Atlantans are accustomed to a hearty variety of craft breweries to visit and local beers to drink by the can, bottle or growler. But more than a few ears perked up when Old Fourth Distillery’s doors opened in its namesake neighborhood in 2014. Why? Because it was the first craft distillery to operate in the city of Atlanta since the early 1900s, when the Temperance movement, then Prohibition, came through the South, sweeping out the city’s last whiskey distillery with it.
The “Baptists and bootleggers” economic theory argues that Christian morality and increased financial gain for bootleggers wields a powerful influence over legislation that sours the viability of craft distilleries. For example, in the state of Georgia, beer- and spirit-makers have archaic hurdles they have to clear, such as a three-tiered system of sales, unlike other states, whose more modernized laws mean a greater proliferation of craft production.
Put another way, Georgia makes it really hard to do business in the alcohol industry. Stay abreast of the Georgia Distillers Association’s legislative initiatives to undo these laws by following along here.
Distilleries, specifically, face a perplexing conundrum. In Georgia, it’s illegal to distill spirits from beer without a license. To obtain a license, however, you have to own a distillery. The men at O4D thus took a leap, built their distillery, and paved the way for a growing handful of local purveyors of finely-crafted spirits. Fortunately, O4D is no longer alone. Read on to discover the other Southern spirits pioneers making waves in Atlanta.
Old Fourth Distillery
Located on historic Edgewood Avenue, Old Fourth’s mission is to pair Southern spirits with history, sustainability and community. They distill vodka and gin as well as a four year bottled in bond straight bourbon whiskey. Their vodka base is sugar cane, and for good reason—they note that “it is non-GMO, renewable, environmentally sound, gluten- and pesticide-free.” As for the gin, Old Fourth distills it from Italian wheat, which is then vapor infused with berries, citrus and spices. For $10, you can tour the distillery on Thursdays and Fridays between 5 and 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 2 to 7 p.m. and sample their fare in the tasting room, and then purchase up to three bottles for $30 each or the bourbon for $50.
During your visit, enjoy the Atlanta history that O4D has worked to preserve—inside, you’ll see repurposed marble countertops sourced from a nearby, vacant elementary school (the same marble found at the Lincoln Memorial!), bead board from the original infrastructure, pews from a nearby old church and archival artifacts from Atlanta’s distilling history.
In 2016, ASW Distillery opened its doors in the Armour Yard neighborhood, recently nicknamed the “Bike and Brew” office district, thanks to its proximity to Sweetwater Brewing and the Beltline. ASW is the first distillery in Atlanta to focus on whiskey since Prohibition, and their distilling process utilizes artisan copper pot stills—the same used by Scotch and Irish distillers since the 18th century—to make their un-aged, or “white dog” spirit. During tours, you’ll be led through the distilling process start to finish and then enjoy their ASW product during a tasting. Anticipate happy hour weekday tour/tasting times, and probably mid-afternoon Saturday ones. During all of these options, the distillery will also offer “new expressions” tastings, which could include limited edition spirits and products more exclusive to bars, restaurants, and bottle shops. Further, visitors will be able to enjoy “a curated retail section” of products from businesses like Bearings and Scotland’s Glencairn Crystal and “unique experiences like advanced whiskey education and craft cocktail classes.”
Independent Distilling Company
Welcomed by Decatur—who quite literally changed zoning and city ordinances to give IDC a license, co-founder Michael Anderson told Atlantamagazine—the distillery celebrated its grand opening to the public for tours and tastings in February 2016, and you will find their product in bars and package stores across the city. Stop by on Saturdays from 2:00-5:00p.m. to tour the distillery and taste three samples of their spirits for $10, or tour, taste, and leave with a sample of their rum or corn whiskey for $30. Instead of competing with what IDC calls the “big boys” on your spirits shelf, Independent aims to focus on the history and agriculture beyond Southern spirits, producing quality whiskeys and rums that stand on their own. Copper pot stills distill the grain mash into small batches of their Hellbender Corn and Bourbon Whiskeys, and premium Grade A molasses is used to infuse their Independent Rum with a bit of southern flavor and history.
Lazy Guy Distillery
About an hour northwest of Atlanta in downtown Kennesaw, Lazy Guy distills craft whiskey, and, like O4D, it taps into history and heritage for its identity and guiding purpose. Located just around the corner from the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, Kennesaw was indeed along Sherman’s fiery March to the Sea path. More generally, Lazy Guy connects the history of whiskey to the history of America writ large: “Whiskey has been the cornerstone of many American events and even served as a means of currency at certain points in history.” A modest array of corn whiskeys, 80-120 proof whiskeys, bourbon and rye whiskey allows Lazy Guy to focus on perfecting their process and product. Peruse their website for great cocktail recipes, and put their goods to the test.
Lovell Bros. Whiskey
At Ivy Mountain Distillery in the mountains of North Georgia, Carlos Lovell keeps “the spirit of the mountains” alive and thriving. After he and his brother learned their father’s corn sour mash recipes in the 1940s, the Lovell boys maintained a bootleg operation until the 1960s. In 2012, at 84 years old, Carlos approached his daughter, a former English teacher, about bringing the family business back to life—only this time, legally. Together, they bring a long-perfected family recipe and Carlos’ expertise together to make sour mash and sour mash whiskey that are “clear as our Georgia mountain spring water, sweet as the local corn it’s made from.” Though the distillery does not offer tours, you can find Lovell Bros. products in multiple Atlanta area package stores to enjoy at home—on the rocks, or in one of their website’s recommended recipes.