Small Batch Goodness: 13th Colony, Georgia Craft Distillery

We here at Thirsty South are firm supporters of the “drink local” movement – be it beer, wine, spirits, or coffee (or tap water and cola for that matter!). The South obviously has a tremendously successful history with bourbon in Kentucky and whiskey in Tennessee, but recent years have seen the rise of the craft distillery movement in the South as well as some unique Southern takes on vodka and other spirits. Corsair Artisan comes to mind on the craft side, as does Firefly vodka on a more commercial scale. And for the past year or so, another craft producer has been building a following in Georgia with their Southern Vodka and Southern Gin: Thirteenth Colony Distillery out of Americus, Georgia.

Thirteenth Colony is a small batch producer, and has recently released a limited edition (only 400 cases made) 100% corn whiskey that is turning heads. The Thirteenth Colony Southern Corn Whiskey was aged in old oak barrels, and comes in at a healthy 95 proof. This combination of 100% corn, oak aging (though still relatively young), and the robust strength makes for a unique product that should help Thirteenth Colony further establish its credentials as a craft distillery worth keeping an eye on.  Not that they are an unknown quantity – their Southern Gin picked up a Gold Medal at the most recent Spirits International Prestige (SIP) Awards competition in San Diego, and the Southern Vodka claimed a bronze.

Listening to the folks behind Thirteenth Colony, one gets a very clear image of their mission: high quality, small batch spirits “made by friends for friends.” There is a unique camaraderie that infuses their brand, and they definitely wear their Southern sense-of-place on their sleeve, from the “Southern” branding on their gin, vodka and corn whiskey, to the mention on each label of being “Georgia’s only craft distillery.” And the “Thirteenth Colony” name, of course, refers to Georgia’s heritage from colonial times.

So, the big question is, how are their products? Will they make Georgia proud? The short answer is, “yes.” The Southern Corn Whiskey is noteworthy for its unique character. The Southern Gin is a serious pleaser, with a nice coriander presence. The Southern Vodka is an all-around solid vodka that will make any bar happy, though the least interesting of these three bottlings. We were fortunate to receive some samples for tasting, and here are our full notes:

Thirteenth Colony, Southern Corn Whiskey, 2010 Limited Release
95 Proof
Approx. $30 Retail
Tasting Date: November 4, 2010

Nice balance of mellow oak and light caramel on the nose. The mouthfeel is soft and full. The corn is noticeable in a good way, slight summery sweetness, and sets this apart from most other whiskeys. Interestingly, the oak fades to the back on the palate (vs. being prominent on the nose), so the oak aging was enough to impart some pleasant top notes without overtaking the flavor profile. It is fairly robust at 95 proof, but not unbalanced at all, with a nice touch of heat on an overall smooth finish. The color is a typical, light golden amber. Good Stuff* and definitely worth seeking out to experience a 100% corn whiskey with oak aging.

From the distillery: “Each bottle of Southern Corn Whiskey is numbered and signed. Our Limited Release Corn Whiskey will be a small quantity, released once per year in the fall, and when it is gone, it is gone for the year.  Our goal is to pursue unique, high quality spirits and have several in various stages of development and planning.”

Thirteenth Colony, Southern Gin
82.4 Proof
Approx. $17 Retail
Tasting Date: November 4, 2010

Prominent coriander on the nose, alongside refreshing lavender/floral and light juniper herbal notes. Mouthfeel manages to be both crisp and full, with nice viscosity. The coriander carries over to the palate, which veers towards invigorating “green” herbs, celery even, a touch of lime. A well rounded juniper gin, not too sharp, not too mellow. Citrus notes linger enticingly on the finish. Good Stuff* and highly recommended for gin fans looking for a Southern player to knock out the Brits.

Thirteenth Colony, Southern Vodka
80 Proof
Approx. $17 Retail
Tasting Date: November 4, 2010

A touch of cucumber and alcohol on the nose. Clean on the palate with hints of sharp citrus and peppery spice which mellow out on a finish that stays smooth while packing some heat. Minimal texture, straight and to the point. Good Stuff* – a solid vodka to displace the Absoluts of this world in any Southerner’s bar, but not as compelling as Thirteenth Colony’s other offerings.


* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Thirteenth Colony Distillery quote regarding their Corn Whiskey is from the excellent interview with Kent Cost, co-owner of the distillery, that appears in American Craft Spirits’ “Meet The Makers” series

Woodford Reserve, Maple Wood Finish: Brilliant New Approach or Bourbon Gimmick?

The fine folks at Woodford Reserve just released the fifth in their series of “Master’s Collection” bottlings. Arriving in stores today, the Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish is (quoting their press release) “finish-aged in a toasted maple wood barrel, resulting in a whiskey enhanced with hints of maple, honey, and cinnamon… Maple Wood Finish continues Woodford Reserve’s tradition of crafting rare whiskeys that extend the category in bold new directions.”

Now, bourbon, by definition, is matured in new, charred oak barrels, thus the prominent use of the word “finish” on this bottling. Woodford Reserve is not divulging the mix of time in new oak vs. finishing time in maple wood, and the practice of finishing in a unique wood barrel type to drive specific flavors (such as the sweetness inherent in maple wood) is somewhat controversial for bourbon purists. The use of maple wood does indeed appear to be unique to Woodford Reserve so far, and they deserve props both for pushing new ideas and for getting this product out in time for the holiday season (go buy some Brown Forman stock now!).

This one clocks in at 94.4 proof, just a touch above their normal 90.4 proof bottling. It also costs more than double the regular bottling, with a suggested retail price of $90 vs. an average of roughly $35 for the regular Woodford Reserve. So, is it worth that type of investment to experience what the maple wood finish can bring?

Well, the bottle is beautiful (see photo below), so if you like collecting glass, this may be for you. Early reviews around the web are mixed – with many noting heavy wood notes, and, yes, hints of maple syrup. I’m personally not inclined to give it a shot, given the price (I have not received a free tasting sample as the early reviewers above did (*see update below)) and the somewhat gimmicky nature of this bottling. A few drops of maple syrup in my regular bourbon will do just fine to spice up my bourbon experience if I’m looking to add a touch of maple sweetness. Heck, in Woodford Reserve’s marketing of their new release, they even include a cocktail recipe that calls for the addition of maple syrup.

You can learn more about the Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish release with this educational video! which looks to me like it ought to be on late night TV somewhere, or maybe QVC. Maybe that’s fitting for this one.

*UPDATE, 11/11/2010: Woodford Reserve was kind enough to send a tasting sample after the original post was written. The nose on this Maple Wood Finish release is lovely – think cinnamon-spiced apple pie sitting on a toasted oak barrel. On the palate, it actually wasn’t as sweet or maple-y as I expected, with heavy wood and a somewhat harsh lingering finish. Very glad I was able to taste it, but it would be a bit hard to justify the $90-$100/bottle to experience this unique finishing approach.

Cocktails: Cakes & Ale’s East of Eden

East of Eden

Following up on our recent dive into the Decatur, GA, drinking scene, here’s a wonderful fall cocktail recipe from Corina behind the bar at Cakes & Ale. The combination of apple and pomegranate makes for a nice balance of sweet and slightly bitter to blend in with the somewhat spicy Corsair Artisan Wry Moon, an unaged whiskey that is akin to a smooth moonshine. Be aware, the Corsair Wry Moon is a small batch rye whiskey that may be hard to find.

One whole pomegranate, quartered (only one quarter to be used per drink)
1.5 oz Corsair Artisan Wry Moon (or other unaged whiskey)
1 oz good apple juice (bonus points for freshly pressed local apples, no Juicy Juice please)
Dash of simple syrup
Twist of lime

Muddle one quarter of the pomegranate in shaker. Add whiskey, apple juice and a dash of simple syrup. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Best served up with a twist of lime (give the rim of the glass a quick rub with the rind side of the lime twist to impart a bit of the lime oil).

Enjoy! And THANKS to Corina at Cakes & Ale.

A Witch Hunt & More in Decatur, GA

Leon's Full Service

Decatur and the Westside seem to be battling it out for food and drink supremacy in Atlanta these days, and Decatur’s lineup is enough to make you rethink your decision to live anywhere other than within walking distance to the heart of Decatur. Visits to some stalwarts of the Decatur scene revealed all that is great about the onset of Autumn – seasonal ales, creative cocktails shifting to spices and fall fruits, and food to match.

