Still At It

Sipping on Modern Day Moonshine

written by Colleen Ann McNally | photography courtesy of Alan Brooks0U2A5923

A lazy guy may be what Mark Allen aspires to be, but he has a long way to go. I first learned this fact when the seasoned entrepreneur and owner of Lazy Guy Distillery, one of the few (legal) operations of its kind in Cobb County, spoke at the Inaugural Andrews Moonshine Festival in Buckhead last fall.

A wild-eyed audience, dressed in either overalls or suits, listened intently as Allen explained what it takes to get a first-generation whiskey micro-distillery up and running, from using traditional methods and developing recipes to navigating modern legalities of the trade. I had come for a sample, but left with a fascinating history lesson about the mysterious American spirit and still thirsty for another round of both.

Since the late 18th century, moonshine has flowed from southern stills, but Allen’s story is an uncommon one.

“I don’t have a family that has done this for years, which is actually quite different from all but one or two distillers in the state,” Allen said when we met for a tour of his still. “Most are usually the second, third or up to fourth or even fifth generation.”

Rather than continuing a family pastime, Allen saw the opportunity to build his own after watching market trends in craft distilling and bourbon.

“I got into it as a retirement plan,” he said. Drawing on past business experience, Allen was looking to launch something unique and knew it also had to be enjoyable.

“I started looking specifically at what would be marketable to the area, what I could produce well and what was trending as an industry. [It] is difficult in today’s society to find ­something with longstanding power.”

At the time, several popular television shows were documenting the once hush-hush industry in which discussions were discreet and sips came infamously from an unlabeled Mason jar. Then in 2009, Georgia state laws changed to allow onsite tastings. That’s when his idea for modern day white lightning struck.

After all, from the Whiskey Rebellion in the late 1700s to the Prohibition Era in the 1920s, the hard stuff has been the cornerstone of many American events and served as a means of currency at certain points in history. Craft brewery tours are increasingly popular, and now leading tours of his own, Allen has seen firsthand the interest people still have in moonshine.

“It’s really fascinating how it works, and maybe it’s a little bit of a fascination because it was illegal [and taboo] in the past,” Allen said. “To see the equipment, to smell the [mash] and to experience [the process] is impactful from a creative side.”

At the 2015 Distilled: San Diego Spirit and Cocktail Competition, judges were fascinated, too. Lazy Guy’s Kennesaw Lightning (a 100-proof combination of corn and barley delivering a cornbread note with a hint of graham cracker sweetness) won the Bronze medal in the “American White Unaged Whiskey/Moonshine” category.

But just as bootleggers throughout history can attest, the moonshine business is far from easy.

0U2A5927HDRIn March of 2014, Lazy Guy had secured the property on Moon Station Road. Dating back to the 1800s, the space is located in the heart of Kennesaw, just around the corner from the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive. As he started the heavy-duty tasks of getting paperwork together, applying for a license and purchasing equipment, the reality of opening a distillery started to sink in.

“I got a much more accurate idea of what it takes to get [a distillery] started, which is clearly why not many people do it: it’s a very risky, highly-capitalized venture and an upfront business.”

Second to the misconception that a distiller must be taste-testing all day, Allen said the bigger myth about moonshine is that you can make it legally for yourself.

“We submit a lot of money to the government to be legal,” Allen said. “You basically have to be a turnkey operation before the federal government and the state will even permit you. And while they are doing that, you can’t legally turn that still on.”

For any nitty-gritty answers, you’ll have to go see Allen yourselves. Any naysayers don’t faze him, either. “There are always going to be people who don’t like what you do,” he said. “The reception for us has been really good, from the city, from the county, and, to some degree, from the state.”

Considering the growing list of off-premise retail locations and restaurants that sell Lazy Guy spirits, we’d have to agree. As of July, the Beer Jobs law has enabled Allen and staff to provide tour guests with souvenir whiskey that they can take home with them – a huge, and championed, shift in legislation for both distilleries and breweries in Georgia.

0U2A5909HDRBut once Allen had the legal green light, how did he decide, or even know for that matter, what actually goes into the bottle? He explained that by definition, corn whiskey is 80 percent corn, leaving 20 percent creativity to add barley, grains, sugar or other ingredients. Lazy Guy is dedicated to capturing flavors that can only be found in Georgia-grown fruits and grains, produced in small batches to offer a taste unmatched by others.

In addition to the Kennesaw Lightning, Lazy Guy is crafting more varieties of liquor including a bold 150-proof four-grain, slow-distilled corn whiskey named The General, in honor of The Great Locomotive Chase of 1862, as well as fellow Bronze medal winning Side Track Bourbon (slowly aged with the goal to create the perfect Georgia Bourbon Whiskey). At 90 proof, this bourbon has a caramel note, rich character and smooth finish that reflects Allen’s passion for a truly unique pour. The first limited release produced 518 bottles; another release is anticipated this fall.

There’s no secrecy behind Allen’s recipes; in fact, the curious can find them – as well as clever cocktail suggestions – published on his website. Knock-offs are no concern due to his special ingredient: barrels.

“The fact of the matter is, if I took Maker’s Mark exact recipe or Woodford Reserve with my grains on my still, it’s going to taste completely different. If I had my recipe with my grains on their still, it’s going to taste completely different,” he assured. “We like to think we’re going to know what will come out, but in reality, every barrel is slightly different in its flavor profile… that’s the allure of craft.”

There are no signs of that allure slowing down anytime soon, and Allen may have to rethink his “retirement plan.”

“I think this is the ultimate cool job,” he confessed.

Tours are offered Saturdays from 12 to 6 p.m., although hours are modified based on events in downtown Kennesaw. Tours on Saturdays are free of charge and include sample tasting of whiskey (with proof of age).

If you’d like to take home a souvenir bottle of whiskey, prices currently range from $35 to $65, depending on the package (limit 1 bottle of 750ml whiskey per person). Look out for exclusive spirits like Bottle Aged Cold Heart Baby Bourbon and Snow Cream Liqueur coming this fall.

After a tour and taste of Lazy Guy libations, expand your moonshine repertoire at Stillhouse Craft Burgers and Moonshine in the East Andrews Entertainment District of Buckhead. With artfully crafted cocktails such as the Southern Bramble and more than 50 variations of white whiskeys on the menu, city slickers can get their ‘shine on, too.

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