Decatur distillery has independent streakMichael Anderson, co-owner of Independent Distilling in Decatur, shows off a bottle of un-aged corn whiskey. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
This story has been updated.
Drop by the Independent Distilling Company on East College and it’s likely that Michael Anderson will be there, tending to giant, boiling vats of water and mash.
He wears a sweat-soaked tee-shirt. The warehouse space smells like chicken feed.
Anderson is a fundraiser for Zoo Atlanta during the day. At night – and on his lunch breaks – he’s cranking out what he hopes will be some of the finest whiskey Georgia has to offer. He opened his space in a warehouse in Decatur in January. It’s located next to BlueTarp Brewing. Beer brewing and distilling whiskey are similar processes, he said. Brewing beer is he taught himself the basics before he decided to take the plunge with business partner Tommy Williams.
“I’ve always liked to make things myself, and I like whiskey,” Anderson said, before correcting himself. “I love whiskey. I read an article about a craft distillery. I don’t remember the article and I don’t remember the distillery and it never even occurred to me that you could legally make distilled spirits. I started reading more about it and it just stuck in my brain. The more I looked at it, the more I really wanted to do this. That was about three and a half years ago. It’s been quite a trek getting to here, a lot of hurdles.”
In addition to brewing beer, Anderson also took a course at a distillery in Arkansas.
Independent Distilling also churns out rum, but it’s clear which product Anderson is most passionate about.
Anderson said he approached the city of Atlanta about opening up shop there, but the talks didn’t go anywhere. He approached Decatur, and the city changed its ordinances to allow him to set up shop. He brewed his first batch of un-aged corn whiskey in April and it hit the store shelves in May. You can find it at more than a dozen restaurant and retail locations, including the Decatur Package store. For a complete list of places you can buy Independent Distilling’s products, click here.
“We’re just now getting cranking,” he said.
Anderson said the company uses locally-sourced products, mainly corn, when it’s available. He compared the vat of ground corn in the boiling water to a giant tub of grits. Down the line the stuff eventually makes its way to a copper pot still from Portugal. The product goes through two distillations and, eventually, into a bottle. The raw product that’s never touched the inside of a barrel tastes like a bolt of hot fire. The stuff that doesn’t go to the stores will be stored in both small and large barrels for months, or even years, as the alcohol soaks in the flavor from the wood.
The business has become a family project. Anderson’s dad, the man who instilled in him a love of good whiskey, is retired and runs the still when Anderson isn’t around.
Anderson hopes he can grow his business into a full time job. But for now, he’s happy with the pace his company keeps.
“For now, on the scale that we’re producing, we’re able to do it,” Anderson said. “For now, we’ve gotten in a really good rhythm.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the name of a liquor store where this product can be purchased. The correct name is the Decatur Package Store.