Georgia is becoming a major player in the brewery, distillery and winery industry.
In the past 10 years, the entire beverage industry has exploded, and that growth is expected to continue over the next 20 years. Groups can visit some of the following Georgia breweries, wineries and distilleries for great tours and tastings.
Richland and Brunswick
Richland Rum started as a hobby. Erik and Karin Vonk wanted to make authentic rum, like it was made in the old days, out of fermented sugar cane.
“Not like most rums, which are mixing rums,” said Karin Vonk, co-owner of Richland Rum. “They taste good in a cocktail, but on their own, they are not so delicious.”
The Vonks began growing sugar cane on their farm near Richland in 1999 and have been making rum for 20 years. They purchased and restored three historic buildings in downtown Richland for their distillery, fermentation room and tasting room.
The master distiller or the Vonks themselves give tours of the facility, explaining how the entire rum-making process works. At the end of the tour, visitors are invited into an old hotel that was built in 1890 and now serves as the Richland Rum tasting room, gift shop, lounge area and event space.
Richland Rum comes in three expressions. The white — or virgin — rum is unaged and comes straight out of the still. The company’s classic rum is a 4-year-old dark rum that is delicious for sipping, like a cognac or bourbon. The rum is stored in American white oak barrels, where it rests and matures. The company is dabbling in two other types of rum, one that is partially aged in barrels used to make port wine, which gives the rum the subtle flavor of port wine, and another that is partially aged in barrels that were used to make double IPA beer that is aged, giving the rum a slight hoppy note. Large groups are welcome.
Woodstock and Canton
Reformation Brewery started as a home brewing operation created by two friends who appreciated the wide variety of beers available in Europe and across the United States. Spencer Nix and Nick Downs decided to open their own brewery after many years of home brewing success and a burgeoning reputation for making good beer. They opened their Woodstock brewery in 2013 and are opening a second, much bigger location in Canton this year.
The original location is the research and development facility and has between 24 and 36 types of beer on tap at any one time. It also has two different levels and a large backyard so visitors can hang out both inside and out. Visitors can see the brewhouse from the first level of the facility, and the brewery loves to host community events such as book clubs and game nights.
“There’s always a little bit of something going on here,” said Jessica Miller, communications director for the brewery. “It is about creating moments where people can connect through community and conversation, and we aim for that in the experiences we deliver.”
The Canton location is a much larger space and will offer guided tours of the brewing process and a big tasting room. It will be able to accommodate large groups.
“We needed a home for our production facility to grow, and we have run out of space at our current location down the road,” Miller said. The new location is in the same county, just 15 minutes down the road from Woodstock.
Yonah Mountain Vineyards
Founded in 2006 by Bob and Jane Miller, Yonah Mountain Vineyards is a 197-acre family-owned winery at the base of Yonah Mountain. The Millers and their son Eric, who is also part owner and general manager of the winery, bought the property in 2005 and started selling wine in 2009.
“We built it from the ground up,” said Eric. The rolling hills and sandy soil are the perfect location for the winery’s 20 acres of planted grapes, including sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. The vineyard only plants vinifera grapes, which are the grapes typically used in Italy, France and other parts of Europe.
“We don’t do sweet wines,” he said. “We are 100% dry. But we do have two dessert wines that are sweet but are made with vinifera grapes.”
The winery offers a 90-minute walking tour and tasting, during which guests can taste eight wines and see the facility’s wine caves, where the barrels of aging wine are stored. Groups may also book a reserve wine tasting that allows them to taste the difference between Yonah Mountain wines and the finest wines from around the world. Yonah is one of the biggest wineries in Georgia and recently added an event space that can hold up to 1,000 people.
“We are proud of our wine. It will hold up against any wine in the country,” Miller said.
Red Hare Brewing Company
Red Hare Brewing Company was founding by Roger Davis and Bobby Thomas, who used to work together at a large corporation. They shared an interest in home brewing, and when Davis was faced with a relocation for work, the duo decided to leave corporate America and open their own business eight years ago. It was the first brewery in Marietta.
“Opening a brewery was a big deal,” said Olivia Caldas, marketing and taproom events manager for Red Hare Brewing Company. “No one was really doing it. People thought they were crazy, but they took a leap of faith.”
The company now distributes its beer all around the Southeast. Groups can tour the brewery, including the fermentation tanks and the canning line, which produces up to 600 cans per minute. Guides explain the whole brewing process and tell the story of how Red Hare got started. Visitors also get to taste Red Hare’s beers, including lagers, IPAs and stouts. The brewery holds events in the taproom, but it also has a private room that can hold 40 people.
Moonrise Distillery got its start in 2012. It was started by a retired chemist named James Henry, who is the namesake of Moonrise’s distilled beverages. The current owners kept the name and continue to expand on the distillery’s options. They produce bourbon, rye whiskey, moonshine and brandy.
“We are unapologetically old-fashioned and old-school,” said Doug Nassaur, owner and head distiller for Moonrise. “We’re committed to making it the way it had been made in family distilleries in Kentucky. We put an awful lot of time and effort into providing a good experience for our customers.”
Moonrise Distillery is a destination experience in the foothills of Rabun County. Group travelers can see the business’ stillhouse and barrelhouse and enjoy a drink on Moonrise’s 80-foot-wide front porch overlooking Black Rock Mountain.
“It’s a great place to enjoy the mountain air,” Nassaur said. The distillery also has a band stage for concerts and festivals. All tour visitors are treated to a taste of the distillery’s small-batch bourbon and rye and four-grain white whiskey.
Moonrise can handle large groups easily. The walking and tasting tour takes about 45 minutes.
“My tours have a lot of history in them, a lot of science,” Nassaur said. “We show the artisan side of it, which is neat. We are also developing the Moonrise Moonshine Museum to give credit to the folks who developed the beautiful art we get to do every day.”