Thanks to recent legislation, craft distillers in Georgia can now sell cocktails and bottles at their own locations. New tasting rooms are destination-worthy locales, where you can try a new spirit and take a bottle home.
While Georgia is historically known for corn whiskey and moonshine—it’s what farmers would make with their leftover crops—we’ve come a long way. Makers are doing it legally, for one, and they’re doing it with pizzazz. Some are embracing their corn whiskey heritage and making better, modern versions, says Jim Chasteen, cofounder of ASW Distillery and vice president of the Georgia Distillers Association. “It’s your grandpappy’s grandpappy’s tradition,” he says. But Georgia’s world of craft spirits now also includes rye, bourbon, rum, and liqueurs.
Visiting a distillery gives you a chance to sip something a little more unique than mass-produced big brands. “The small guys are playing with new grains,” says Chasteen. “It’s us that are doing crazy finishes.” So, pick a spirit that interests you and hit the road—catch a tour, have a taste, and bring a bottle home.
Starting at ASW’s first location in Armour Yards is a must (though they also have a tasting room in the West End and a gin/vodka-focused distillery at the Battery). Here, you can try their award-winning whiskeys, like Resurgens Rye, made with malted rye, and Fiddler Soloist Straight Bourbon, the first straight bourbon crafted in Atlanta, with notes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and cola.
Up in Cumming, Legends Distillery has a 5,000-square-foot tasting room as well as an outdoor patio. Their array of bourbon includes Legends 87, with vanilla and caramel notes, and the higher-proof Legends 115 wheated bourbon, with notes of toffee and maple syrup.
Independent Distillery in Decatur throws it back to the tradition of corn whiskey with their Hellbender, made with grain sourced from a farm in Ranger. Or try their Corn-a-Rita cocktail, a blend of corn whiskey, lime, grapefruit, smoked paprika, simple syrup, and salt.
When distillers first set up shop, they typically start with vodka because it doesn’t require aging the way that whiskeys do. And while you may think of vodka as a one-note clear spirit, your perception might change when you try one from a craft distillery that imbues vodka with their own flair. At Old Fourth Distillery, for example, vodka is made with sustainable, non-GMO sugarcane, which gives the spirit a hint of caramel. The distillery is visible from the tasting room, making it easy to see the action.
On a road trip south from Atlanta, stop by Americus, where Thirteenth Colony Distillery is located. They produce a corn-based vodka and offer tours.
In Sugar Hill, not far from Buford, Sugar Hill Stills produces both spirits and German beer. The standout, though, might be the potato-based vodka, which has a more savory flavor profile than its grain cousins.
The Distillery of Modern Art opened its doors in June in Chamblee. They have vodka and corn whiskey, but the standout is Nouveau Gin, made with locally grown botanicals. The 15,000-square-foot space features local art that’s available to purchase. At ASW locations, you can sip Winterville gin. An homage to Chasteen’s hometown right outside Winterville (not far from Athens), the spirit incorporates marigold, the city’s official flower. Savannah’s Ghost Coast Distillery makes a variety of spirits, including a refreshing Burl Gin (a reference to singer Burl Ives), with notes of citrus and lavender. However, they closed their tasting room in September.
Distillers pay homage to their scrappy roots with modern moonshine. At Dawsonville Distillery, which is in the same building as city hall, you can find their Georgia Corn whiskey. For a unique twist on the spirit, head to Still Pond Distillers in South Georgia, where they make moonshine from muscadine and grain. While you’re there, you can visit the vineyards and enjoy their porch.
The United States only has one single-estate rum producer and it’s Richland Distilling Company. They grow sugarcane in the sandy fields of Southwest Georgia before converting it into a rum with notes of caramel. They have a tasting room and distillery in Brunswick and also in Richland.
The tasting room of Hope Springs Distillery in downtown Lilburn doesn’t have many frills, but it does have the state’s first (and only) absinthe. Head that way to tour the distillery and try their Illusion absinthe made with wormwood, green anise, and fennel, among other herbs (and take a bottle home with you—it makes a fun addition to the bar cart). Lazy Guy Distillery in Kennesaw is best known for its bourbon and rye whiskey, but for those looking for a decadent pour, there’s Snow Cream liqueur, a sweet blend of corn whiskey and cream. At the spacious Moonrise Distillery in Clayton, the lineup includes a brandy made with local fruit and honey.
This article appears in our November 2022 issue.