The art of making whiskey is a foundational part of American culture. It seems strange to say it, but for a large part of our history, producing alcoholic beverages was a means to survival and a way of life. In the 1920’s, when the Federal Government outlawed the production and consumption of alcohol, it unintentionally sparked a fire of free spirit and rebellion. Even to this day, some of the most interesting pages in the American history books are attributed to outlaws and bootleggers of the prohibition era.
Today, the art of distilling and aging whiskey is spreading its wings again. As entrepreneurs, young and old, dig up the stories, recipes, and trade secrets of iconic master distillers from our past, a new breed of locally produced spirituous goodness is being reborn. Produced within a very specific set of guidelines and standards, some of these distilleries are even able to call their end product bourbon, which is the quintessential American whiskey. The Carolinas have played a large role in shaping the art of distilling whiskey, but when we think of bourbon, the great state of Kentucky always comes first to mind. To my surprise, there are several noteworthy craft distilleries right here in the Carolinas (and presumably other states as well), and we will feature a write up for each right here on the Bourbon Journal.
My first stop on this journey was Dark Corner Distillery in Greenville, SC. Greenville is a very charming city near the eastern tip of South Carolina, just north of Clemson and is also home to Furman University. This attractive southern city boasts a hip young culture that screams “local” and “homegrown”. From a bustling Main Street to the vibrant riverside greenway, Greenville is a perfect place for a micro-distillery. Speaking of which, look no further than Joe Fenten and his crew of not-so-outlaw moonshiners who have set up a fully functioning distillery and barrel warehouse on Main Street Greenville, SC. Dark Corner Distillery prides their surprisingly smooth moonshine product, which they have perfected by using a signature balance of corn, red wheat, barley, and rye in their mash. They also age their smooth white dog liquor in smaller 5 and 15 gallon new charred oak barrels for about one year and bottle it under the label Lewis Redmond Carolina Bourbon. one year doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but because the smaller barrels offer a higher ratio of surface area contact with the whiskey, it ages faster than it would in a traditional 53 gallon barrel. They named this delectable bourbon after Major Lewis Redmond, a reputable reconstruction era moonshiner who was often thought of as Appalachia’s Robin Hood. If you visit their web site it is evident that this distillery has a deep respect for the tradition and history of whiskey in the Carolina region.
I sampled through all of the Dark Corner sprits, including their unique absinthe and their honeysuckle infused moonshine, but as you could probably guess, I was most interested in the Lewis Redmond Bourbon. My initial impression of the whiskey was that it tasted very young, but it was surprisingly smooth and flavorful. The use of high quality ingredients along with the addition of mellow red wheat to the mash recipe gives this very young bourbon plenty of potential. Given that most mass-produced bourbons age between four and six years, I would say this one-year-old product is quite amazing, and could stand its ground next to most of the brands you recognize from store shelves. At over $50 a bottle, it is priced a little high compared to more widely distributed products, but the fact that it is made by hand in small batches helps to justify the price in my opinion.
The distillery has not (at least to my knowledge) released any official announcement that they will produce a bourbon that is aged longer than one year, but I have a feeling that they will give it a shot. If Joe and his gang are able to produce such a great product with only a year of metamorphous, I can only imagine what might come out of their basement in round two. Not only is this South Carolina’s first whiskey distillery established since prohibition, but it might just put the state on the bourbon trail one day. As far as I am concerned, it is just another great reason to visit Greenville and participate in one of America’s oldest traditions, makin’ whiskey.
Next time you are driving near Greenville, perhaps on a long drive to Atlanta or Central Florida, be sure to stop in for a tasting at Dark Corner Distillery. You will love their collection of outlaw memorabilia and their fully functioning copper pot still that they operate right there in the store. It is a stop worth taking, even if you end up spending an extra night in Greenville!