The way back
As far as we know, the story of ASW Distillery begins in a number of places: Ireland. France. England.
In the 1700s, an Irish native we'll call Searlas Tompson tasted uisge beathe for the first time, a batch smuggled by the light of the moon to evade King George I's whiskey tax collectors. Whether it was the taste or the danger or both, Searlas could not shake whiskey from his mind or his palate (part of this may have been its 130 proof). The liquid's warmth powered him through the damp winter and slowed time during the summer, brightening each season in its own way.
As rents climbed on the Isle of Eire, Searlas and his family sought out the fertile expanses of Pennsylvania, a region that soon became famous for its rye whiskey. Of all the gifts Searlas' children inherited, perhaps his taste for whiskey was the most appreciated.
Yet the story of ASW Distillery begins, too, in France in the early 1700s, when a local we'll call Jacques Chastain had his first sip of brandy at the age of eleven, fresh from the alembic still on a cool Autumn morning - a morning of Marennes-Oleron oysters and fresh-baked bread. Brandy-making was one of the time-honored traditions of this area of southwest France, a trade once imported from The Netherlands and farther shores.
From the first sip that cool morning before tending to the sheep, Jacques knew he'd found his calling: enjoying brandy. When he and his family later sailed for the French Huguenot coast of South Carolina, Jacques stowed his taste for brandy and brought it with him.
The final wrinkle in the story of how ASW Distillery came to be finds us on the shores of England in the 1600s, where a French Huguenot we'll call Justin Wingo landed in hopes of escaping religious persecution in France. Monsieur Wingo - whose surname in French means "wine maker" - set sail for Virginia a few years later. In Haralson County, Georgia, years later, the daughter of a well-known whiskey maker and hauler by the name of Buck Wingo married a Manglitz who'd descended from Saxon and Irish immigrants.
Although prohibited by the families from discussing his whiskey-hauling history, Buck let just enough slip over the years to inspire a young Justin Manglitz to take up the trade.
The Newer Developments
Over the years, Jacques', Searlas', and Justin's families all trickled towards the southern highlands like a pristine mountain creek flowing down the Appalachians, but their appreciation for spirituous elixirs remained steadfast.
University of Georgia
Such appreciation found new life, when friends Jim Chasteen and Charlie Thompson (that's us) found we shared a common love for whiskey while at The University of Georgia.
From Scotch and Irish whiskey, to bourbon and rye, we spent a great deal of time enjoying the company of friends while searching for clarity in aqua vitae. These experiences led us to what seemed the only logical next step - creating our own whiskey.
From these modest beginnings, we created a recipe for a smooth-drinking and versatile whiskey that we came to call American Spirit Whiskey.
We might have stopped here had we not - somewhat by chance - met Justin Manglitz, a University of Georgia graduate himself and a masterful, self-taught brewer.
Around 1990, Justin's parents had moved from Haralson County to Athens, Georgia, eventually settling on land adjacent to Jim's folks. In high school, Justin's older sister became friends with Jim.
As Jim graduated and went on to an illustrious whiskey-sipping career at the University of Georgia, Justin - still in short pants - took a keen interest in the art and science behind booze - an interest attributable to the aforementioned Buck Wingo. Justin began crafting booze during time off from his college days at UGA. After he graduated, he opened his own homebrewing store in Athens called Blockader Homebrew Supply - not exactly a cash cow, but a great way to source half-price grains for perfecting his booze-producing passion.
Soon, we launched American Spirit Whiskey and began the hunt for a place to open a distillery in the heart of our new hometown, Atlanta. But we still needed someone to head our production - someone with years of experience using grains to make exquisite tipples. Jim's sister suggested Justin, whose dream for years had been to graduate from homebrewing to craft distilling. Strangely enough, although Justin and Jim had grown up exploring the same thistle-littered fields, attended the same high school, and shared a common love for whiskey, the introduction by Jim's sister was the first time we'd ever met.
We haven't looked back since and hope our enthusiasm for spirits and our commitment to our motto - Crafted with Character - shines in every glass.