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.”
That 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.