Location: Atlanta, Georgia. USA
By: Seth Brown
Not all bourbon is made in Kentucky. Nor does it have to be. Unfortunately, there are still those out there that believe that it does. For the 1,300+ craft distilleries not located in Kentucky, that can be a huge stigma.
Perhaps an even larger stigma is that of age statements — or lack thereof. Many whiskey fans today believe that unless the bottle proudly proclaims an age-statement, it can’t possibly be good.
These two stigmas are hurdles that most craft distilleries can’t overcome —at least not at the moment. Especially when pitted against the “big boys” in The Bluegrass.
One thing they can compete on is what matters most — taste. That is precisely what American Spirit Works is focused on.
Founded in 2009 by Jim Chasteen and Charlie Thompson, American Spirit Works (ASW)is located in Atlanta, GA. What started as a love and appreciation of whiskey between two friends quickly grew into the creation of their own whiskey recipe. That recipe would become known as American Spirit Whiskey. After partnering with Master Distiller Justin Manglitz, they began to refine their recipes and grow their portfolio of spirits.
Six short years later in 2015, ASW moved into their current location just off of Interstate 85. In an effort to help promote their brand, during the build-out of the space Jim and Charlie knew they had to focus on creating a whiskey and event experience.
What Atlanta lacks in Bourbon Trail tourism, it more than makes up for as a meeting and event destination. The city routinely ranks in the top 10 U.S. locations for conferences. It’s these visitors in addition to the hundreds of thousands of whiskey-loving residents and tourists that ASW hopes to attract. Now that Georgia Senate Bill 85 has passed allowing breweries and distilleries to sell direct to consumer, ASW is able up its experience game. As of September 1, they now sell full bottles of their regular and special “distillery only” releases as well as handcrafted cocktails.
The main tasting room is fantastic in and of itself. It features a large bar, large solid wood tables, a sitting area and the gift shop. There is also a stunning, private whiskey lounge that includes a ping-pong table, big leather chairs, a sofa and a fireplace. The main focal point of the room is a huge mural of local residents celebrating the repeal of Prohibition in Georgia at the near-by Marietta Square in 1935.For events, they have a large indoor green space complete with an Airstream bar and a turfed area for lawn games such as corn hole. There is also a smaller outdoor space.
After visiting the distillery, I believe they’ve nailed the “experience” thing. The entire facility is almost lifted from the pages of a magazine.
There are distillery tours, too. ASW already boasts larger equipment than some well-known craft distilleries. They run a 1000-gallon cooker and two 500-gallon fermentation tanks. Then there are the two beautiful Vendom Copper pot stills; a 500-gallon still and a 300-gallon still. Perched high upon a catwalk, they are almost like a king and queen sitting on their throne overlooking their court.
Running two distillation cycles per week, they are currently producing an average of 4 53-gallon barrels. With the planned addition of more fermenters, they should increase that output to around 10 barrels per week. At this pace, they have almost outgrown their warehouse. They have an equivalent of around 200 53-gallon barrels of aging whiskey. To help accommodate the soon-to-be increased output, they recently secured a second warehouse just across town.
With their guiding principle of “crafted with character” always in mind, they are producing some truly unique expressions. Their portfolio includes:
- Duality – the world’s first double malt whiskey
- Resurgens Rye – a single malt rye produced from 100% malted rye
- Georgia Orchard Apple Brandy – a double pot distilled brandy made entirely from apples harvested in North Georgia
- American Spirit Whiskey – a silver whiskey great for making cocktails
- Fiddler Bourbon –comprised of a somewhat rare MGP wheated bourbon(51% corn, 45% wheat, 4% malted barley)
All of these are distilled and aged on-site with the exception of two. They also produce a handful of specialty whiskies. Some are held for special events such as the annual Halloween party. Others are released within Georgia or the Atlanta-area only.
Being the good Kentucky boy that I am, I’m focusing on Fiddler Bourbon Whiskey for this installment of “Around the Whiskey World.”
Now in its fourth release, Fiddler Bourbon batches include:
- Batch 1:Wheated and Repeated – the above mentioned wheated bourbon sourced from MGP, finished on-site at ASW in new char 3 quarter (13 gallon) oak casks
- Batch 2: Fiddler Georgia Heartwood – the same high-wheat mash bill as batch 1 but finished using special staves (more on these below)
- Batch 3: Fiddler Straight Bourbon Whiskey–using the same high-wheat mash bill as batches 1 and 2, this is Atlanta’s first Straight Bourbon Whiskey since prohibition
- Batch 4: Fiddler Unison –the same high-wheat mash bill as the first three batches married with ASW’s own in-house distilled, high-malted bourbon, aged on-site at ASW
The release that I will be reviewing comes from batch 2, Fiddler Georgia Heartwood. What makes it unique are the special finishing staves I mentioned above. In 2015, a large white oak tree fell on Master Distiller Justin Manglitz’s family property in North Georgia. Instead of hauling it off or using it as firewood, Justin, being the innovator that he is, harvested the tree by creating staves from the wood. After curing the staves outdoors for one year, they were then hand-charred to a level 4. These handcrafted staves where placed into each barrel of Fiddler batch 2 and finished for several months. Hence the name “Fiddler Georgia Heartwood.”Making this bottle even more unique is that it was from a private barrel pick conducted by members of the Atlanta Bourbon Society. When the group tasted the whiskey from this batch, they fell in love with it. Keeping with the ASW principle of “crafted with character,” the group decided to add a few additional handcrafted staves to the selected barrel and allow it to age several more months.