Let’s start with Leon’s Full Service, where Miles and team man the bar and turn out some of Atlanta’s best cocktails. They’ve already made the turn out of the relatively light and refreshing summer drinks and are now in the land of apples and honey – richer, spicier, darker. With names like Death & Company, Witch Hunt, and the Whitehall Mystery, surely Halloween is right around the corner. The Witch Hunt is a perfect drink for easing into the cooler weather, a mix of house-made apple-cardamom syrup, Dry Fly gin, Liquore Strega (Italian for witch), a bit of lemon and an absinthe rinse (full recipe below, under Comments). It manages to be bright and balanced, warming and refreshing, and Miles’ tricks with the shaker make a perfect treat when you feel the fabulous texture, the “mouthfeel,” of this drink. Here’s a little video to whet your appetite for going on a Witch Hunt of your own:

Leon’s Full Service: Miles & the Witch Hunt from Thirsty South on Vimeo.

Down the street a few blocks, Cakes & Ale matches their stellar, seasonal food with some equally stellar, seasonal drinks. Corina behind the bar is now featuring a cocktail called East of Eden (recipe here). Apples and pomegranates mix together with Corsair Wry Moon unaged whiskey, a beautiful sight in a dark vintage martini glass. Corina has been seeking the right pairing for the Corsair unaged whiskey, and the freshly pressed apple juice and muddled pomegranate seem to be the perfect match. Look for some interesting Hot Toddy-inspired cocktails coming soon to counteract the cooler weather.

Cakes & Ale

Back on the square, the Iberian Pig has been turning out a signature drink for some time now, but it seems especially well suited to the weather these days – their Iberian Old Fashioned gets smokey and rich with house bacon-infused rye whiskey, brown sugar and molasses, and a mix of bitters and citrus oil to top it off. Other bars are playing with bacon, but Iberian Pig gets it right, not too heavy, not too salty, simply right.

Iberian Pig
Iberian Pig
Iberian Pig

Of course, The Brick Store Pub is constantly offering seasonal beer specials from keg or cask or bottle, and the current crop is keeping the crowds happy. A current rare treat is the Founder’s Black Biscuit, a barrel-aged black ale that brings serious complexity and depth.

Brick Store

As if the cocktails and beer weren’t enough to get you over to the Decatur side of town, there’s also a new wine shop down the street in quaint Avondale Estates. The Little Wine Shop just held their grand opening and is a great stop for good and interesting value wines. Their monthly six pack special is an especially good way to try some compelling wines at a very compelling price.
Little Wine Shop

Cocktails: Apple Season in a Glass

Summer is still hanging on with a vengeance, sunny hot days melting into cool September nights. Despite the heat, autumn is around the corner, and apple season is already here. Just head up to North Georgia and the apple trees are bountiful with fruit. In honor of cooler days to come and the heavenly aroma of apple pies inundating the air in lucky kitchens, we bring you a simple cocktail recipe sure to elicit mental visions of such glory: Apple Season in a Glass.

Apple Season in a Glass

The key ingredient here is Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie liqueur. An inexpensive (though still hard to find in the South) bottle of liqueur built on apples, spices and neutral grain spirits. On its own, it’s sweet, sticky, and almost impossibly true to the aroma and flavor of apple pie. It’s like taking a pie in the face, and it begs for balance. A nice rye (or bourbon, to each his own) will do just the trick. We like Russell’s Reserve Rye (6 year old) as a nice cocktail mixer. It brings a nice toastiness and slight bitterness to the table. A dash of Peychaud’s bitters adds a touch of aromatic complexity, again balancing out the sweetness of the liqueur. There are certainly more complex and challenging recipes that will get you a similar taste of apple season, but this is a nice and easy way to help your mind escape the lingering summer heat and swing into Fall.

1.5 oz rye whiskey
1 oz Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie Liqueur
Peychaud’s bitters to taste

Shake and strain into an old-fashioned glass half-filled with broken ice.

Adding cinnamon or nutmeg will be overkill on top of the liqueur, though a cinnamon stick would be a nice visual touch.