By Grace Huseth
Jim Chasteen pointed to the copper still inside American Spirit Whiskey Distillery, his new whiskey-making business that opened for public tours and tastings last month in Buckhead.
“The next flavor trend is not going to come from tweaking a factory still in Kentucky. It’s going to come out of a little still like this,” said Chasteen.
Chasteen and ASW co-founder Charlie Thompson met at the University of Georgia. In November 2011, they founded American Spirit Whiskey and after distilling in Charleston, S.C., for the last five years, they returned to their Georgia roots.
ASW stands in the former Mason Murer Fine Art gallery on Armour Drive in Buckhead. They chose the location in hopes of attracting visitors from SweetWater Brewing Company, a well-known craft beer-maker headquartered just around the corner.
A change to state alcohol laws last year, known as the “beer jobs bill,” allowed distilleries to start charging for tours, and increases alcohol-tastings to 1.5 ounces per person. That legal change allowed ASW to open its doors for public tours.
Their stand-out piece is a copper still made by Vendome Copper and Brassworks, a big still-maker for all Kentucky bourbon manufacturers. ASW spent time researching and collecting each piece of equipment, and everything is handmade in the U.S., except for the bottler made by Italian manufacturer Mori.
The first step is the mash cooker, where grains like corn, rye or malted barley are soaked in hot water to break down the complex carbohydrates of the grain into simple sugars. Yeast is added, and then it’s off to the fermenter to make a basic form of beer. After fermentation is complete, the distiller’s beer gets to visit the prized Vendome copper stills where whiskey will be made in a traditional, Scotch-style double-pot still system.
To better explain this whiskey-making system to visitors, ASW created a chart that is now painted as a large mural in the tasting room. Head distiller Justin Manglitz, along with medical artist Aaron Fu, took ASW Distillery’s equipment schematic and created the mural. ASW will create posters of this process, for both whiskey connoisseurs and educational purposes.
Towards the end of the distilling process, the whiskey is evaluated by Manglitz to make “cuts,” or decisions of what to put in a barrel to become whiskey and what to redistill. The cuts are based on taste and smell. ASW uses both a traditional, Scotch-style system and Southern flavors like native grains while also experimenting with different flavors.
“Whiskey is all about cuts, what you take out and what you keep in,” Chasteen said.
ASW says its flavors are exclusive—from its original product, American Spirit Whiskey, a mild whiskey, to its forthcoming bourbons and single malt whiskeys.
In September, American Spirit Whiskey will produce more original bourbon recipes. The corn comes from Riverview Farms in Ranger, Ga. For a whiskey to be classified as bourbon under federal regulations, it must be produced in the U.S. from a mash of at least 51 percent corn and matured in charred, new American oak barrels.
Thompson said the ASW Distillery team is proud to be from Georgia. They are making every effort they can to source from Georgia farmers and want to give back to Georgia first during their initial years.
“We need to pull back and really dig deep in Georgia. We are in the best city in the Southeast to build a type of whiskey brand that will endure,” Thompson said, “We are going to be focused on Georgia for the foreseeable future and grow organically.”
American Spirit Whiskey can be purchased in over 500 bottle shops and restaurants in the state and others in the nation.
ASW Distillery is located at 199 Armour Drive, Suite C. Learn more at aswdistillery.com.