Trendsetters: A Family Tradition
Three generations come together to launch the Dalton Distillery.
Charles Raymond Butler Sr. doesn’t remember how old he was when he started distilling moonshine in the woods of East Tennessee. He doesn’t even remember how he learned; it was always part of his family business, back to his grandfather.
“There were mouths to feed, and you could make a whole lot more money making moonshine than selling corn or jelly,” says Butler, or Raymond, as he is known.
Not much has changed in the 74-year-old’s life since. He still makes moonshine with that same recipe with his own son and grandson. Preachers and off-duty law enforcement officers are still some of his best customers.
Nowadays though, he doesn’t worry about getting arrested. The Butlers have moved their operation to Dalton, and they pay taxes on their 111-proof “corn whiskey.”
Dalton Distillery on E. Morris Street has been selling Raymond’s Reserve Moonshine for about a year, the only Georgia moonshine commercially produced with local corn. While the exact recipe is secret, Butler’s family has always used malted wheat, as opposed to yeast, with a bit of sunflower seeds.
Why? “I don’t like to get up with a headache. And yeast will give you that headache,” says Raymond as he sips from a large bottle of clear liquid prominently labeled “This is not water.” “My dad always said good whiskey is so clear you can read a newspaper through it,” he says.
Raymond’s 41-year-old son, Charles Raymond Butler Jr., or Chuck, used to work in law enforcement. Around 2013 he started looking to open a family business to involve his dad and teenage son (Charles Raymond Butler III, known as Trey). And as Raymond puts it, “I got tired of running, always looking over my shoulder.” So the three generations got their moonshine regulated and opened Dalton Distillery.
It’s been a tough road navigating the permitting and politics of alcohol production in Georgia. Taxes are high, and Chuck was sent back and forth between Atlanta and Macon for the permits.
Just like all other Georgia distilleries and breweries, the Butlers cannot sell their product directly to consumers. “I can’t sell you a bottle, but I can sell you a tour and give you the bottle as a gift,” Chuck explains with a chuckle.
However, the government hasn’t stopped five generations of Butlers distilling. Raymond remembers one close call, when he and his mother and grandmother were alone. Someone gave them a tip that the police were coming. So they hid all the moonshine under the beds, and his mother and grandmother got in and pretended to be sick. “People didn’t dare disturb sick women back then!”
Even though Raymond took a yearlong break when Uncle Sam pulled him into the Vietnam War, “I was back making moonshine two days after I got back.”
Dalton Distillery produces more than 1,600 cases per year, and the product is available throughout Georgia – and, at the beginning of this month, in Texas, too. Chuck and his dad run the show, with a few friends helping out from time to time.
Trey, 14, is also involved in the distillery’s upkeep. “He’s the only third-generation legal moonshiner in the state of Georgia,” as his dad puts it.
There’s irony in drinking moonshine at a bar adorned with the many certificates the government requires. But the Butlers see it as adapting a family tradition to the times. They continue to share their recipe in a safe, regulated way and even started producing a rainbow of flavors upon customer request. Expect to see cinnamon, caramel and watermelon moonshine available soon.
While they still judge the proof of each batch based on Raymond’s taste tests, they now use a hydrometer to double check. The distillery features regular musical and comedy entertainment and offers monthly courses on how to make your own moonshine. They sell branded T-shirts and light bulb-shaped shot glasses and have even had a handful of international customers.
It’s true: a lot has changed since Raymond was ducking the authorities and making moonshine in the woods. But their recipe hasn’t needed to change, and business is good for these legal moonshiners in Whitfield County.