Drinks

Spirits with a Drawl

South Carolina's High Wire Distilling makes unique Southern spirits

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When spirits producers describe their whiskey as "biscuit-y," usually they're referencing a malty, cookie-like quality. That's not the case at South Carolina's High Wire Distilling.

"We're talking Southern biscuits, like buttermilk biscuits," head distiller Scott Blackwell says of his "biscuit whiskey." Well, of course we are. Everything at this unique Charleston distillery carries a distinct Southern terroir.

That whiskey, as yet unnamed but due to launch later this month, is a four-grain whiskey that includes Carolina Gold as one of the grains. Another whiskey project: Deep amber Sorghum Whiskey, distilled from sorghum grown on a Mennonite farm in central Tennessee.

"I didn't want to make another dry gin or bourbon from bulk grain," explains Blackwell, who runs the distillery with wife Ann Marshall. "That becomes very vanilla for us ingredient-wise." Blackwell knows his grain: Before starting High Wire, he founded an organic bakery called Immaculate Baking Company, which he later sold to General Mills.

Behind the scenes at the distillery

Adds Marshall: "The bedrock of our philosophy is to bring the flavors of these little-known, nearly lost grains to the forefront." Indeed, she describes their approach as "grain-forward," compared to more traditional spirits, where flavors from the barrel can outshine the grain.

Of course, not all of their spirits are made strictly from grains.

Consider, for example, their take on rhum agricole, made from locally grown sugar cane. Although it can't legally be labeled as rhum, it's made similarly: from pressed cane juice rather than molasses.

It's made using blue ribbon sugar cane, which yields more flavor but less sugar than white sugar cane. The cane is pressed by hand and fermented within two hours of juicing. The final product, which Blackwell describes as fruity, funky, earthy and rich, "is probably the most delicious thing we've ever made," he raves. Justin Coleman, general manager of Charleston restaurant The Ordinary agrees: He snapped up several bottles to keep behind the bar.

Another experiment on the way: watermelon brandy, made by painstakingly juicing heirloom Bradford watermelons. "I don't think anyone has made it—at least not legally—in this century," Marshall says. "We think it will have a delicate flavor," she adds. As an exceedingly small batch—150 bottles or less—this will be a taste hard to come by but one worth seeking out.

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Right now, the best bet for those outside the Charleston area seeking a Southern sip is to contact Washington D.C.'s Cordial Fine Wine and Spirits. A handful of New York-based distributors also are expected to carry High Wire in coming months, broadening distribution nationwide.

In the meantime, the Southern-accented experiments will continue. "We think it's something worth doing," Blackwell concludes. "We'll stub our toe along the way, and all of our ideas may not turn out as we would like but so far, so good."

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