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Dawsonville distillery receives final approval
Brewery production to begin this month
Dwight Bearden points out the barrels that will be used to make moonshine later in August. - photo by CHELSEA THOMAS | Times regional staff

The Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery received the final stamp of approval to begin producing and manufacturing moonshine on July 20.

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

Owner Cheryl Wood, who began leasing the space for the distillery in June 2011, said she was glad all the inspections are complete.

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

On Friday, Wood signed for a loan for more than $107,000 through the Dawsonville Downtown Development Authority.

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

According to attorney Wendy Kraby, who served as the legal adviser, the loan is set to go toward operational equipment, including a 250-gallon copper still, two 415-gallon stainless steel mash tanks, a 1,050-gallon stainless steel mash tank and more.

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

The distillery, which is contractually named “Free Spirits Distillery, LLC,” has 10 years to pay off the loan through monthly payments, according to the contract. The interest rate is below 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. Acting as the manufacturer, the distillery will then sell the product to a wholesaler who will in turn sell it to a distributor, Wood said.

According to Georgia law, the distillery can only sell to a wholesaler or distributor, not directly to the public.
Other 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.”

Wood announced that the distillery already has two interested distributors.  Wood also said the distillery is aiming to begin tastings this fall, ideally in time for the 45th annual Mountain Moonshine Festival on Oct. 26-28.  A bill allowing tastings at distilleries in Georgia was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 3.

The measure, which cleared the 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 be a positive economic development.

“For one, we will see an immediate impact in job 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 to lease the area inside the Dawsonville Municipal Complex, which is also home to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

A gift shop with moonshine collectibles is also open at select hours at the site.

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