Take a first look at Chamblee’s Distillery of Modern Art

Distillery of Modern Art in Chamblee, which opened earlier this month, is part distillery and tasting room and part art gallery and event space.

Murals from local artists can be seen throughout the space, and founder Seth Watson commissioned seven artists to create abstract art to represent the distillery’s spirits.

The focal point of the 15,000-square-foot former warehouse is a 30-foot copper pot still that can be viewed from every angle. It was handcrafted in Louisville, Kentucky, by Vendome, one of the few U.S. copper fabricators who make stills for the industry. It uses nearly 2 miles of copper piping.

Copper not only is pretty, and easy to mold and shape, but its chemical reaction with fermented mash also pulls out highly volatile sulfur compounds, and helps in the formation of esters, which lend a fruity character to spirits.

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Credit: Angela Hansberger

Credit: Angela Hansberger

Also, the distillery’s Rothko Room is a 2,800-square-foot event space, and 90% of the lighting in the building is LED.

A tour through the distillery takes guests through the steps involved in making spirits, including malting, milling, mashing, fermenting and distilling.

Grains come to the distillery whole, and all milling is done in-house. Tour guests get a view of head distiller Matt Greif’s laboratory and works in progress, such as his digestivo trials and orange liqueur. At his previous distillery, Greif made everything from gin to whiskey, and he is finishing a master’s degree in distilling.

Watson said that “each fixture was planned specifically to draw your eyes to a certain direction,” interacting with the custom finish on the floor and the use of glass throughout.

For Watson, “art is an intertwined piece of the business that we actually want to represent in a good exchange.”

As you enter the art gallery, color-filled tubes lead the way through a bottle-shaped curtain. The works of art “are all hung at different heights to be playful and create shadows,” Watson said, and a sideways mirror looks into Greif’s lab. Bottles of various shades of brown and orange show his experiments using different sugars.

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Credit: Angela Hansberger

Credit: Angela Hansberger

Artists in residence — there currently are two — pay zero commission for displaying and selling their work. “Giving back to the artist community is our way, and I hope we represent that well at the distillery,” Watson said.

The shape of the label for the bottles, and the logo, mimic the design of the building. Digitized art for the labels is printed on canvas, to simulate the 40-inch by 40-inch abstract pieces. That way, as the bottle empties, the art comes into view.

The square bottle is sturdy, and sits easily in a well, with a neck that is easy for a bartender to grab.

“It’s important how it looks on a shelf,” Watson said. “Backbars are notoriously poorly lit.”

Cocktails served at the distillery are made with only its own spirits. “It’s one of the tricky things when coming up with drinks,” said Jeff Banks, consultant and owner of nearby King Cube. “We can’t use anything not made in-house — no Campari, no vermouth.

“We leaned into more classic cocktails, and try to give guests things that are familiar,” he said.

There is a creative margarita, made with the distillery’s Atlanta vodka, a green bell pepper syrup and fermented pineapple. The chai latte is close to an espresso martini, with chai-infused oat milk and vodka. Coming is a New York sour made with the distillery’s whiskey, black pepper, lemon and a sour cherry juice floater.

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Credit: Angela Hansberger

Credit: Angela Hansberger

General Manager Henry Rosenbaum, who moved to Atlanta from Denver to put Watson’s vision in place, said it’s important that both the cocktails and the food menu of elevated bar snacks highlight local producers.

Distillery of Modern Art’s vodka tonic is made with local 18.21 tonic syrup, tonic and blue pea flower from Chamblee’s Zen Tea, poured over a large block of King Cube ice and topped with viola flowers from Pinewood Springs Farm. Eventually, herbs used at the distillery will come from an on-site garden.

Also, Chamblee’s Jardi chocolates are available for dessert, and Rosenbaum often can be found in the kitchen, assembling charcuterie boards with products from Atlanta’s Spotted Trotter. “We’re sticklers for doing as much as we can by ourselves,” he said.

Distillery of Modern Art currently bottles Atlanta vodka, peach vodka and amaro peach. Gin will launch soon. Bourbon, rye whiskey and corn whiskey created before the distillery was operational are served at the bar. Plans call for the same recipes to be distilled on-site and aged in the sunlit barrel storage room.

“We take the phrase ‘craft distilling’ seriously,” Rosenbaum said. “We want our whiskey to be our whiskey, and it will be in a few years.”

2197 Irvindale Way, Chamblee. 404-482-2663, distilleryofmodernart.com

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