Jeff Odem and Diane Kelly opened Stillhouse Creek Distillery one year ago. Now, the distillery is about to reopen — with Zac Brown’s name on it.
Looking back on the end of November 2016, just after he first talked to The Times about the distillery, Odem said he feels like a lucky man.
Leaving behind lives in financial software and marketing, he and his wife had invested everything they had into their dream of opening a craft distillery in North Georgia wine country.
And with a 500-gallon still, a 7,200-square-foot building and 5 acres of property, they had done it.
It was late November, and they were days away from opening. Barrels of bourbon were racked and aging. Gin labels were approved and almost ready for market.
Then a man came knocking.
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“At that point in time, we were just pleased to see anyone walk in the door,” Odem told The Times on Thursday. “I was here very, very early one morning over the Thanksgiving holiday. I opened the back door, and there was a bearded man with tattoos and a big smile on his face. He said, ‘I’m your neighbor.’”
Odem gave the man a tour and a taste of Stillhouse Creek’s offerings, and when it was over the man introduced himself as Zac.
Brown, a Grammy-winning country artist who calls Dahlonega home, wanted to invest in the company. A letter of intent was signed in December, less than a month after his first visit, and after negotiations the country music star bought half of the company in May.
For Odem, it felt like fate and a “Field of Dreams” moment.
“You need to understand, my wife and I had everything — I mean everything — on the line. But we did it. We got the place built, and that back door was built for Zac to knock on.”
Now, Brown’s helping Odem and Kelly make brown liquor. His name will appear on the distillery, renamed the Z. Brown Distillery, and its products through Brown’s Southern Ground brand.
The rebranded business set out to open this fall. There’s still no specific date set, but the end of fall is coming soon. Odem said to keep an eye on the business’ social media accounts to stay in the loop.
Brown’s investment allowed Odem to ramp up production at the distillery and add a 750-gallon copper still to the existing 500-gallon system.
Since May, more than a dozen employees have been making 10 gallons of bourbon, brandy, whiskey and gin a week.
The bourbon is made with antique white dent corn that’s hand-milled at the distillery, Odem said.
“People that are in the know about bourbons would know that we’re in the family with Maker’s Mark, Pappy’s, (W.L.) Weller’s,” he said.
The company’s brandies are a collaboration with two nearby Georgia vineyards, Kaya and Three Sisters, and Zac Brown’s own Napa Valley winery in California.
Z. Brown Distillery’s whiskey is a unique blend of “light whiskey, bourbon, brandy and wheat whiskey,” Odem said. “... You won’t find it anywhere else in the world.”
When the distillery first prepared to open, Georgia’s alcohol laws were much more strict for both breweries and distilleries, but now customers can taste liquor on site and buy up to a 375 millileters of liquor, or a pint bottle.
The new distillery will also include a retail shop with Brown’s Southern Ground merchandise. Down the road, the site will be ready to host tours.
And between now and then, the husband-and-wife team will keep counting their blessings.
“The future looks bright. We’re excited. It’s been a long road,” Diane Kelly told The Times in 2016 — only a few weeks before Zac Brown would come knocking on their door.
She was right.