Company is making moonshine and more in Milledgeville

lmorris@macon.comAugust 9, 2013 

MILLEDGEVILLE -- When a local distillery first announced it was going to make moonshine and other alcohol two years ago, some people figured it could produce its product right away, much like a restaurant.

But the liquor business is not that quick, said Bill Mauldin, co-owner of Georgia Distilling Co.

The startup had to find a distributor to carry the product “and you pretty much beg and plead,” Mauldin said. “Then you have to work those brands. So the first year is very slow. Very slow.”

Also, every brand has a separate formula, and every formula has to be submitted to the federal government for approval. Then the labels have to be approved.

“It takes about 45 days to get a formula approved, and labels take between 30 and 45 days,” Mauldin said. “Liquor is very highly regulated because of the higher alcohol content.”

The distillery now has about 50 labels and has recently launched its first bourbon, rye whiskey and blended whiskey on the national market. It is ramping up production so much that it needs to hire more people for the holidays and beyond.

The company operates out of a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in an industrial area on the outskirts of Milledgeville. From the parking lot, the faint smell of yeast wafts out of a roll-up truck door.

On Friday, about eight people formed an assembly line, some filling bottles of Rod & Rifle bourbon, some putting on tops, while one man placed a hair-dryer type of tool near each top, which heat-shrank a black seal. Then a shot glass was placed on top of the bottles, which were then put into individual boxes and put into a case holding 12 bottles.

Nearby, several cases of Rod & Rifle bourbon were stacked on pallets ready to be shipped to a customer in Michigan.

In about two weeks, Mauldin plans to have two shifts of workers.

“About 50 percent of our sales are for the holidays,” he said. “A lot of our companies are pushing to get their new product out before September, because after September no distributor will touch a new product” because there is no time to market it.

The business will lose some of its high school workers next week when public schools open. Mauldin said he would need about 10 more workers. (Anyone interested in a job should apply through the company’s website at www.georgiadistilling.com.)

Last week Mauldin had a little free help.

Randy Thompson and Jim Crumley, owners of a startup distillery in Chattanooga, Tenn., were working on the assembly line to learn the process. Mauldin did the same thing at other distilleries when he was starting out.

“People don’t mind sharing their knowledge,” Thompson said. “It’s competitive, but there’s still camaraderie.”

Across the room, brandy was cooking in one of several stills.

“Right now we’re doing peach, blackberry and blueberry,” Mauldin said. “This is a new line we’ve got called Georgia Signature. It will be certified all Georgia grown by the ag department.”

Next year, some Georgia farmers are growing corn just for Georgia Distilling to use specifically for a Savannah bourbon. Once a product is certified with products grown in Georgia, “it releases money and materials from the ag department and tourism department. You get marketing exposure and (put) in their magazines,” he said.

Mauldin would like to be able to give tours and have a gift shop, which distilleries in some states -- such as Kentucky and Tennessee -- can do. But he won’t offer that until he is able to sell his product to visitors, which is not allowed by distilleries in Georgia.

This year, state Rep. Rusty Kidd from Milledgeville introduced a bill that would let places such as Georgia Distilling sell up to two bottles of liquor to each adult visitor. But the measure didn’t make it through to a vote.

The company makes its own product and special orders for other individuals and companies. It offers private labels, such as its Tootsies Apple Pie Shine, a moonshine for the famous Tootsies bar in Nashville, Tenn. Still to be released is a vodka for a well-known hip-hop star, but Mauldin couldn’t say who it was yet.

In a storage room, 10 tractor-trailer loads of Joose flavored malt was stacked on pallets. The company switched from glass to cans, and it needed to get rid of the bottled beverage.

“They shipped it in to see if we could do something with it,” Mauldin said. “We can take anything and turn it into alcohol. We took some beer from Athens and it made a great whiskey. ... When you cook it off in the still, it’s great.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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