From the backwoods to Main Street: little distilleries pop up in Georgia
JACKSON, Ga. — If you pass the Bible Baptist Church and head east down the main drag in this small city, look left when you reach the Butts County administration building. You’ll see a brick warehouse rising from the red clay. The sign out front says you have come to an anomaly: the future home of Georgia Distilling Co.
After breaking ground in May, the company may be only months from churning out small batches of clear liquor such as vodka, gin and moonshine. A big copper still is scheduled to be delivered soon and installed under spotlights that can be seen from the road. A wraparound porch may eventually have rocking chairs, barrels and lemonade. Bourbon could be in the works before too long.
“We’re gonna have fun,” co-founder Shawn Hall said on a sweltering recent morning as he showed a reporter around the 10,000 square-foot space.
Hall, who had worked in information technology, and Bill Mauldin, whose background is in construction and retail, have been working on the project for about nine months. As they tell it, the career change came from an off-the-cuff comment. “We got together and said, ‘Let’s make some alcohol!’” said Mauldin.
These days, the friends are part of a small cadre of Georgia entrepreneurs getting together to make alcohol. The rise of small or “craft” distilleries, out in the open and certified by an array of state and federal agencies, is a marked contrast with the old days, when Mauldin’s and Hall’s grandfathers and great-uncles ran “shine” and tried — and occasionally failed — to dodge the revenue men and sheriffs.
The rural South has a long and complicated history with distilled spirits. In the 1930s, whiskey runners and moonshiners did a booming trade in hooch. While their illegal exploits gave rise to dirt-track racing, which eventually grew into NASCAR’s gleaming sports empire, the backwoods distiller hiding from the sheriff remains a staple of southern rock and country songs. Resistance to federal liquor taxes in the South dates back at least to the 1870s, said Daniel Okrent, author of “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.”