Thomasville gets distillery; Wakulla says 'yes' to brewery
Last month, we told you about the very real possibility that a craft brewery would finally be coming to Wakulla County, but how it depended on the city commission granting approval.
Well, that's since happened in Sopchoppy — the southernmost point of the county — but before we tell you about the latest update in this week's Around The Brew Bend column, we first wanted to share some more "alcohol news." Only this is happening to the north of Tallahassee.
Thomasville is about to be home to a distillery.
Tallahasseeans have long considered Thomasville's downtown restaurant and shopping scene a nice day or night getaway trip, and soon you can add a distillery to the list of attractions.
Meet 1861 Distillery, which will be located off 312 Smith Ave. in downtown and is planning to open in early 2021. The founder, U.S. Air Force Veteran Brian Higgins, recently received approval of 1861's federal permit to begin distilling — a HUGE hurdle in the process to clear that can sometimes take 6 months or longer — and renovations are currently underway.
Brian joined us on our ESPN Radio show last week, "The Saturday Morning Bottle Share" on 97.9 FM, to tell us all about their plans. (It's episode #106 if you'd like to listen to it).
There were a number of interesting details to come out of the interview, but standing out amongst the crowd was this little nugget: The City of Thomasville granted 1861 approval to drill a well into the North Floridan aquifer and use — what Brian describes as — some of the best water on the planet to distill their spirits.
"A lot of people don't realize that Tallahassee and Thomasville sit on top of the North Floridan aquifer, which is some of the purest water in the world. The well at my house in Thomasville is tapped into that aquifer, and I've sent it off for testing and it comes back as pristine — almost the perfect water for distilling," Higgins said. "It's very low iron, it's got calcium, it's got all the trace minerals, the hardness, the pH ... everything is spot on. I think I could make the argument that our water down here in Thomasville is actually better for distilling than in Kentucky or Tennessee."
Bold claim right? But we love it!
And we can't wait for 1861 Distillery to open and give our area — which we often refer to as the "Craft Capital" — just one more amazing spot to find hand-crafted drinks.
Brian says 1861 will, of course, make all the usual liquors — rum, gin and vodka — but being a "bourbon guy at my core," he added that there will be a special focus on MANY different versions of the dark brown nectar.
Also of note: Georgia's liquor laws are different than Florida's, in that Florida does not allow tasting rooms at distilleries, while Georgia does. Ology Brewing announced in February they were opening Tallahassee's first distillery, Ology Distilling — then got hit with a monkey wrench called the coronavirus that delayed those plans.
But they recently released their first bottle for to-go sale only as they await to open their distillery. When Ology Distilling does finally open, they will be able to sell bottles to go and offer free samples and tours, but they can't legally have a tasting room for their spirits.
But because Georgia recently changed its laws, distilleries in that state can now operate tasting rooms and sell craft cocktails, which Brian says they plan to do.
And when 1861 opens, it will give Thomasville both a distillery and a winery in downtown, with Farmer's Daughters Winery having been open there for several years now. However, Thomasville curiously remains craft brewery-less.
Is that what's coming next?
"We've heard there's some people working on that!" Higgins told us excitedly. "It would be cool for Thomasville to have all three."
Update on Civic Brewing in Wakulla
Ok, so back to the news we told you about the top of the column: Wakulla County's proposed craft brewery and where the process stands now.
We wrote about all the factors involved in making this happen recently in a Sept. 10 column.
The name of the brewery is Civic Brewing (www.civicbrewingco.com) and the owner, Elliot Seidler, is a Sopchoppy native. A Sopchoppy City Commission meeting a few days after our column came out to discuss the proposal drew a HUGE crowd, many of whom spoke out in opposition of the brewery opening there because of its close proximity to a church. However, the Commission still decided to put the proposal to a vote, and on Monday night, it was approved 3-1.
And for anyone asking about why there weren't 5 votes cast — which is the standard minimum number of seats for a commission to avoid a tie — it's because one of the county commissioners didn't show up to the meeting. That left the chance for a deadlock, but instead Elliot received the majority votes he needed to begin work to open Civic Brewing Company and give Wakulla its first craft brewery.
We caught up with Elliot not long after the meeting and here's what he told us about the decision to allow him to proceed with his dream of bringing his hometown a craft brewery:
"There were so many more positive comments made at the second meeting and way less opposition this time. I can't tell everyone how much I appreciate them coming out to speak in support and to those who wrote letters of support. I still wasn't sure when it went to a vote what would happen — I thought there may be a 50/50 chance of approved-or-denied. But when they voted for it, I was obviously excited because it had been months and months waiting to hear those words. And to realize that, 'Maybe Sopchoppy DOES want a brewery here after all,' felt really good. It was a relief."
Elliot said his favorite remarks during the open comment portion of the meeting came from a young boy who stepped to the podium and showed no fear in speaking up.
"This little guy was no more than 10 or 12 years old and he said he lived a few blocks from where I wanted to open and that he hoped they let me," Elliot recalled. "When they asked him why, he told the commissioners: 'It would be a fun place for me to go with his family, play games like cornhole and run around, because there wasn't a lot of places for them to go in Sopchoppy since the pizza place closed."
The city commission's approval removed restrictions that previously stated that the brewery must also sell food and operate with a split revenue model in order to sell alcohol. Elliot said he never wanted to make his brewery a brewery-restaurant combo, but he would've if he had to. Instead, his hope is to support local food trucks and eventually see a restaurant open in Sopchoppy nearby that will give folks a place to both eat and drink during their trip there.
As for what happens next, Elliot said he will now file his federal paperwork (which, as we mentioned above, can take a while for approval), and in the meantime he will begin renovating the brewhouse and tasting room as he awaits approval.
"There are a lot of things I want to do inside as far as renovations go, so that will occupy most of my time for the next few months. And I've had so many people reach out to me during the process who have expressed a willingness to help. That's been amazing," he said. "And if all goes according to plan, we'll be opening Wakulla County's first craft brewery sometime next year."
Like our newfound friends at 1861, we wish Civic Brewing all the best of luck. And we will be sure to keep you up to date on any and all progress with both!
Cheers, Wakulla and Thomasville!
Danny Aller is the co-founder, along with Matthew Crumbaker, of the TLH Beer Society, a group of avid craft beer lovers. Reach the Beer Society on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Never miss a story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat.