to be filled into their empty growler jugs. The selection varies from week to week as kegs sell out, but it includes a heavy rotation of Athens’ own Terrapin beers (5 of the 20 current beers are from Terrapin) and a diverse mix of world-class craft beers from such stalwarts as Lost Abbey, Bell’s, Southern Tier, Stone, and Ommegang. Another frequent inhabitant of the lineup is Georgia-based Wild Heaven Ode to Mercy. The shop also offers a small but excellent selection of beers by the bottle.

First-time customers need to purchase a growler jug for $4, which they can then bring back any time they’re ready for something new. The investment is well worth it. The folks behind the bar actually trade out your empty growlers for sanitized ones, to make sure contamination is not an issue when refilling. Another step to make sure quality is top notch is that the staff uses the “cap on foam” technique to fill your growler – basically, by filling the jug up and capping directly on the foam that forms, there’s no room for oxygen to interact with the beer and a nice clean headspace of carbon dioxide sits on top of the beer once the foam collapses. This maintains the quality of the beer, preventing oxidation and the potential for the beer to go flat. The growler can maintain quality for weeks while sealed, but why wait? And, once opened, the growler should be consumed within a couple days.

If the amazing beer lineup isn’t reason enough to check out The Beer Growler, they will also be holding their official Grand Opening celebration this Saturday, February 5, complete with giveaways, brewers and beer reps on site, and (maybe) the appearance of some Sierra Nevada Hoptimum and Lost Abbey Angel’s Share on tap. Growl on!

UPDATE (Aug 8, 2011): The Beer Growler will open their Atlanta area location in Avondale Estates on Aug 12!

The Beer Growler
1059 Baxter St
Athens, Ga 30606
706-850-6565