From Moonshine to “Legal Moonshine” & Fine Wine
Moonshine > North Georgia’s first settlers found the trip to market over mountain trails less of a challenge and more profitable if they processed their crops of corn, apples and peaches as whiskey and brandy. Alcohol wasn’t taxed until1862 when “luxury” items, including alcohol, were taxed to help fund the Civil War (also known hereabouts as the “War of Northern Aggression”). Rebellious returning veterans hid stills in the woods and made untaxed whiskey by the light of the moon—moonshine.
“Legal Moonshine” > Two local distilleries now make “legal moonshine” and offer tasting tours: Moonrise Distillery and R.M. Rose & Co. Distillers. Tours include tastings and a bottle of spirits produced on-site. No other sales by the glass or bottle are allowed on-site at present. Stonewall Creek Distillers is working on permits to distill brandy from fruit grown at Hillside Orchard Farms.
Fine Wine > In the 1880s, Georgia was the sixth largest wine-producing state. A hundred years later, long after Prohibition ended, North Georgia’s first vineyards applied for state farm winery licenses and opened for tours, tastings and sales by the glass and bottle. Rabun County is home to three vineyards with farm wineries: 12 Spies Vineyards, Stonewall Creek Vineyards and Tiger Mountain Vineyards. Farm wineries from two other North Georgia counties have also opened tasting rooms in Rabun County: Crane Creek Vineyards and Georgia Winery.
The tour will begin in Clayton, then on to Tiger, back to Clayton, and north to Rabun Gap and Dillard. Check websites for days and hours of operation. Please note: There are two highways identified as 441. The original two-lane is listed as Old 441 and the newer four-lane is US-441.
US-441 N – Just past Walmart.
Moonrise Distillery, 31 Webb Rd., Clayton, 30525
Jim Harris produced Rabun County’s first “legal Moonshine” in 2012. He features local farm ingredients and mountain spring water in his handcrafted, small batch distilled spirits. Moonrise Distillery has gained a following for its Appalachian whiskey, bourbon and fruit brandies. Jim says, “If the front gate is open, come on in!” < www.moonrisedistillery.com >
From time to time, The Clayton Tribune will report that law enforcement officers destroyed a moonshiner’s still tucked away in the backwoods—even those “too pretty to bust!”
From Webb Road, turn right onto US-441 N and move to left lane. Turn left at Stave Mill St. (just past United Community Bank). Turn right at Duvall St. and left at Old 441 S. Continue 2.6 miles to Tiger Mountain Vineyards and park to left of highway across from winery and tasting room.
Tiger Mountain Vineyards, 2592 Old Hwy 441 S, Tiger, 30576
Martha and John Ezzard planted their first Vitis vinifera vines in 1995 on the old Ezzard Farm. The Georgia grape pioneers have produced award-winning wines for 20 years. Above the farm winery and tasting room is the Red Barn Café (open weekends, May-November), located in the old barn where John Ezzard milked his family’s cows as a young boy. Their partners at the vineyards and restaurant are Marilyn and John McMullan. < www.tigerwine.com >
If you parked across Old 441, turn left and in 0.26 miles, turn right onto Syrup City Road and continue until it dead ends at Bridge Creek Road. Turn right.
Once known as the Old Cleveland Road, Syrup City Road earned its name during Prohibition (1920-1933 nationally and 1908-1935 in Georgia) as a bootleggers’ short cut with the sheriff or “revenuers” in hot pursuit. To keep the nation’s speakeasies supplied, gangsters recruited networks of farmers to make “white lightning” (corn liquor). The goods were delivered by “trippers,” who drove “tankers,” high-speed cars with secret compartments that outran the sheriff or “revenuers.” Stock car racing and even NASCAR trace their roots to these high-speed runs.
Drive west 3.5 miles on Bridge Creek Road. Turn left at Apple Orchard Lane and left at Standing Deer Lane. Continue through vineyards and over the bridge to winery and tasting room, lower level brown house.
