"Bottle caps," Craig Moore says. "It's crazy, I know." Craig, 37, and his older brother Jeff, 40, say agonizing over custom bottle enclosures — as they're known in the booze-manufacturing world — has been the most painstaking part of starting a microdistillery. Along with partners Gabe Pilato, Andy DuVall, and Justin Gray, the Moore brothers are opening Old Fourth Distillery, Atlanta's first legit manufacturer of spirits since Prohibition.
Starting a microdistillery is not an easy enterprise. It takes time, a ton of capital, and permits from three levels of government. Two years ago, a friend told the brothers it would probably take two years and more than $1 million to get a distillery up and running.
"We were like, 'Eh, we're all resourceful. We're gonna do this for a lot less.' Here we are almost exactly two years later. We're gonna be over two years when it's all said and done and over a million dollars into it," Craig says.
Old Fourth scored a federal permit to operate its still in August 2013, but navigating Georgia's outdated distilling legislation has been challenging. While a surge in new microbreweries has required legislators to update beer regulations in recent years, "spirits are still subject to Prohibition-era philosophies and laws," Craig says. State and city permits won't be awarded until Old Fourth's production facility and tasting room are complete, but they hope to be operational by spring 2014.
The Moore brothers own several businesses together, including Mooring Tech, an online computer vendor that has quietly operated out of Old Fourth Ward since 2006. In 2010, Jeff became interested in making spirits. He quickly realized that not only was it illegal to do so without a permit, but also stills cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple hundred thousand.
"The only way it made sense was to do it professionally and commercially," Jeff says.
Microdistilleries are on the rise. A decade ago, there were 69 in the U.S., according to Bill Owens, president of the American Distilling Institute. Today there are 606. Owens says there are at least 100 currently under construction, and they're popping up in almost every state.
As Old Fourth's master distiller, Jeff has spent the last two years studying distillation methodologies. He and his brother have toured nearly 15 different distilleries nationwide. They've also hired a private consultant to help out in the beginning. Just to be safe.
Old Fourth will produce premium, small batch vodka and eventually gin, using as many local ingredients as possible. The site for the distillery, currently three brick walls and a dirt floor, is directly across the street from Mooring Tech headquarters at 487 Edgewood Ave., three doors down from the Sound Table.
"We joke that this side of the street is where we make our money and then, like a siphon, the money flows out the door over to the other side," Craig says.
Craig navigates the business world like a CEO, passionate about the logistics and financial aspects of building a company. Jeff is more like a COO, overseeing the actual distillation process and facility management. Both are sticklers for detail. They've spent the last two years pondering bottle shapes (Jeff assures Old Fourth's is one of a kind), glass colors (blue for vodka, green for gin), screen printing versus sticker labels (they're leaning toward screen printing), and, of course, that pesky enclosure, one that leaves a copper-colored "O4D" or an "Old Fourth Distillery" logo on the bottle after it's opened. Apparently the type they want doesn't exist for the wide-necked bottle they chose and will have to be custom-made.
"We care about what is in the bottle as much as we care about what's on the bottle," Jeff says.
Sourcing equipment from back-logged manufacturers has given Old Fourth some trouble. Fermenters, mash mixers, and the backbone of the entire operation, a custom-engineered still from Germany, were ordered five months ago and are just now being built.
Despite the obstacles, Craig and Jeff's desire to establish a legacy, something they can pass on to their children in the city that they love, drives them onward.
"My vision of Edgewood 10 years from now is like the culinary center of Atlanta," Craig says. "Restaurants and bars and distilleries and possibly even breweries, who knows? To be a part of that ... Improving our neighborhood and putting our stamp on the city, is just an amazing feeling."