Pictured: Justin Manglitz Photo Via Drake Scott.
By Matthew Pharr, contributor
Earlier this month, the Whiskies of the World festival came to Atlanta to offer spirit-lovers of all types samplings from over 200 types of Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, Canadian and other exotic whiskies from around the globe, and the event couldn’t have picked a better venue. All over the state, you can find traces of Georgia’s past relationship with the illicit alcohol trade, and you would be mistaken if you think bootlegging and moonshining ended with the repeal of prohibition in 1933.
At North Georgia’s Amicalola Falls, you can see the remnants of a 1940s-bootlegging truck that took a tumble off the main road down a two-hundred-foot slope. Dawsonville celebrates and pays tribute to the enterprising whiskey outlaws who, with modified cars, would outrun and outwit revenue agents in the North Georgia Mountains in order to get their tax-free products into Atlanta via the “Thunder Road” (Route 9 to the uninitiated) with an annual moonshine festival. The modified cars used by bootleggers throughout the south’s mountainous regions would eventually give rise to NASCAR, now one of the most popular sports in the United States.
Things in the world of whiskey have certainly changed since the days of avoiding government roadblocks and high-speed chases along narrow mountain roads. There are a number of distilleries in North Georgia producing ‘shine legally in its various incarnations, although the proof is lower and in accordance with state law. Ivy Mountain Distillery says it produces corn whiskey and peach brandy from recipes made famous by 84-year-old moonshiner Carlos Lovell at their facility in Mt. Airy in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains.
Whisky has infiltrated pop culture. Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar, Conor McGregor, has founded Proper No. Twelve, a blend of sweet Irish grain and single malt Irish whisky, according to the brand’s website. Matthew McConaughey teamed up with Wild Turkey master distiller, Eddie Russell, to develop his Texas-inspired bourbon, Longbranch. Whisky events, clubs and bourbon bars are popping up all over Atlanta.
“Whisky, in general, is becoming more popular as people discover what it really is,” Douglas Smith, the man behind Whiskies of The World, a touring whisky convention where ticketholders can sample over three-hundred drams, told Atlanta Loop. “Whisky, the reward for raising children, and the antidote for when they move back home,” Smith joked.
But whisky isn’t a boy’s club, Smith said. More women than ever are starting to enjoy the spirit. Next year’s Whiskies of The World will be held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead on Oct 26, 2019 and will feature countless offerings from all over the globe, cigar rollers and food and whisky pairings from local Atlanta restaurants. “[The popularity] is affecting the whisky scene in Atlanta as more restaurants and bars are having their own whisky tastings and whisky dinners.”
In addition to spirits conventions, tasting clubs have been organized by whisky fans.
“If we’re meeting at a member’s house, people usually bring 1-3 bottles to share a dram and expose people to whiskies they may not have experienced yet,” Andrew Herdeg, a founder of The Atlanta Bourbon and Whisky Society, told Atlanta Loop. “Bourbons and whiskies have become amazingly popular in the last decade. I was turned on to bourbon back in 1988. Back then, not many people wanted bourbon; it was considered your father’s drink.” Countless whisky clubs have sprouted up all over the state in the past few years. Many, such as The Atlanta Bourbon and Whisky Society, have their clubhouses on social media platforms like Facebook.
When asked about favorite places to sample whiskies in Atlanta, Herdeg mentions that Mac McGee, Wrecking Bar and The Whiskey Project were among some of his favorites. “Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to try any Atlanta offerings, but I’m looking to change that for myself and the group in the near future,” he said.
When asked why he founded the group, Herdeg had this to say: “I want people to come together and enjoy each other’s company with some great whiskies to share and experience. I’m all for people learning about whiskies, meeting new people and creating great memories. It’s time well spent and that’s a wonderful thing.”
But with the skyrocketing popularity of whiskies, has the drink’s outlaw spirit and origin been distilled out of it? Atlanta Loop sat down with Justin Manglitz, head distiller at Atlanta’s ASW Distillery and walking encyclopedia of whisky knowledge.
Atlanta Loop: How did you get started?
Justin Manglitz: About eighteen years ago, summer of 2000, after I graduated high school, I did it in a friend’s barn.
AL: I’m sure that was totally legal.
JM: (Laughing) No. Totally a felony. I don’t like to put too fine a point on my family history just because journalists tend to make way more of it than it really is. Basically, my paw-paw Buck, when he was a young man, had been involved in some whiskey making and hauling. He didn’t really teach me anything about it. I just got inspired by that. I thought it was really cool and wanted to try it for myself. A lot of times it comes out in papers that I learned how to do it from my paw-paw, but that’s not true, and it makes my family mad. A friend’s dad helped me with the science behind it. I’ve never been really into science. I’m more into history. I like practical science. I don’t need to know how the yeast metabolizes, I just need to know that it does and what the practical means of getting it to do what I need it to do is.
AL: Whisky has seen a huge surge in popularity as far as consumption goes, but it seems beer brewing is still king. I can name five breweries in walking distance from my house. Why aren’t we seeing the same thing with distilleries?
JM: There are a lot of facets to explain that. Part of it is that craft brewing started growing much earlier than craft distilling. Partly because craft home-brewing is legal. People started doing it in the seventies and having great communities based around it. Jimmy Carter made it legal, by the way. Also, when you make beer, you can sell it in two to three weeks and start recouping your investment on your million-dollar brewery. Most distilleries aren’t able to make good whisky for three, four, five years. Distilleries have to pay for ingredients, rent, salaries for five years before putting out a drinkable bourbon. Frankly, what I’m saying is that it’s stupid to open a distillery. Open a brewery. You’ll have a very good chance of being a millionaire.
AL: Also, state and federal laws seem to make having a distillery a more difficult endeavor. Why so many restrictions on one but not the other?
JM: Because during prohibition, various mafias, be it Irish or Italian gentlemen, took over a lot of distilleries. After prohibition ended, they made laws to try to keep that from happening. Other reasons too. There’s been a history of tax evasion in the whisky making world, because of that, we abide by very stringent rules.
Editor’s note: ASW has received numerous medals for their whiskies at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, including a double gold for their Duality Double Malt.
AL: When you won the double gold, was there any part of you that said shit, how am I going to top this?
JM: We’ve only been here two and a half years. We’ve only been to San Francisco one time. Duality got double gold, which is crazy for a one-year-old whisky. But no, Tire Fire and Druid Hill (two new offerings) are gold. Double gold is hard. It means that however many people are on the panel all gave you gold. Tire fire is one-hundred percent peat malt. If just one of them doesn’t like peaty whisky, I’ve lost my double gold. It’s hard, but I think we have many more double golds in our future.