Ghost Coast Distillery is not only the best distillery in Savannah, they’re also the first legal one in over a hundred years. With Georgia’s history of whisky distillation that dates back to the 1700s, founders Chris Sywassink and Rob Ingersoll saw an opportunity to bring homegrown spirits back to our city of revelry.
On September 1st, 2017, Georgia Senate Bill 85 went into place, allowing breweries and distilleries to serve more than just a small taste of whisky, vodka, or liqueur at the end of each tour. Until that point, alcohol laws in Georgia hadn’t changed since the end of the Volstead Act in 1934.
“For our business model to grow, we needed some tweaks to the alcohol law,” says Sywassink.
Fortunately for distillers and brewers like Ghost Coast, the bill lifted even more restrictions than expected, which, as Sywassink says, “allowed so much more than we had anticipated.”
After years of dreaming and planning, Sywassink and Ingersoll found a building near the Talmadge Bridge and gutted it down to just four walls. It was a major undertaking to create new plumbing and electric for a 17,000 square foot manufacturing facility that also serves drinks to the general public.
Production began in 2016 and now visitors can take a tour of the distilling process, barrel room, bottling line and the 500-gallon copper still — custom built in Louisville, Kentucky.
Soft lighting in the tasting room provides a relaxing environment to sample products like the Vodka 261 Orange or the Broughton & Whitaker Honey Whiskey, infused with honey from the Savannah Bee Company. There’s also a colorful array of signature cocktails like Oglethorpe’s Mule and the Fuzzy Savannah.
Head mixologist Sidney Lance keeps an open line of communication with the distillers, who work to perfect the flavor.
“We get responses back from customers and use that to adjust cereal grain, length of fermentation, and type of yeast,” Sywassink says.
Whisky fans are still waiting for their first taste of craft bourbon, which typically takes three years to mature.
Sywassink describes each barrel as a living organism.
They’re stored outdoors, where variation in temperature, humidity, and barometer creates an expansion and contraction of the barrel that pulls sugars from the wood and changes the whisky on a molecular level.
“Savannah’s climate accelerates the aging process,” Sywassink says. “We say it will be ready in 2020, but it might be 12 months. It’ll tell us when it’s ready.”
But you don’t have to wait for that first batch of bourbon to become a Ghost Coaster. The party on the Westside is already in full swing, where Tuesday through Sunday you’ll find customers raising their glasses for a toast to the ghost with the most. – Pat Longstreth
Runner-up: Savannah Spirits