September 14, 2013

‘Like the moonshine we used to make’

Dalton Distillers to make authentic moonshine

Charles Oliver

— Chuck Butler never made moonshine. But some of his relatives did, and he grew up in Murray County hearing their stories.

“My granddad, who was born in 1910, made whiskey. My dad grew up making whiskey,” he said. “They weren’t the only ones. There were other people in Murray County and Gordon County making it. I’m sure that there were people in Whitfield County making it. They were all just trying to support their families.”

Butler plans to keep that history alive by founding Dalton Distillers, located in downtown Dalton. The distillery will make authentic 111-proof (55 percent alcohol) whiskey from a century-old family recipe.

“It will be just like the moonshine we used to make. The only difference is that it will be legal,” he said. “We want to buy our corn locally. We want to buy as much of everything we can locally to keep it authentic.”

To make it even more authentic, the whiskey will be “bottled” and sold in Mason jars.

“We will bottle it and then we have a distributor that will take it and ship to stores all over the state,” Butler said. “If it goes well, we hope to go national.”

The distillery will share its location at 109 E. Morris St. with Old Moonshiners, a museum and retail store operated by Starla Landers.

Landers, whose grandfather was a moonshiner, founded Old Moonshiners of Georgia as an online site to keep alive the heritage of those who made whiskey in the mountains of north Georgia. Butler said he asked her to join him because of her knowledge of the history of the industry and background in music and promotion.

In addition to selling moonshine-related apparel and glasses, Old Moonshiners will have an old still and photos and memorabilia from the moonshine industry, especially in Whitfield, Murray and Gordon counties. Butler said they will even bring in cars that were used to run moonshine from the rural stills into cities across north Georgia.

Landers, a musician, said she also hopes to bring in musical acts that perform songs about moonshine, trains and other aspects of the history of north Georgia.

Both say they believe the distillery and store could become a tourist destination, but Butler said their plans could get a big boost from changes in Georgia law.

“Georgia currently does not allow distillers to sell their product on their premises. It also limits the amount they can serve at tastings to a half-ounce. That’s not much,” he said.

House Bill 185, which was introduced in the General Assembly, would allow distilleries to sell up to two liters of bottled whiskey a day to a customer. It would also increase the amount they can serve at tastings to two ounces.

“Being able to sell whiskey at the distillery would really help us bring in more customers,” Butler said.

State Rep. Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton, says he thinks there’s a good chance the bill could pass the General Assembly when the Assembly goes back into session in January.

“I think all of us support entrepreneurs stepping up and trying to start a new business. We want to see more small businesses creating jobs and generating taxes. There’s already a distillery in Dahlonega, and I think there are several applications in to start them in other parts of the state,” Broadrick said.

“I certainly support making it easier to start and grow businesses, not just in Dalton but across the state,” Broadrick said. “At the same time, we have to protect the health and safety of the state, and since this (alcohol) is a regulated industry, we have to be careful. We’ve had several months now for (HB 185) to be vetted and for those with concerns to express them and for those who support the bill to suggest ways to improve it.”

Butler says he and Landers aren’t waiting for the General Assembly to approve HB 185.

“We should be able to have the museum and store open by this time next month. We are still waiting on final approval from the federal government. That should come in November. After that, it will take us approximately five weeks to get approval from the state, and then we’ll be ready to start making whiskey,” he said.

All commercial distilleries must have a federal license to make sure they are paying the proper taxes.