Savannah has long been known for its spirits – both haunted and distilled – and two friends are working to bring more of the latter to the Hostess City with the founding of Ghost Coast Distillery.
The distillery will occupy the site of the former Frozen Paradise nightclub, which closed in October, at 641 Indian Street and will be in the same neighborhood as two micro-breweries: Service Brewing, which is located just up the block, and nearby Southbound Brewery.
Owners Chris Sywassink and Rob Ingersoll said they hope the opening of Savannah’s first spirit distillery will create a sense of synergy with the city’s breweries. “I’m a manufacturing person, and I’ve always wanted to make something of my own,” Ingersoll said of the distillery, which he and Sywassink have been working to make a reality since 2013.
“It just really made sense. We just wanted to do something to make our own, and it just makes so much sense for the city of Savannah.”
The idea for a distillery wasn’t far fetched for Sywassink, who has a background working for venture capitalist companies.
“We wanted to put our name and our handle and our blood, sweat and tears on something, and let’s do it now because we’re not getting any younger,” Sywassink said.
The duo have known each other since the early 1990s.
Sywassink’s been a Savannah resident for about the last 10 years and convinced Ingersoll and his wife to make the move three years ago, although Ingersoll said it didn’t take much persuasion to get him here.
One of the most important aspects of the distillery to Sywassink and Ingersoll will be the fact it’s American made and locally sourced.
“It’s really the cornerstone of what we want to do. Let’s create some jobs here, let’s create something that’s good here, and bourbon is as American as anything else and it all just ties well together,” Ingersoll said.
With all of the city’s interesting aspects from food to cocktails, locating the distillery in the state’s oldest city was an easy decision.
“I can’t even come up with a reason it wouldn’t work in Savannah… People love to come here and have a good time. People come here for a lot of reasons, and when they get here, they’re looking for something new and different,” Ingersoll said.
“We want to provide something like that for them. We wholeheartedly want to be the whiskey distillery of Georgia, and what a better town to place that in than Savannah…”
Finding a building was a bit more of a challenge. It had to be expansive with high ceilings and loading docks and would have to be a place they could call home for many years. They had trouble finding a place like that until they came across the Indian Street location in west Savannah.
“Once we set up we don’t want to have to move because our equipment is unique. It’s functional, but it’s also a piece of art in many ways… So having a footprint that’s large enough and allows us to grow and be the whiskey distillery of Georgia started to limit what options we had on the table,” Sywassink said.
“The building and that side of town needs some love, and there’s something to be said for the pioneering effort that Service (Brewing) brought to that end of town,” Ingersoll said of Savannah’s westside.
While they still have a way to go, the distillery cleared a hurdle on Wednesday and was granted rehabilitation and alteration approval from the Historic Review Board.
The 18,000-square-foot building was constructed in 1958 and has undergone additions and alterations in 1968 and 1981 and isn’t considered a contributing building in the National or Savannah Local Historic Landmark District.
The plans include two large storefront windows that will shine light on large copper stills and other equipment, removing a small patio area, replacing doors and windows and new paint and signage. Specific details such as paint and material samples will go back before the review board for final approval at a later date.
“As for the decision, we could not be more excited. It’s just one more step closer to getting to work making the best whiskey in Georgia,” Sywassink said.
Ingersoll said the work that’s being done on the building is led by Savannah-based Felder & Associates and is focused primarily on production, so they’ll waste no time making whiskey and looking for distributors once the building is operational. From there as the plan comes together they’ll make a decision regarding tours and tastings.
“We’re looking at this as a sandwich, and we’re eating it one bite at a time,” Sywassink said.
″… It gives us that platform to start chipping away at what we need to do to be the best that we can be, for ourselves and for the city and the visitors that come here.”