By Alyssa Schnugg
Mississippi’s first grain-to-glass gin distillery, Wonderbird Spirits, was recently named by “Garden & Gun” magazine as this year’s Made in the South Overall Winner for its No. 97 Magnolia Experimental gin.
Wonderbird Spirits is the recipient of a $10,000 cash prize and a prominent feature in the magazine’s December 2021/January 2022 issue, on newsstands Wednesday, November 16.
Wonderbird also took the top award in the Drink category.
Co-owners Chand Harlow, Rob Forster and Thomas Alexander opened the distillery in 2018 on Old Tayor Road, 5 miles from Oxford’s city limits.
Together the trio developed a true grain-to-glass gin process, creating the distillate from scratch out of a Jasmine variety of rice grown on a family-owned farm in the Mississippi Delta, the only distillery in North America making gin out of rice-based alcohol.
The founders then refined a sake-inspired fermentation process using their in-house cultivated koji, a mold that converts starches to sugars, which yeast then transforms to alcohol.
Wonderbird Spirits’ award-winning No. 97 Magnolia Experimental gin was distilled with a combination of fresh Southern magnolia blossoms, juniper, coriander, black peppercorn and cinchona bark “resulting in a unique gin full of subtle and surprising flavors,” stated “Garden & Gun” in a press release.
Forster said the recognition from “Garden & Gun” magazine means “a great deal” to him and his business partners.
“The array of products under consideration was so varied and so impressive. We’re honored and humbled and excited more than we can say,” he said. “Our Magnolia Experimental Gin (No. 97) is a one-of-a-kind product – hand-made in every respect using rice from the Mississippi Delta and showcasing the unforgettable essence of midsummer Mississippi Magnolia blossoms. It was this uniqueness, and the exceptional quality of the spirit in the bottle, which garnered this award.”
David DiBenedetto, Garden & Gun’s senior vice president and editor in chief, made the announcement last week at a celebratory cocktail party on the rooftop of The Loutrel Hotel in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
DiBenedetto and his team were joined by many of the competition’s winners, finalists and judges.
“We started the Made in the South Awards over a decade ago as a way to recognize the remarkable talent and creativity of artisans, makers, chefs, and designers from across the region, and each year are truly wowed by the entries,” DiBenedetto says. “With our magazine’s 15-year anniversary kicking off next year, we are planning a few new surprises to further highlight the skills and stories of the South’s finest makers with our readers.”
Other winners announced last week:
- Food category: Appalachian Beekeeping Collective Black Locust Honey, made in Lewisburg, West Virginia
- Home category: Humphreys Studio Skye Lamp, made in Austin, Texas
- Style category: Brackish Jewelry, made in Charleston, South Carolina
- Outdoors category: Charles Jobes Decoys’ Dove Decoy, made in Havre de Grace, Maryland
- Crafts category: Appointed Notebooks, made in Washington, D.C.