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