American Spirit Whiskey is clear as water and remarkably smooth. In other words, it doesn't look or taste like the kind of spirit most people think of when they hear the word whiskey. I like to think of it as vodka for whiskey lovers. Or maybe it's whiskey for vodka lovers. Either way, it works wonders in a cocktail, and Atlanta residents Charlie Thompson and Jim Chasteen are to blame.
Thompson and Chasteen met as undergrads at the University of Georgia. They're the first to admit that, at the time, they had no intention of coming up with a new whiskey, nor any idea what it would take to create a unique spin on white whiskey. But clearly, that UGA upbringing stirred something in them. Their "spirit whiskey" launched two years ago with Atlanta as home base, though the product is actually bottled in Charleston. There it goes through a patented, high-tech filtering process that reduces the presence of congeners and free radicals. I'm not quite sure what congeners are, nor have I figured out why it's a bad thing for radicals to be free, but I do know that American Spirit Whiskey has been embraced by bartenders all over Atlanta due to its eminent mixability.
Tell us a bit about how you got into the whiskey business.
Jim Chasteen: We Googled "how to make whiskey" and here we are.
Charlie Thompson: That's actually neither a joke nor an exaggeration.
Who — dead or alive — would you most like to meet and pour a drink for?
CT: Johnny Cash. Hands down.
JC: It would have been fun to pour drinks at Sun Records for Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Roy Orbison may have stopped by that day.
Describe your first experience with mixing drinks.
CT: I perfected the Beam and Coke in Athens in the fall of '95. The version I made in the stadium on game day used a plastic "traveler" of Beam duct taped somewhere to my date, and was made without ice. As I progressed through college, I used less and less Coke, then graduated to Jack Daniels, then Maker's Mark, and then detoured into Dewar's before graduation. What was the question again?
JC: Actually, neither of us mixed much of anything until after we started our company and began experimenting with cocktails. We've gotten to work with some of the best mixologists and bartenders in the city, and have gotten somewhat decent at making good cocktails — or at least we know a good one when we taste it!
What drink do you wish you had invented?
JC: Beer. Right? People seem to like it. That or Coke.
CT: The Sazerac. When you have one (or three) at the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt [Hotel] in New Orleans, you get a fuzzy and warm feeling unlike anything else. I was once at a point where I only drank bourbon and rye neat, but the Sazerac convinced me to start drinking whiskey-based cocktails again.
Sweet or unsweet tea?
CT: Sweet. I have never understood unsweet tea. It's the rough equivalent of dirty dish water.
JC: Sweet, although I'm not opposed to unsweet. No lemon either way. That's just gross.
Moonshine or vodka?
JC: Moonshine, please.
CT: Yes, moonshine. Vodka is for your little sister. And Vladimir Putin.
SweetWater or Terrapin?
CT: That is a dangerous question to answer! We love both. This is the only question I'm going to completely bail on.
JC: Agreed. Terrapin's new RecreationAle and SweetWater's IPA are both testaments to Georgia beer-making.
When you hear the following words what do you think of?
Atlanta: Too busy to hate, brother!
Mixologist: I make tinctures and brought my own ice.
Dawgs: How 'bout 'em?
What are you favorite places for a drink in Athens?
JC: My favorite place to drink is on-campus tailgating before a football game.
CT: Right. As for watering holes the Last Resort, the Branded Butcher, and East West Bistro are at the top of the list. The upstairs at the renovated Georgia Theatre is a great spot as well.
What are your hopes and plans for the future of ASW?
JC: We have so many hopes and dreams! Comments on some of them won't make it through our legal department (which is Charlie).
CT: Yeah, let me handle this one. What we can say is that we are in "product development" for several new spirits. We are working on an aged product as well as ... non-grain distillates.
JC: We are also moving into other states. We are now in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and D.C. We are very close to getting distribution in Tennessee, and we have partnered with a great group called Crafted Brands to expand into Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, New York, and other markets.
CT: Lets just say there are about to be a lot of big announcements from the American Spirit Whiskey Global Headquarters in Atlanta, Ga.