A Tale of an Old World Startup
Which came first, the distillery or the whiskey?
For the startup ASW Distillery, it had been distilling its signature American Spirit Whiskey with a partner in Charleston since 2011. It was just this month — five years later — that the distillery opened in Midtown Atlanta, taking its name, ASW Distillery, from the initials of its signature product, American Spirit Whiskey, or maybe the initials of the building in which their distillery sits, American Spirit Works.
In a city filled with new and emerging tech startups, ASW Distillery is unique in that it takes its inspiration from the age-old process of distillation, whose American roots took hold in the 17th century with Scottish and Irish immigrants who brought with them the tradition of distilling whiskey.
“We’re a startup, just an old world startup,” says Chad Ralston, Head of Growth and Grassroots at ASW Distillery.
Chad is responsible for building and maintaining the startup’s web presence, in all its forms. He is also a brand ambassador who shares the distillery’s unique story throughout the Atlanta community.
Startup Atlanta had the opportunity to speak with Chad to learn about the story behind the ASW brand and distillery. He’ll be attending our next event celebrating local entrepreneurs in the craft alcohol industry.
We invite you — whether you’re ITP, OTP, or beyond — to join us, Chad Ralston, and ASW Distillery on July 18th at the Celebration of Craft Breweries and Distilleries, a party you don’t want to miss.
But first, a few notes about ASW Distillery.
ON THE STARTUP’S ORIGINS
“…we had a recipe but not a distillery…”
CHAD: [Founders] Jim Chasteen and Charlie Thompson were roommates at UGA, and while they were there, they developed a particularly strong interest in whiskey. After graduation they stayed friends. They were both living in Atlanta, and one day they said, “What if we tried making our own whiskey?” You’re not able to develop recipes on the stovetop, so they started partnering with a distillery in Charleston — in effect, we had a recipe but not a distillery.
So for the last five years, we have had American Spirit Whiskey here in Atlanta and throughout the entire state of Georgia, South Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, and Washington, DC. They [Jim Chasteen and Charlie Thompson] started looking for a place for a distillery two years ago. They didn’t find a suitable building until the end of 2014.
ON FINDING INVESTORS
“We raised funds through friends and family mainly here in Atlanta.”
CHAD: We officially started raising money in August 2015 and closed in just a little over a month on our Series A*. We raised funds through friends and family mainly here in Atlanta. We had 75 individual investors, a full group of brand ambassadors. They liked whiskey and also saw the success of craft brewing. They foresaw that potentially craft distilling and craft whiskey might follow the same path.
ON THE INTERIOR
“…there’s an area that allows us to distill about 30,000 cases of whiskey a year…”
CHAD: It’s similar to the format of a craft brewery. There’s a tasting room with a bar where people can sample products in the distillery, and there’s also an area that allows us to distill about 30,000 cases of whiskey a year, which is pretty big, somewhere between 2 and 4 times as big as the average craft distillery.
ON THE BENEFITS OF HAVING A DISTILLERY
“…people in the community can interact and meet us face to face.”
CHAD: To date, we’ve had a brand and not a distillery, and one of the main benefits [of having a distillery] is that people in the community can interact and meet us face to face.
ON WHAT SETS THEIR PRODUCT APART
“It actually functions as a good bridge into whiskey…”
CHAD: Our first product American Spirit Whiskey is somewhat unique in that it’s very smooth and sippable as a lightly aged silver whiskey. It’s not nearly as intense as a bourbon would be. It actually functions as a good bridge into whiskey for someone who’s used to drinking gin or vodka.
ON THEIR UNIQUE SETUP
“…[we’re] the first to combine this traditional Scotch style system with Southern innovation.”
CHAD: We have a really unique set-up in terms of our distillation system. Taking a quick step back, there are two main types of stills*. There are column stills* and there are pot stills*, and we have a twin pot still* setup.
As far as we know we’re one of only three or four twin pot still setups in the US and the first to combine this traditional Scotch style system with Southern innovation. This allows us to create really robust and flavorful bourbons, rye whiskeys, and single malts, along with apple brandy, all shaped by the unique environment and ingredients we have here in Georgia.
“…we can experiment…”
CHAD: Our position as a craft distillery is helpful. Jack Daniels, for example, has supply contracts that they’re locked into and a recipe they’ve settled on that people like to drink. So it doesn’t make sense economically to set the whole operation down to make an experimental whiskey. We’re quite nimble in that we can experiment with different recipes known as mash bills*.
ON THE ATLANTA STARTUP COMMUNITY TO WHICH THEY NOW BELONG
“I think that Atlanta is primed very well for continued growth…”
CHAD: I think that Atlanta is primed very well for continued growth with respect to all kinds of startups. I love what Atlanta Tech Village is doing in terms of B2B. I love what Switchyards is doing in terms of B2C with its design-oriented community, and I think just seeing all of the communities that are popping up that provide people a space not only to do work, but also to have serendipitous interactions, it is crucial for what has already been amazing growth by Atlanta’s tech scene.
Come hear more about the ASW Distillery story along with other local craft brewers and distillers as we celebrate the local craft beverage alcohol industry on Monday, July 18th at Urban Tree Cidery. A toast to that!
With ❤ for ATL Startups,
*Additional editing by Chad Ralston