By Liesel Schmidt
Like all great business plans naturally do, the concept for Ghost Coast Distillery began as an idea written out on a cocktail napkin, the brainchild of two friends whose own love of spirits, taste for adventure, and desire to create something unique and truly reflective of American tradition gave them the inspiration to leave their previous jobs to launch something that Savannah hadn’t seen in nearly 100 years. And while it may have been a gutsy move to open the first legal distillery in Savannah since the days preceding Prohibition, when Rob Ingersoll and Chris Sywassink created Ghost Coast in 2017, they did so with a singular vision in mind: to produce a “spirit for every spirit.”
Now boasting over 25 creative, hand-crafted spirits in their repertoire, Ghost Coast prides itself on its innovation and originality, using unconventional or unique ingredients to make unusual spirits and introduce them to a whole new audience. And continuing in that vein, 2019 will be a banner year for the distillery, heralding the release of four small-batch bourbons, each with its own unique mix of grains and distinct flavor profile. Ultimately, the four bourbons will be blended to create a 36-month “Master Bourbon” to be released in February of 2020.
First up to the highball is the 24-month First Release Straight Bourbon Whiskey, uniquely made from corn; rye; malted barley; and oats fermented with saison yeast, a Belgian-style yeast commonly used in beer. Apparently, the idea for aging beer in bourbon barrels has been flipped on its head with this one, and Ghost Coast is proving that the concept not only has merit—it has the perfect finish.
Chosen both for its resilience to Savannah’s extreme temperature changes as well as the fact that it introduces a fruity spiciness, saison adds depth and complexity to the bourbon, blending beautifully with the oats used in each of the four releases to bring out notes of butterscotch, caramel, dried apricot, and a touch of cinnamon.
“We’re in the business of having a good time, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Sywassink, who, before co-founding Ghost Coast, owned and operated a fishing lodge with his wife, Julie. “Working in this industry means more than just creating and selling spirits—it’s about creating an experience with every new release.”
Clearly, their plans for creating an experience is off to a great start, as the First Release is the first—and currently the only—bourbon on the market to use a saison yeast. “We strive to create something you’ll love, something you didn’t know you’d love, and that’s what inspires us to push the boundaries and try new things,” says Ingersoll, who previously worked in manufacturing for a rock-climbing company.
Ever the intrepid taste-makers, the two friends whose innovative spirits literally gave rise to innovative spirits have no intention on resting on convention; and with the introduction of their First Release, they’re proving that they have a ghost story worthy of sharing.