Stonewall Creek Vineyards, 323 Standing Deer Ln., Tiger, 30576
Carla and Carl Fackler planted their first French Vitis vinifera vines in 2005 on a cleared pasture, once part of an old apple orchard above Stonewall Creek. They opened their farm winery seven years later. In 2015, they added a tasting room and covered patio with vineyard and mountain views. Known for crafting fine dry wines, they feature premium Georgia grapes grown in their vineyards and The Stack Farm nearby. < www.stonewallcreek.com >
Return to Bridge Creek Road; turn right and drive 4 miles to the four-way stop at the Tiger Post Office. Turn left and follow Old 441 N (later Main Street) for about 3.3 miles into downtown Clayton. Noble Wine Cellar is on your right.
When the Tallulah Falls Railroad was still in operation, the train would make frequent stops at the Tiger Station with a load of fruit jars destined for bootlegged moonshine. The stop soon became known as “Fruit Jar Junction.”
Not far is the Tiger Drive-In, which for many years opened the season with a showing of Thunder Road, the 1950’s moonshine “trippers” classic. It now screens first-run movies and is a popular event destination.
Noble Wine Cellar, 58 North Main St., Clayton, 30525
As a tasting room for Crane Creek Vineyards in Young Harris, Noble Wine Cellar features Crane Creek’s wines, Noble Wine Cellar wines (crafted by Jabe Hilson, former assistant winemaker at Tiger Mountain Vineyards) and other Georgia wines. Jabe and his wife, Barbara, also offer micro-brews and growlers along with a selection of Georgia-made products and art. < www.noblewinegeorgia.com >
Continue north on North Main Street / Old 441N to intersection with US-441. Turn left and drive some 2 miles and turn right onto York House Road for 1.4 miles. Turn right onto Black Branch Road and drive 0.5 miles to the tasting room on right.
To your right is the York House Inn, Georgia’s oldest bed and breakfast, dating to 1896.
12 Spies Vineyards, 550 Black Branch Rd., Rabun Gap, GA 30568
In 2012, Lisa Romanello and Mike Brown opened their farm winery in a picturesque mountain valley. They offer an eclectic selection of wines, from sweet to semi-dry and dry, made from their grapes as well as other vineyards. On cold winter days, the tasting room offers a warm seat by the fireplace and on warm days, the Vino Veranda beckons tasters outside. < www.12spiesvineyards.com >
Retrace your route to York House Road, which becomes Franklin Street as it nears Dillard and R.M. Rose & Co. Distillers.
R.M. Rose & Co. Distillers, 890 Franklin Street, Dillard, 30537 Founded in 1867 by Dr. Rufus M. Rose, the Atlanta area distillery moved to Chattanooga in 1906 (anticipating that Georgia would ban alcohol, which it did in 1908) and closed in 1917. Ninety-nine years later, Andy Sudderth re-opened the distillery in August 2016 in the old Dillard Cannery, using handmade cypress fermenting tanks and copper pots to produce 100-proof corn whiskey and other spirits. < www.rmroseco.com >
Next door is another early traveler’s stop, The Dillard House, featuring a family-style restaurant and inn located on Captain John Dillard’s 1794 land grant.
Turn right onto Franklin St. and turn at first left onto Henry Dillard St. Turn right onto US-441 N and travel .35 mile to Lazy Bea Furniture on left.
Georgia Winery, 6795 US-441 North, Dillard, 30537
Lazy Bear Furniture offers sweet and semi-sweet wines at Georgia Winery’s Dillard tasting room. Located near Ringgold in the Chattanooga Valley, Georgia Winery was the first winery to secure a Georgia farm winery license in 1983 and produces award-winning Muscadine and berry wines. “Lazy Bear” also offers an interesting selection of furniture by special order or off the floor. < www.georgiawines.com >
From Moonshine to “Legal Moonshine” & Fine Wine