The Spirits of the Ghost Coast Distillery in Savannah, GA: Behind the Scenes with Co-Founder Chris Sywassink

Mollee D. Harper

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Georgia CEO travels to Downtown Savannah for a special look inside the Ghost Coast Distillery through our one-on-one with co-founder and general manager Chris Sywassink. During our interview, we learn how co-owners Chris Sywassink and Rob Ingersoll settled on historic Savannah for the location of their unique craft distillery, the inspiration behind the name, and the spirit of their offering combining Savannah’s history in prohibition with its love of libations.

Sywassink offered, “Rob and I met in school at Appalachian State University. We’ve been friend for 25-26 years, and ran with the same group. We both moved out west to different places but kept in contact.”

“My wife and my son, who was three at the time, moved to Savannah 11 years ago from rural Montana. My wife is from the South and we wanted to be in a better place to raise our son with more access to other kids and activities. Savannah met all of our needs and has really welcomed us with open arms.”

“We convinced Rob to join us, and he and his wife moved here five years ago to start a business. Together we knew we wanted to create something made in American, something Southern, and something we could really put our stamp on.”

Inside the Distillery

Craft spirit production began at the Ghost Coast Distillery in 2016. The two owners officially opened their doors for tours on February 14, 2017. Ingersoll brings an extensive background in production and manufacturing to the table, and serves as Operations Manager. Combined with Sywassink’s administrative and financial background, the two have found a recipe for business and spirits that locals have embraced wholeheartedly. They lead a diverse and spirited team hosting guests to Savannah’s first legal distillery since the prohibition era.

Sywassink described, “We wanted a name that was catchy, a name that said a little about Savannah and the Coastal area. We didn’t want to be a typical company. We captured on Savannah’s notoriety of being one of the most haunted towns in America, as well as its legacy of prohibition and love for libations dating back to the days of Oglethorpe.”

“We are in a very interesting part of Savannah on Indian Street that used to be part of the red light district, back in the day. We’ve had some unique things happen in our production space. One night, our still just started singing. So, there are things that do happen here that we just can’t explain.”

“We have 16 employees and growing. We are always looking for good talent and creative fun people. We have a philosophy that culture is the number one thing here at Ghost Coast Distillery. We are a big team, a big family. As a startup, we all wear multiple hats and look out for one another, and are always striving to be better.”

He continued, “My wife works in the business as the Retail Manager and Special Events Manager. Rob’s wife has her own business and is a successful stager and photographer in the real estate industry here in Savannah.”

Ghost Coast Distillery tour guests are hosted to a 30-minute guided tour through the 17,000 sq ft facility including a stroll through the 5,000 sq ft tasting room where they experience fermenting barrels of bourbon, a 500 gallon Vendome copper pot still, and an old-school assembly line production of a wide array of super-premium spirits. During each tour, guests receive a history lesson on Georgia’s First City and the start of its lifelong love affair with alcohol, before tasting the unique libations produced and served onsite.

Sywassink shared, “Since opening our doors this past February, we’ve had over 6,000 guests through the doors. We are really serving a lot of locals and tourists both. Savannah has really embraced us and taken to us. We feel so blessed and humbled by that. Of course, we host a lot of visitors in this city who are always looking for new interesting things to do. We feel like we have a strong appeal to all here. This city loves its libations, and so do we. We feel like we found a perfect fit.”

“We want people to know we’re approachable. Our environment is very comfortable. We are very crafty and like to push the envelope with different cocktails and ways to make spirits. Every drop of juice we put in bottles has to be good. That drives us everyday to make sure we are producing the best we can or we don’t put it in the bottle. As Rob often says, ‘no spirit goes in the bottle before its time’.”

He continued, “In our cocktail room, everything is manufactured here. With the new law in Georgia we are able to sell liquor by the drink and even to go. We needed to develop a bar scene that was unique. Everything made here is consumed here. You won’t find our cocktails anywhere else in Savannah. We even sell our libations by the bottle, up to three bottles per person per day.”

Ghost Coast Distillery’s trademark infusions include Vodka 261 and Vodka 261 Orange, named for their birth exactly 261 years after General Oglethorpe’s prohibition of liquor was lifted in 1755. Crafted onsite from corn and wheat, multi-distilled for smoothness, and triple filtered, Vodka 261 is the star in many signature cocktails served at the distillery including: Oglethorpe’s Mule, Ghost Coast Basil Sour, Ghost Coast Greyhound, Trustee’s Punch. 

Sywassink concluded, “We’re a passionate organization with a great facility. On the philanthropic side of our company and mission, we have dedicated our space to help any and all nonprofits here in Savannah. If you have a nonprofit and you need help, we have the space for fun parties and fundraisers. We support the Rape Crisis Center in Savannah and recently raised $1,400 for that organization.”

For more information on the Ghost Coast Distillery, visit their website at: