UGA food science alumnae opens Athens’ first distillery
by Lillian Dickens
July 11, 2023
Brewery and beer aficionados have a wide selection of venues to choose from when visiting Athens, Georgia. Anyone over 21 can pick from any craft beer brewery of their choosing or try out all six on the Athens Beer Trail, but what about those who want the atmosphere and experience of a brewery with a different drink option than beer?
Oak House Distillery, the first legal distillery in Athens, does just that. Occupying the former Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house on Macon Highway, Oak House boasts a “warm and inviting atmosphere of a lounge and bar, complete with 2.5 acres of outdoor space under large oak trees, which creates a perfect setting for socializing, dates, or intimate gatherings,” according to the distillery’s website.
Supakana Nagachinta, one of the owners and co-founders of the distillery, earned her doctorate in food science from the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Department of Food Science and Technology where she studied distillation and flavor extraction under Dr. Casimir Akoh.
Gin is Oak House Distillery’s first product on the market, which Nagachinta and her team named after her husband and fellow team member Rob Woods’ father, Robert Woods. Robert’s No. 1 American Dry Gin was born from Woods’ Canadian heritage and Nagachinta’s love of making new things.
“One of my husband’s friends was making his own wine, so we decided to make our own gin to trade with him when we went to visit in Canada for Christmas,” she said, “after coming back we changed the original recipe a little because it was too ‘Christmasy’ and all of our other friends loved it. My husband said to me ‘I think we really have something here,’ so we decided to open a business.”
Robert’s No. 1 American Dry Gin is distilled by using the “London Dry” method, or a vapor infusion method of distillation.
“My husband custom-designed the still we use. It is a tall column with 10 reflux plates. The vapor from the boiling ethanol goes up the column and gets redistilled at each plate, so by the time it reaches the top of the column it is very pure. The hot alcohol vapor then passed into a large pot containing dry botanicals (the gin basket), where the flavors of the gin are extracted. The hot gin vapors are then condensed back to liquid,” Nagachinta explained.
While this gin is distilled using a method for London Dry gins, Nagachinta and her team call it an American Dry gin because of the unique botanicals they use while infusing their gin.
“All gins must have juniper as the predominant flavor (otherwise it’s a flavored vodka), but after that the choice of botanical mixture is up to the distiller. We wanted to create a gin that compliments spicy foods, especially Thai food, so our botanical mix includes Lemongrass, makrut lime, cardamom, coriander, and grains of paradise, as well as licorice and lavender,” she said.
The complimentary step in distillation is diluting. After infusion, Nagachinta reports that their gin is 172 proof or a whopping 86 percent alcohol, so before they bottle the spirit, they add water to bring the alcohol content down to 86 proof or 43 percent alcohol.
Completing the recipe was just the first step. Starting a business is no small feat, especially for Athens’ first distillery.
Nagachinta and her team began looking for a place to rent or build their distillery in 2016, and after years of looking and a global pandemic, they decided it would be best to buy a property.
“Our original intent was just to distribute our gin, but that was way back when we were first building our business strategy. Now we know that it would not have worked without the people that come here every week,” Nagachinta said.
For more information on Athens’ first legal distillery, please visit https://www.oakhousedistillery.com/.