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State inspectors approve distillery
Brewery production to begin in August
Distillery opening soon pic
Cheryl Wood, owner of the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, hopes to begin offering tastings this fall, ideally in time for the 45th annual Mountain Moonshine Festival on Oct. 26-28. - photo by Chelsea Thomas Dawson Community News

The Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery has received the go-ahead to begin manufacturing moonshine.

The long-awaited permission from state inspectors July 20 followed the approval of federal and local agents.

Owner Cheryl Wood, who began leasing the space for the distillery at the Dawsonville Municipal Complex in June 2011, said she was glad all the inspections were complete.

"We are testing equipment now that we have the green light from the state. We will be in production in August," she said Monday.

Three days earlier, Wood signed for a loan through the Dawsonville Downtown Development Authority for more than $107,000.

The loan came from The Georgia Cities Foundation, a nonprofit subsidiary of the Georgia Municipal Association that aims to help cities revitalize and enhance downtown areas.

According to attorney Wendy Kraby, who served as the legal adviser for the contract, the loan will go toward helping operate equipment, including a 250-gallon copper still and two 415-gallon and one 1,050-gallon stainless steel mash tanks.

"My understanding is the money is going to pay for operating equipment the distillery has already purchased," she said.

The distillery, organized as "Free Spirits Distillery LLC," has 10 years to pay off the loan through monthly payments, according to the contract. The loan's interest rate is below that of the market.

Perry Hiott, managing director, said the foundation is pleased to have played a role in "bringing the distillery to fruition."

"This project combines economic development, in the form of new business and job creation, with the community's rich history of moonshine production and stock car racing," he said.

The distillery looks to produce a family recipe of corn liquor.

Per Georgia law, it can sell the product only to a wholesaler or distributor, not directly to the public.

According to Wood, the distillery has two interested distributors.

Other Georgia distilleries producing distilled spirits are operating in Richland, Milledgeville and Americus.

"It's hard to say how much we are going to produce because it depends on the demand," Wood said. "For now, I know that the first product will be 80-proof and two other products will come shortly thereafter."

She said the distillery aims to begin tastings this fall, ideally in time for the 45th annual Mountain Moonshine Festival on Oct. 26-28.

A bill allowing tasting at distilleries in Georgia was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 3.

The measure, which cleared the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year, will allow visitors to sample up to a half ounce of spirits per person, per day when touring a distillery.

"My lawyer is setting up a meeting to look at when we can legally start to offer tastings," Wood said.

Dawsonville City Councilman Chris Gaines said he thinks the distillery will have a positive economic impact.

"For one, we will see an immediate impact in jobs creation," Gaines said. "And also, I think it will help Dawsonville become a destination location and not just a pass-through location.

"As we move forward in the city I think all officials will agree that we want to support this and any other business developments."

Wood said the distillery is looking to hire four employees this fall to assist in operations. Dwight Bearden will continue to serve as the backwoods distiller.

The distillery has been in the works since early 2011, when Wood began inquiring about leasing the area inside the Dawsonville Municipal Complex, which is home to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

Also at the site, visitors will find a gift shop with moonshine collectibles.