Justin Manglitz lives on a twelve-acre farm outside Commerce, Georgia, with his wife, Marci; their two young children, Hilda and Buck; their red-tick coonhound, Hopper; and their auburn-colored mutt, Feints—a name that’s a sly nod to Manglitz’s craft.
Four days a week, this robustly built man who plays the fiddle and wears his long black hair in a ponytail drives 150 miles round-trip to Atlanta’s ASW Distillery to make whiskey. And he’s pretty good at it.
In April, Manglitz and his partners, ASW co-founders Jim Chasteen and Charlie Thompson, received word that Duality, the one-of-a-kind double-malt whiskey they steep from a 50/50 blend of rye and barley, picked up a coveted double gold medal from the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
The “double” accolade means every single judge gave it a gold in blind tastings. And the San Francisco arbiters didn’t stop there: They also awarded ASW a gold medal for its Cask Strength Fiddler Georgia Heartwood Bourbon and a trio of silvers for its Appalachian-style Resurgens Rye, Ameireaganach Single Malt Whiskey, and Fiddler Unison Bourbon.
The ASW team was taken aback by their sweep. Not because they don’t believe in the integrity of their portfolio. But because their spirits are so young: ASW Distillery has only been making whiskey for two years.
“Duality was exactly twelve months old,” Manglitz says. “They have never given a double gold to whiskey that was one year old.”
“We knew we were doing something pretty special here, and we knew Justin had a skill set that was very unique,” Chasteen adds. “But to have third-party validation for it, and especially from San Francisco, which is our Super Bowl, is going to allow us to take the next step.”
Chasteen and Thompson started the company in 2011 with American Spirit Whiskey, a platinum hooch intended as a vodka substitute for cocktails and produced out of state. Trained as lawyers and businessmen, the two former University of Georgia classmates knew little of the finer points of creating barrel-aged whiskey. So in 2015, they brought in Manglitz as head distiller and partner. The next year, with Manglitz’s input, they unveiled their distillery and handsome tasting room near SweetWater Brewing Company. Already they are adding a second hometown presence: a tasting room and barrel warehouse on the Atlanta BeltLine’s western arc.
Manglitz is self-taught in the art of the mash. Now thirty-six, he claims to have spent half his life honing his craft, having grown up on tales of his beloved Paw Paw’s moonshine. After earning a business degree from the University of Georgia, he opened a homebrew supply store in Athens. He sold it in 2010 so he could focus on raising his family and farming—chickens, goats, cows, “meat rabbits,” and vegetables. Then ASW called.
“I love everything I’m putting out, and I love doing it,” he says, showing a visitor around his Jackson County homestead, stopping to pluck a stranded chicken out of a water feature he built for Marci.
Nearby sits a stack of oak: It’s the 100-year-old Georgia heartwood he splits, chars by hand, and slides through the bungholes of barrels of aging Fiddler bourbon. It’s what gives the small-batch whiskey its deep, rich flavor, and the sweetness of home.
“My dad just happened to find this old guy near Bogart, near Bear Creek Reservoir, who wanted to get rid of these white oaks,” Manglitz explains.
Pretty soon, he may need a lot more of it.