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Distillery gets green flag
Business on third batch of product, may expand
2 Distillery pic
Distiller Dwight Bearden gives Sophia Bethune of Cumming a tour of the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery on Friday. Bearden stirs up apple mash, filling the air in the distillery with the fermenting apple aroma. - photo by Scott Rogers DCN Regional Staff

The backwoods moonshining business birthed one of the nation's most popular sports in NASCAR, so it fits that the state's newest legal moonshine distillery is under the same roof as the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

In fact, the distillery - Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery on Hwy. 53 in Dawsonville - can't make the liquor fast enough to take the checkered flag ahead of its demand.

The distillery, which shares space with the hall of fame and Dawsonville's city hall, produced its first batch of liquor at the end of October, just in time for the annual Mountain Moonshine Festival.

That batch sold out quickly and the second is in the distribution phase. Distillers are working on the third batch of corn whiskey.

Cheryl Wood, the distillery's owner, was working with a phone company only months ago. Her dream, which took months of planning and permits, along with thousands in borrowed money, is turning into a reality.

"I decided that I would just go for this full time," she said. "This is my dream, and I didn't want to be an old lady laying [in] the bed thinking, ‘What if? What if? What if?' No. I don't play ‘what if' very well. So I just went for it, and I'm super excited that it's gone over so well and that I have the support that I do."

It makes sense, really. Wood comes from a family of moonshiners. Her granddaddy, Simmie Free, was a famous moonshiner in Tiger.

Wood has also brought Bob Suchke, the "still hand," and longtime distiller Dwight Bearden, the "backwoods distiller," on board. The three bring with them generations of experience in the trade.

"It helped feed us, my family, as a kid," said Bearden, who added that he is a fourth-generation moonshiner. "It's part of history. Some people don't like it because they've had a bad experience with it or with a family member or this, that and the other.

"Regardless, it's part of the history, especially right here [in Dawsonville]."

The group, for now, is using a 250-gallon copper still, along with two 415-gallon and one 1,050-gallon stainless steel mash tanks to produce the liquor. There are plans to add more equipment and help.

"We are hoping to expand," Bearden said. "This is just a small-batch distillery and we do stuff the old-timey way. There's a lot we have to go through to do it that way, but it's well worth it."

The distillery's product, actually, is 100 percent made from scratch and does not use sugar in the mash, as many distillers do.

"What sets us apart from the other moonshiners is we're not using any sugar at all," Wood said. "This is pure corn whiskey, and it's a very old-timey recipe, and we make our own corn malt, so everything is handmade and hand-crafted.

"I kind of compare it to you can get a cake made from cake mix or you can get one made from scratch. So, we're the real deal."

The response from those who have tasted it, including other distillers, has been nothing but positive.

"I've never heard anybody make anything other than a favorable comment about it," Suchke said. "So we're real pleased and everybody likes it."

The distillery, contractually named Free Spirits Distillery LLC in honor of Free, soon will start offering tours and tastings. It will be the first in the state to do so after a bill allowing tastings cleared the General Assembly this year.

Around the holidays, Wood said the group also will start making apple pie moonshine, along with apple brandy.

"The corn whiskey is our flagship product, but we'll be coming out with different products as well," she said.

But don't expect the distillery to stop there. The hard work and legal tape is worth the effort when the product is something you love.

"It just gets in your blood," Bearden said.