Old Fourth Distillery Tour

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Having visited both breweries and distilleries and expecting a facility that in some way stands out, I admit that I drove right past
Old Fourth Distillery, Atlanta’s fledgling liquor manufacturer.  The something I was expecting might have looked something like this:



Instead… it’s this:

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… cleverly concealed.

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So, don’t fret folks.  Your GPS is correct.  Just find a place to park.

As it turns out, a storefront is all the space that is needed for a distillery.  They offer “tours” on Thursdays, which at this point is a very informal affair, happily without the routine, attempts at humor, and/or marketing pushes that  accompany such things.  Instead, what you get is as much information as you want to gather from people who are really invested in what they’re doing.  In our case, that was Gabe Pilato, one of the company’s founders.

Somehow, I managed not to take a picture of the, eh, foyer, which has a sales counter, two tables for playing chess, some merchandise (no liquor sales permitted as yet by law), and a folding glass partition “nano wall” which forms the boundary between alcohol which is taxed or non-taxed.  Whatever, but it’s stylish.

As far as production, you start off with the usual non-descript stainless vats.

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The process begins (disclaimer: notes and/or memory may be faulty) with 350 lbs. of sugar (Dixie Crystals, from Savannah, even) mixed with 750 liters of water, which is heated and agitated.  Then it goes into a tank and the same volume is once again added, which may or may not be called a mash mixer.  Husks are added to introduce yeasts to begin fermentation, which results in alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The slurry(?) then goes through a heat exchanger (the S shaped pipe) for cooling before entering fermentation tanks, which are in the foreground.  And… it sits around for about 5 days at the end of which the alcohol content is approximately 11%.

Then, it’s pumped over to the eye-catching still and columns, custom made in Germany:

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The kettle boils the liquid, the evaporation essentially removing water and increasing the alcohol content.  What follows is a “stripping run” which increases the purity and reduces the quantity, which increases the efficiency of the process.  After the first run, 80% of impurities are removed.  A second run through removes 95%, which is the goal for a neutral alcohol, also known as vodka, currently the only liquor that the distillery sells.  Essentially, condense, vaporize, and repeat.  After the 2nd run, you’ve got 191 proof alcohol.

Then, it goes to a dairy tank.  Yep.  That would be the tank at the bottom of the photo below:

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Here, the liquid is chilled, agitated, and cut to 60% alcohol.  It’s passed through filters to remove impurities and pumped to the holding (“resting”) tanks above for 5-6 days (potentially up to several weeks).  Afterwards, it goes back to the dairy tank (aka “Mueller”) where it is cut to 40% and filtered through the subsequent plates below:

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…then pumped to the inauspicious bottling line:

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That setup somehow allows them to process 300 bottles per hour.  The math is a little fuzzy, but one “batch” takes ~ 10 days, sufficient for 200 6-pack cases, and 1000 cases per month due to staging of in-progress runs.

A side tidbit was that the looked for glass to enhance their product and ultimately chose a supplier from Spain (Glass from Mexico had a bluish tint).  As Vodka, to my taste, varies little, it’s the presentation that matters.  From that standpoint, they’ve done well in my regard:

I’m not a big vodka fan.  Gin, though…  They’re experimenting with juniper seed (happy note: squeeze one and hello gin smell), cardimum, caraway, pink pepper corn, orange peels, anise, and a bunch of other ingredients to arrive at their preferred flavor. 
At the end of the tour, you get to taste, legally, 0.5 ounce of vodka.  It’s definitely safe for drivers, but it also speaks to vodka’s desirability when mixed with other liquids…

The distillery has been open for one year, seems to be nearing a gin formula, and they’ve also just started testing barrel aging with a forward look at releasing bourbon.

As pointed out during the tour, many of their competitors, including many major brands, don’t distill their alcohol.  They just tinker with the flavor and bottle it.  Liquor that says “Distilled and bottled in…” were manufactured at that site, as little or as large as it may be, and even in Atlanta.

Oh yeah, the coolest thing… the built in bookcase that opens to the restroom.

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