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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

‘This opens up our world,’ Longleaf Distillery partner says of international awards

Macon’s year-old distillery captured 4 medals, including 2 top honors at San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Liz Fabian
Longleaf Distilling Co. earned two Double Gold medals for its Alba Liqueur and Navy Strength Southland Gin at the 2024 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Longleaf spirits also have been recognized by the Beverage Testing Institute and the Georgia Trustees Wine & Spirits Competition with medals shown here.

Competing with famous names in liquor such as Tanqueray, Jameson and Johnnie Walker, Macon’s Longleaf Distilling Co. joins the ranks of the world’s best distillers after winning two Double Gold Medal awards at the 2024 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. 

“I am stunned, truly stunned,” said Longleaf partner David Thompson. 

Longleaf’s Navy Strength Southland American Gin and Alba Thistle Liqueur both received a 97 point rating from a panel of 70 respected industry experts.

Alba also is a finalist for a “best in class” award competing with four others, including entries from Italy and China. The herbal/botanical liqueur winner will be announced during the week of May 6.

Will Robinson, a partner and master distiller at Longleaf Distillery, said he never expected Double Golds when he sent in four samples. All of their entries won medals with the Evergreen Alpine Liqueur and Longleaf Vodka capturing silver medals. 

“I was like, this is going to be a giant waste of money and time. I mean, I guess I figured, best case scenario, I would get some tasting notes back and I could improve the products based on them,” Robinson said. “It’s literally the world’s premier spirit competition.”

Macon’s first and only legal distillery was up against nearly 5,500 entries from some companies that have been in the business for hundreds of years.

A little more than a year ago, Robinson and Thompson renovated the old “If it’s Paper” location and opened the distillery and tasting room at 664 Second St. in downtown Macon. 

“Will is the backbone of it all. He’s a foodie by heart,” Thompson said. 

Robinson’s experimental kitchen hobby that began when putting together Thompson’s business plan became his passion. He schooled at Moonshine University for six days but is largely self-taught after reading all he could get his hands on pertaining to distilling spirits. 

He might have been new to the craft, but he looked to the masters. 

“At that point, I had no idea how to build these liqueurs. I mean it’s very, very difficult to do from scratch, but I knew that they had been doing it in Europe for centuries,” Robinson said. 

Translating an old Italian book for distillers unlocked some of the key botanicals used in those recipes. He’s proud of the Alba liqueur he developed that proved to be a winner with the judges. 

“That is a very, very unique spirit. It is very delicious,” he said. 

During the pandemic Robinson also started playing around with gin recipes. 

He made a list of things that grow well in Georgia and started experimenting with a variety of concoctions.  

“Gin is our trickiest spirit that we make,” he said. “That’s been my baby for the past five years. … When I saw that we won Double Gold for the gin, I was over the moon. Honestly, I still can’t believe that something that originated in my kitchen could be lauded on a worldwide scale.”

Thompson called the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, or SFWSI, the “Super Bowl” of the industry. 

In 2000, The Tasting Alliance launched SFWSI, which is the oldest and largest event of its kind, according to its website.

The Tasting Alliance’s competitions, including the San Francisco International Wine Competition, are considered highly influential for the winners whose professional reputations receive an instant boost from the recognition. 

Double Gold spirits must receive a gold medal designation from all 70 judges, which signifies a near-perfect product. 

“Medal winners range from some of the most renowned international distillers to small-batch producers that the competition has helped put on the map. The SFWSC  medal is a testament to their hard work and universally recognized indicator of exceptional quality and craftsmanship,” The Tasting Alliance website stated.

In April of 2023, Will Robinson, left, and David Thompson opened Longleaf Distilling Co. at 664 Second St. It is believed to be the first legal distilling operation in Macon. (Liz Fabian)

Winning two top awards in Longleaf’s first year is an amazing feat, Thompson said. 

“This opens up our world,” he said. 

Thompson and Robinson expect the medals could spur a greater distribution of their products beyond Georgia. 

Longleaf has produced more than 20 spirits and continues to tweak its recipes and draw from seasonal ingredients. 

Customers visiting Longleaf’s bar up front are part of the research and product development. 

“Our front of the house is really our R&D department. We’ve been doing a lot of R&D and our spirits keep getting better and better,” Robinson said. 

Longleaf is open Wed.-Thurs. from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon until 10 p.m. and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected].

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