To make this bottle even more special, half of the proceeds of this release goes towards Cystic Fibrosis. As of the writing of this article, only a few bottles remain available.
This release is uncut and non-chill filtered. It was aged for 2 years, 6 months and comes in at 58.77% ABV, 117.54 proof. And, it’s delicious!
I found the nose to be very inviting. There is no pungent alcohol burn like you might expect to find in a relatively young cask strength whiskey. It’s sweet with ripe citrus, plums, caramel and toffee. Once it opens up a little bit I began to pickup some light oak, brown sugar, hints of nutmeg, honey and clove.
The mouthfeel on this whiskey is really nice. With a little swirl around my mouth and a good old Kentucky chew it introduces some additional oiliness. The flavors start off with a good bit of red pepper spice. That hangs around for a while but then transitions to some citrus flavors and then into softer hints of salted caramel, burnt sugar and toffee.
The spice really helps to draw this out into a nice long, enjoyable finish. In contrast to the palate, the spice lets up a little quicker here allowing those softer, sweeter notes to really shine. I get more caramel, burnt sugar, toffee, hints of chocolate and sweet pipe tobacco.
This was such a great pour. To have a young, cask strength whiskey be this enjoyable is really impressive. It makes it even more enjoyable to know that it’s from a local distillery and a portion of the proceeds go toward a great cause.
Overall, I give this release an 89/100.
This bourbon is a prime example of why age statements don’t always matter. There are craft distilleries producing some fantastic whiskey that is aged 3 years or less. This goes to show that quality grains and a love, appreciation and knowledge of the craft go a long way. When the distillery can provide a great experience in addition to great whiskey, it’s a huge win for everyone.
ASW is doing great and innovative work. I look forward to enjoying their other expressions and perhaps picking my own barrel of Fiddler in the future. If you find yourself in Atlanta, ASW is a must-visit. Be sure to tell them I sent you and pick up some of their whiskey while you’re there! Because now you can.
199 Armour Drive Northeast
Atlanta, GA 30324
Photos & Article By: Seth Brown
Regular readers of The Son of Winston Churchill properly knows who Seth Brown is, but for anyone new to this blog; Having grown up in Kentucky I was aware of Bourbon at a very early age — what it was and of course, where most of it was made. Living in the Blue Grass State, you would have almost had to go out of your way to not know.
Hello, my name is Seth Brown.
My childhood neighbor, Mr. Barton, of course only drank Very Old Barton (no relation) in his “totties.” On the way to visit my grandparents we passed exits for Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and George T. Stagg (now Buffalo Trace Distillery). It was the Bourbon Trail before there was a commercialized version of it. At Christmas, my grandmother always made Bourbon balls; a chocolate ball-shaped cookie, of sorts, made with Bourbon.
Bourbon was always around in some form. Even in the dismal Bourbon days of the late 70’s and 1980’s.
Through my college years it was Kentucky Gentleman and Coke. After college I “moved up” to Evan Williams and Coke. And there was always a bottle of Maker’s Mark around for those “special” occasions. As I got older my tastes refined and matured. The first Bourbon that I remember enjoying neat (sipping, not taking a shot — of course there were plenty of those in my college days) was Pappy Van Winkle 20 year. Though it isn’t my favorite Bourbon it certainly was a game changer for me.
My favorite pours these days are Four Roses 2014 Single Barrel Limited Edition, Four Roses 2015 Small Batch Limited Edition, Elmer T. Lee and E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof (specifically the late 2014 release, 64.5%/129 proof). While I change my everyday pour from time to time, my cabinet staples are usually Elijah Craig 12 year (now a non-age stated Bourbon) or Four Roses Single Barrel. I typically lean toward high-rye Bourbon mash bills at higher proofs.
For the past 17 years I have lived in Atlanta, Georgia. While I no longer live in my home state of Kentucky I am still just as passionate about Bourbon. Perhaps even more. I use to feel that if I drank a whiskey made outside of Kentucky that I was cheating on my home. I have since found that there are a lot of really great whiskies made all over the world. Over the last several years my whiskey collection has expanded to include Rye, Scotch (thanks in large part to Hasse), Japanese and Canadian whiskies. But my true love will always be Bourbon.
I hope you enjoy my reviews and contributions on the Son of Winston Churchill. You can also follow me on Instagram, @sethpbrown