Small business owner Cheryl Wood got plenty of media coverage promoting the opening last weekend of her new enterprise, the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, next to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in downtown Dawsonville. The history tourism-based business will house a working still and tell the story of North Georgia moonshining from the perspective of local area residents for whom crafting liquor is a family tradition.
Wood, a Lumpkin County resident, had obtained permitting and licensing for the business. So imagine her surprise when state alcohol agents from the Department of Revenue showed up at the facility Friday, as she scrambled to prepare for the rush of visitors expected during the weekends 44th annual Moonshine Festival.
Talk about living history.
A descendent of generations of moonshine makers she can trace all the way back to mid-19th century Scotland, Wood experienced first hand what her American prohibition-era relatives must have felt when revenuers started sniffing around their stills.
This time, the agents didnt have to do a lot of investigating before deciding to pay a visit to the distillery. They simply read about it in the paper.
Newspapers and online magazines from Chattanooga to Gainesville to Atlanta beckoned visitors to the festival with the promise of a tasting of white lightning from the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery. While a few southeastern states have legalized on-site tastings at liquor distilleries, the practice is not legal in Georgia.
Information that was not true had been published in the newspapers, said Wood, who has no idea of the source of that incorrect information.
Apparently, at least one reporter somewhere must have assumed there would be tastings. Once that information was published, it was picked up online and assumed to be fact by other print and online media. The Internet then carried dozens of references to the moonshine tastings all over the country.
The City of Dawsonville and the community have been very supportive of the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, said Wood, who has been researching and working to make the business a reality for more than three years. Were creating jobs and preserving history. The location in Dawsonville, still known as the Moonshine Capital of the World, will support local tourism and be good for the business.
The Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery is dedicated to use of local raw materials and resources from Dawson and Lumpkin Counties and other areas of North Georgia, from locally grown corn and Ellijay apples to the local lumber and tin that decorate the gift shop.
Wood said she and master distiller Dwight Bearden had initially planned to have the still operating in time for the Moonshine Festival, but custom-made equipment was not delivered until last Thursday. They estimate production is still a few weeks away.
The agents were satisfied there was no alcohol on the premises, but told Wood she needed a permit letter to display the still legally. Her attorney promptly provided that letter, and the gift shop part of the business, as well as the display of the non-operational still, opened in time for the festival crowds.
Everything was positive last weekend, Wood said. People came from all over. Sales were good in the gift shop. And people are very eager to buy the moonshine in the future.
Wood is already working with legislators who hope to gain support in the upcoming legislative session for passage of new laws allowing onsite tastings at Georgia distilleries. In the meantime - as the law currently allows - once production begins, she plans to have her high quality products, such as traditional corn liquor and Ellijay Apple Brandy, available for purchase in liquor stores and bars through relationships with distributors.