August 3, 2009

Thirteenth Colony - with information this time!

A few months ago I wrote (here) about Thirteenth Colony Distillery. At the time, I had just been introduced to their Plantation Vodka *swoon* and knew little more. Luckily, I spend some of my time writing for Southwest Georgia Living (and by the way, as of today, the picture on the left of their homepage is of my sister's lovely handcrafted jewelry!) and shortly after the fateful meeting (of me and Plantation Vodka) I pitched the idea for an article about this fascinating establishment to my editor and got the assignment. Said editor was kind enough to hand the article back over to me to share with you! Without further adieu, here's all I know:

What began as a casual conversation among friends about the nature of distilling has grown into the singular craft distillery in the entire state, and it’s located right here in Southwest Georgia.

Partners Kent Cost, Alton Darby, Winford Hines and Gilbert Klemann, MD, each came to the new business venture from careers that, for the most part, were worlds apart. A few years ago, one obstetrician/gynecologist, two real estate developers and a farmer had only their friendship in common, until a fateful conversation transformed that relationship.

Klemann describes the beginning of the discussion that swiftly led to their business partnership as not much more than a realization that distilling was as simple as basic chemistry. Each acknowledged an interest and the idea took off. As for how they decided to partner in such a business, they call it serendipity.

With any new entrepreneurial endeavor, there were nerves … but theirs came with a sense of adventure and not fear. “Something like this is the high dive, which is doubly exciting,” says Klemann, adding that the knowledge that tobacco, alcohol and cosmetics sales are never impacted by a less than stellar economy provided the men some comfort in a new venture.

Six months passed between the initial conversation and the movement towards making their idea a reality. Once the wheels were in motion, it took 22 months to get set-up, licensed—many government agencies are involved—and educated. “We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel,” says Klemann. “A lot of what we learned initially came from the Internet.”

Hines assures that Klemann has not learned all he knows from the World Wide Web and explains that he took a craft distillery course at Michigan State University and as a distilled spirits producer, is continually pursuing his additional education in the field.

It has been a bit of a whirlwind since the beginning, by any standards. Beyond learning the trade is the process of getting licensed and permitted to be a legal distillery. Klemann explains that the process is not to deter would-be distillers.

“As far as the government is concerned, we are like Rumpelstiltskin. They want someone like us to succeed. With all of the taxes placed on alcohol we are generating revenue for the state and the federal government.”

Thirteenth Colony Distillery received their permit on April 11, 2009 and had their first order out the door less than a week later. Their product was on liquor store shelves by April 20.

Naming the distillery just happened, Klemann reports. “Georgia is the thirteenth colony. It just stuck.” As for the name “Plantation Vodka, the first product released by Thirteenth Colony, Cost and Darby are responsible.

“Hunting preserves are Southwest Georgia’s calling card,” says Klemann. “And drinks like this are for after the hunt.” Taking the Southern heritage motif to even greater lengths, Thirteenth Colony commissioned Albany artist, David Lanier, to paint the image displayed on their Plantation Vodka bottles. The original art hangs in the boardroom of the unmarked, unidentifiable Thirteen Colony Distillery building located on a side street in downtown Americus.

The unmarked building houses a production area very similar to a laboratory, complete with an eye-wash station and operating primarily with the use of compressed air for power. The facility houses a vast warehouse and offices for the six full-time employees, including Lindsey Cotton, marketing and compliance specialist and Graham Arthur, production and marketing specialist. Though the permanent staff is currently small, when Thirteenth Colony is doing a “run” or is in production mode, they recruit local contract laborers, providing jobs for the community.

While Hines says that the decision to pursue this project was a leap of faith for all involved parties, he explains that he has total trust in his partners that this venture will be a success. “We fit well together and each brings something unique to the table,” he says.

As Hines and Klemann see it, the men are each distinctly categorized in the context of this business partnership. Hines is described as being good at putting things together and making things work. It was he who found the building where Thirteenth Colony Distillery now operates. Cost is an architect by trade, talented in graphic design and integral in developing labels. Darby is called the “ideas man” and Klemann, “the cook” and “the chemist,” or in this case, the actual distiller.

Hines rests even more assured, describing both Cost and Darby as astute businessmen and Klemann as having an excellent palate and nuance of taste. “He’s not much of a drinker, but he is a connoisseur,” Hines says of Klemann.

With their diversified backgrounds, one key element each of these men have in common is a keen eye for detail; a notable characteristic of craft distillers. They take pride in the fact that they personally handle every facet of the business themselves. “Each cap is tightened by hand, each label is applied by hand,” assures Klemann. This distinctive part of such a niche takes a great deal of time but ensures distilling is done properly.

The process of distilling, as explained by Hines and Klemann, is a painstaking one. Included are steps such as mashing the various grains, including malted barley, corn, wheat, and rye, much of which can be found locally. Thirteenth Colony uses city water, which is rigorously purified by use of various filters, a water softener, a reverse osmosis deionizer and a UV light.

“The only way to get purer water is to put hydrogen and oxygen together in a lab,” says Klemann. One part of the process particular to craft distilleries is the filtration. A 10-foot long activated charcoal filter is used for purification. Carbon exposure is relative to the removal of impurities. A single run of Plantation Vodka spends between seven and eight hours in filtration. According to Klemann, this means fewer off-flavor congeners, resulting in a smoother vodka and less chance of a hangover.

In cases where the end product is something flavored, such as whiskey, the taste comes from trace elements which come over with the alcohol. Additional flavor comes from aging in oak barrels. While a lot of it is simple science, Klemann assures that the more one reads about distilling, the more complicated the topic becomes.

In addition to adding more distilled spirits to their offerings, Thirteenth Colony is also interested in becoming one of the destinations of the SAM Short Line excursion train that traverses Sumter and Crisp counties. But even if that happens, passengers should not expect a tasting while onsite at the distillery.

Selling their product directly to consumers or even serving any alcohol on their premises is strictly forbidden, says Klemann, explaining that Georgia is a three-tier state, meaning that the producer is permitted to sell only to the distributor who sells only to the retailer who then sells to the consumer.

As for what they set out to do, the guys still have a few plans up their sleeve. Klemann expresses an interest in producing a grappa-like brandy, but does not have plans for such an undertaking yet. “You don’t start out ice-skating; you begin by taking baby steps,” he explains.

And so it goes with Thirteenth Colony Distillery. While plans to produce other liquors such as gin and rum are on the horizon, a second variety of vodka is scheduled to come out next. But do not expect more of the samethis next release will be premium, refined through two filter columns, producing an even smoother vodka.

article courtesy of Southwest Georgia Living
photography by Todd Stone

post by arre


  1. yay! i love that you posted's good to know a little more about them :) also, i'm very glad you are back to balancing this was in danger of turning into a kid/baby blog.

  2. i took a bottle of this vodka to daufuskie and loved it! and i love that it's from americus 'cause i got roots there :) great article arre!



Related Posts with Thumbnails