Thirsty Scenes from the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

The inaugural Atlanta Food and Wine Festival has been so expansive, so broad ranging, so diverse, that to even attempt to capture the totality of this festival in photos, words, video, memories is an overwhelming challenge. There has been an overflow of bourbon, cocktails, wine and beer, mostly with a focus on the very best of what the South has to offer. There has been a multitude of bites of food, whole hog goodness, pickled veggies, comfort food and creative craziness. Above all, there have been lots of fine folks who care passionately about the food and drink of the South. That was the reason for the festival.

My friend Broderick at captured some of the amazing faces of the festival. I tended to focus on the bottles, glasses, and plates, so here, in some small way, is a very minor taste of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival through the lens of my camera.

First up, the ridiculous bounty of fine things to drink. Our favorite bourbon – Pappy Van Winkle – was well represented. There was an amazing array of Madeira dating back to 1875 that simply blew my mind. “Moonshine” in many varieties made an appearance. And some Corsair experimental “cocoa hull bourbon” knocked my socks off.

Food “trucks” had their own dedicated area. Gotta love the old Airstream trailers. And the “legalize it” message takes on new meaning when it comes to the street food scene.

The stars inside the seminars included Kevin Gillespie (photo below: “Kevin Gillespie in 3 Variations”), Sean Brock, Linton Hopkins, Tyler Brown, and a poor little piggie.

And the tastes. Oh, the tastes. A few favorites hailed from the whole hog tent, but you can’t have a Southern food festival without pimento cheese and pickled eggs. Good stuff, y’all!

After all that, we’re already eager for what they can do with a second annual Atlanta Food and Wine Festival next year. Though first I need to recuperate from the past few days of over-abundant Southern goodness. While it was worth it, I think I need a vacation…

Great Southern Distillery: Old Rip Van Winkle, AKA “Pappy”

Part two of Thirsty South’s “Great Southern X” series features one of the most revered names in bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle. Rare. Cherished. Distinctive. Amazing. Those are but a few of the descriptors for the bourbon that carries the “Pappy” name. Old Rip Van Winkle is a standout among the many great Kentucky bourbon brands, true to a long heritage of great whiskey in the South. Read the full story here.

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

The South’s Greatest Beer Snack

There is a Southern specialty that for some reason has not found the popularity and omnipresence that is so surely deserves. It is found most often in rural gas stations, across Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama. But it deserves a place at the bar. At every bar that serves beer, in fact. For there is no greater friend to beer than this delicious, salty, crunchy snack. As much as we regret to say this, it is NOT the pork rind or cracklins. It is… the peanut… but not just any peanut! Yes, the roasted peanut is a rich and grand thing, the boiled peanut is beautiful and bewitching, but the deep fried peanut, “shell-n-all”? THAT is the South’s greatest beer snack.

Fried Peanuts

The first time one encounters a deep fried peanut, the initial temptation is to crack the shell open and free the peanuts from bondage. That would be a mistake. Once you’ve overcome your fears of the shell, accepted that maybe you should try just one since the bag proclaims “so good… you can eat ’em SHELL-N-ALL,” your mouth will soon tell you that you’ve made a wise choice. The crisp crunch of the shell and the saltiness and spice that have infused it hit your tastebuds first. Then the toasty, nutty goodness of the peanuts themselves layer on another wave of joy. And what could possibly follow that wave of joy other than a sip (or a gulp) of a cold beer? Like peanut butter and jelly, moon pies and RC cola, deep fried peanuts and beer are a match made in Southern heaven.

So, next time you’re off on a rural highway and stop for gas, be sure to check inside for the presence of this delicacy, then buy as many bags as your car will hold. You can thank “Uncle Bud” of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee for producing these wonders, or his rivals, Jerry of Polkville, North Carolina, or Bobby Salter of the one and only Plains, Georgia. And ask your favorite barkeeps to do the world a favor and bring some deep fried peanut goodness into the lives of their patrons. And they will thank you.

By the way, the basic salted, deep fried peanuts can also act as a blank canvas of sorts for adding your own spices. Simply heat up some oil and the spice mixture of your choice in a skillet and toss in some deep fried peanuts, mix well, drain on a paper towel, and you’re set. Here’s a not-so-Southern batch with chili pepper and Sichuan peppercorns, equally good with an IPA or a good German Riesling!
Chili Peanuts