Up until recently, when folks mentioned liquor from the Southern U.S., whiskey and moonshine immediately sprang to mind. Popularized through aggressive marketing and folklore, images of whiskies like ‘Ole Grand Dad and Jack Daniels are etched into a cultural milieu that also plays up images of pickup truck driving backwoods individualists. But of course reality is just a bit more complex and liquor production in what is commonly referred to as “the South”, an area roughly defined by the Mason Dixon Line and the Mississippi as borders, has a rich tradition that’s all too often overshadowed by these preconceived notions.
While it’s true that the South has a tremendously successful history of Bourbon production in Kentucky and Whiskey in Tennessee, recent years have witnessed the rise of a robust craft distillery movement as well. Some uniquely Southern approaches to vodka and other spirits include brands like Firefly, Corsair Artisan , and on a more commercial scale, Piedmont Distillery. A newer addition to these craft producers with a growing fan base is Thirteenth Colony Distillery in Americus, Georgia.
In 2007, four friends, Alton Darby, Kent Cost, Dr. Gil Klemann and Winford Hines, began distilling homemade vodka for family and friends. This initial foray catapulted their efforts from hobby to business opening their own distillery. Thirteenth Colony now specializes in small batch production of Southern Vodka, Southern Gin, and 100% corn whiskey. Located on top of the South’s oldest and deepest aquifers, their water is super pure…perfect for making fine-quality distilled spirits. Locally grown corn, barley and rye are also used in the process, which unfolds in a custom-designed 250-gallon still.
Thirteenth Colony vodka is aromatic and supremely silky resulting from slow carbon filtration through a 10 foot column filter…perfect for savoring chilled and neat as the Russians do with caviar, such as Walter’s Caviar from Darien, GA making it a totally local experience. Their Southern Gin, bursting with the pungent scent of juniper berries, is best simply enjoyed with tonic water and lime on the rocks. Their signature Corn Whiskey is my favorite derived from a traditional southern recipe aged in vintage oak barrels yielding a robust 95 proof. Each bottle is personally signed and numbered by Thirteenth Colony distiller, Graham Arthur. Dangerously drinkable, its smooth taste is complex on the palate with hints of oak, spice, butter, and sweet corn. ..a perfect pairing for some real Southern Soul food!
Photo courtesy of Steve Mirsky