Savannah has long been known for its spirits of both the haunting and distilled variety, and they’ll soon be a few more of the latter calling downtown home.
While scaffolding still surrounds the new Savannah Spirits craft distillery and chophouse at the corner of Whitaker and State streets, their first product, Savannah Spirits Silver Rum, is already on shelves.
“This has been a long time in the making and to introduce Savannah Spirits to the Low Country starting with our rum, we feel, is the most apropos way to honor the bustling spirit of the region and its people, and to celebrate Savannah’s fanciful history,” said co-founder, Dean Bell.
Bell, who has previously worked as a chef, kitchen manager and in various other industry positions, said he’d always wanted to get back into the food industry and after talking with a friend they set their sights on the craft distillery business. Bell and his partners tried to buy the old fire station at Bay Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard from the city of Savannah, but they were outbid and later stumbled upon the Whitaker Street building.
“We actually just happened to walk into the building and it had a contract on it, but it fell through. … We struck up a relationship and got a contract on the building,” Bell said. “My partner really didn’t get it at first because it’s an interesting building and it was full of stuff, but I knew there was something hiding behind there.”
The three-story building, which is really four separate structures, encompasses about 12,000-square-feet and was completed in the late 1800s. It has housed a variety of businesses from a cigar shop and oyster roasting business to a jeweler and most recently, Friedman’s Fine Art, which operated in the space from 1925 to 2015 before relocating to the south side.
Renovations on the structure have been ongoing since March 2016 and there’s been no shortage of surprises along the way, Bell said. A small trap door in the floor led to a basement where Bell found a stack of jewelry advertising brochures from 1923. Later he found cardboard takeout boxes from the oyster roasting business and musket balls, coins and buttons underneath the floorboards.
“It’s a massive project. … We’ve removed 150 tons of stuff, like plaster and old walls,” Bell said, adding that he’s working on a plan to incorporate some of the items that have been recovered.
“We’ve found some cool stuff.”
To get their rum in stores before it officially opens downtown, the company partnered with the Striped Pig distillery in Charleston. The first shipment went out last week and sold out in about three days, Bell said.
“We worked out a collaboration that allows us to work in their distillery. Our distiller goes up there a few days a week and has been consistently since November of last year,” Bell said.
The rum, which is available at more than a dozen area liquor stores, is first in a line that will include vodka and later, gin and whiskey, he said.
Aside from the distillery, the building will also house an upscale chophouse with multiple dining rooms, a full bar and private event space with a terrace on the upper floors all surrounded by the original brick that has been uncovered during the renovations. The goal is to return the building to what it once looked like. Currently, Bell anticipates an early 2018 opening for both the distillery and chophouse.
“It’s all about the history. Our concept is, taste the history. A lot of people don’t really know how associated Savannah is with rum running and the craziness that went on, so we’re taking advantage of that,” he said.
“We’ve got a great group of people… It’s been a lot of work, a lot of hitches and bumps, but we’re really excited about it.”
On the Web
For more information about Savannah Spirits, go to www.savannahspirits.com.