If you’re a lover of spirits and all things local, you’re in luck. Local distilleries turning out small-batch bourbons, ryes and specialty rums are bubbling up around metro Atlanta.

“Spirits production is an art form,” said Seth Watson, founder of Distillery of Modern Art in Chamblee. “After spending nearly two decades in hospitality, I decided to sell my old business and create a new distillery from the ground up.”

A relative newcomer, the Distillery of Modern Art opened in May of 2020. The business combines production of spirits with an art gallery. “Having no preconceived notions of the industry allows for us to create our own path,” Watson said.

The first new distillery inside the Perimeter was Independent Distilling Company in Decatur. The company opened its doors in 2014. Founder Michael Anderson offers a core set of five spirits: Independent White Rum, Independent Barrel Aged Rum, Hellbender Corn Whiskey, Hellbender Bourbon Whiskey and Hellbender Straight Rye Whiskey.

In addition, they experiment with other spirits such as barrel-finished whiskeys, single malts, brandies, and gin. “We like to use local and high-quality ingredients and are always up to collaborate with local wineries, cideries, breweries and farmers,” said whiskey specialist Casey Teague.

It must work. The company is planning to move to a bigger space in Decatur and a celebration of its seventh birthday with the release of a Hellbender Bottled in Bond Bourbon.

ASW Distillery, located just a stone’s throw from Sweetwater Brewery in Atlanta, is among the city’s oldest established distilleries. “Every type of whiskey, we make it here,” said Chad Ralston, head of marketing.

Two roommates from the University of Georgia, Jim Chasteen and Charlie Thompson, founded the company after they came up with the recipe for a clear whiskey in 2011. They first produced the spirit in a facility in Charleston under the name American Spirit Whiskey. A few years later, the two opened up their first facility in Georgia.

Fiddler Bourbon. Photo by Isadora Pennington.

In 2015 they brought on master distiller and partner Justin Manglitz and the team opened their distillery and tasting room on Armour Drive in 2016. They have since expanded to include a larger facility on the westside near the BeltLine and plan to soon open a tasting room at The Battery. Some of the company’s best-selling spirits include Fiddler Bourbon, Resurgens Rye, and Duality Double Malt.
“It’s a super hands-on effort, not only distilling the whiskeys but also for that heartwood product,” Ralston said as he described the way Manglitz sources, seasons, and hand-chars the wood for staves that add flavor to some of their offerings.

The ASW tasting room is popular among locals, and their spirits are winning prestigious awards. ASW’s Cask Strength Ameireaganach Maris Otter Unpeated Single Malt won World’s Best Craft Whiskey and a Double Gold, a designation achieved when all 40 judges unanimously agree to award gold to a spirit.

In 2020, faced with shutdowns because of the coronavirus pandemic, local spirits makers got inventive and began using their distilleries to make a different sort of product: hand sanitizer. Old Fourth Distillery and ASW both donated sanitizer to local healthcare professionals and to Atlanta residents who suddenly could not find sanitizer on the shelves of local stores.

ASW The Distillery at American Spirit Works, one of the distilleries that opened in recent years in metro Atlanta, makes, ages and bottles a variety of types of spirits, including Fiddler Bourbon. Photo by Isadora Pennington.

Where to find some metro area distillers …

Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.