ON AND OFF THE BEATEN PATH :: To Savannah and Beyond…

by David Daugherty on April 16, 2011

It was hard leaving Florida.  We met with old friends and made new friends, the talented Jeff Howell was a delightful guy and entertainer. Pam showed me a great time and obviously, Cricketers was first-rate, just as she had described it.  Judy and I had fun in Daytona Beach and Orlando.  As much as we would have loved staying longer, Asheville, North Carolina was beckoning, and it was time for me to get back to “work,” visiting some breweries and interesting bars in Asheville all while taking Judy somewhere special on our 25th anniversary.  After dropping Anthony off at the airport, we headed north up the coast . With only a 5 hour drive to get to our hotel in Asheville, we decided to see if we could find something interesting along the way, so we made a stop in Savannah Georgia, paying a visit to The Distillery for some lunch.

There’s a reason Savannah ends with an “ah.”  It should be more like “ahhhh!”  This is the place to go if you want to slow down and smell the roses, literally.

Ben Volen, GM The Distillery

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to Benjamin Volen, General Manager of The Distillery, whose family has owned the bar since 2008.  Ben spent a good deal of time with us and you can tell just from the way he talked about the bar that there was pride and passion for it in his every word.  The building was a virtual goldmine of old bar memorabilia.  When they bought it they found not only old champagne bottles but bones in the basement!  Haunted?  Maybe, but don’t let that stop you.

A history about The Distillery from Ben:

“In 1904, Savannah had one distillery that would distribute gins/vodkas and whiskeys to the public. That distillery was named the Kentucky Distilling Co. and it was located in the very building in which I manage. The distillery changed names to the Louisville Distillery one year later, named for the road that it fell in intersection with. Unfortunately just a mere two years later, the distillery closed and all liquors were then imported from surrounding areas. Upon the closing, a drug store and old time soda fountain was opened in the building. The owners (the Freich family) carried on the tradition of distilling and brewing, just at an illegal level. The family still tells us stories of bathtub beer and gin being brewed on the second level of the building to be sold to the local Savannah community.

“Fast forward a hundred years or so later, my family and I re-opened “The Distillery,” with a different idea of a business. We decided on a craft beer bar and restaurant staying with the theme of the origin of the building. We feature 21 different beers on tap and over 100 in a bottle as well as specializing in vintage cocktails and crazy beer/liquor infusions in our food and concoctions. We have also recently started doing our very own liquor infusion jars which rest on our back bar in which our most popular has been our Applewood Smoked Bacon Bourbon which makes one hell of an Old Fashioned.  For our craft ales and lager we also offer flights in which customers can either choose from our three already determined or create their own.

“We have been open for two years now, and we have been welcomed with open arms in Savannah as being named the “best draft selection” and “best bottled selection” by several publications in our area. We carry no Budweiser, Miller, or Coors products which takes us away from the norm of most businesses in the south, but we live by one motto……”No Crap, Just Craft”. We play silent films and comedies on our TV’s and try to fit our motif with music from the 20-50’s. Just last year we also introduced a Beer Club to our establishment in which our members are part of the elite “Research and Development” Team. Our members get 1$ off Draft beers all the time and free admittance to our monthly beer tastings.

"No Crap, Just Craft" - The Distillery Savannah, GA

“We have over a hundred bars and restaurants in our downtown area alone, but our one claim to fame is that you can still travel around with a 16 oz. plastic cup filled with pretty much whatever libation you choose. This allows us, plus our crazy population of Irish immigrants, to have a very outrageous St. Patrick’s Day celebration. In this town, St. Patrick’s is not only a day to celebrate but rather two weeks of booze filled events that wreak havoc on the streets. I believe it is said that we have the second largest St. Patrick’s parade falling only behind Boston. Although you guys just missed the holiday, you will see remnants of the festivities whenever you come to visit and you will see why it gets so wacky down here.  As always, you can visit our website www.distillerysavannah.com to see our daily draft offerings and specials.”

Lunch was very good.  I started off with a He’Brew Rejewvenator.  Let’s just say this brew was big, made with Concorde Grape Juice; Lager, Trappist and Abbey Yeasts; Warrior, US  Goldings, Cascade, Amarillo and Mt. Hood Hops; and CaraVienna, Munich, 2 kinds of dark crystal and 2-Row specialty malts.  Unique taste and an awful good beer to have as an appetizer!  We got the Drunken Ham Sandwich and I have to say it was one of the best ham sandwiches I have had.  The description made me look no further into the menu “Slow roasted ham with an Anchor Porter and Original Sin Cider glaze, served on an onion roll with marinated red onion, lettuce, tomato, mayo and Swiss cheese.”  And you can get it toasted or cold.  I chose toasted.  I also chose, my favorite, sweet potato fries as a side and paired it all with RJ Rockers Bell Ringer IPA.  Good choice.  Bell Ringer is a bell ringer in the sense that it has an 8.5% ABV. It’s M.O is that it’s considered a brew with a really nice balance of malts and hops, all identifiable  flavor notes very subtle, displaying just a touch of sweetness in the nose that seems to carry into the flavor, matching it up well with the saltiness and glaze of the ham.  Interesting to note here, Ben’s father modeled the back bar after a picture of an old bar that was featured in a book called Saloons, Bars & Cigar Stores. Historical Interior Photographs by Roger E. Kislingbury 1999.  I took a picture of the original bar from the book to compare with the existing bar and I have to say, a charming tribute to the finely carved, elegant tradition of Americas old back bars.

This is a craft beer bar that should not be ignored if you are in Savannah!  Seriously, The Distillery has a great feel, cold beer, and a thoroughly thought out menu.  Do not pass this one up, it just plain rocks!

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