By Debbie Shocair
American Craft distilling’s spirit seems to come up with new twists, methods and gimmicks, so it is both fascinating and amusing that a former prison 20 minutes northeast of Charlotte, NC has been rehabilitated and reborn as the home of Southern Grace Distilleries. Thus their Conviction Bourbon is touted as “the first bourbon to ever be (legally) aged behind bars.
The brick and mortar facility operated as a prison/work camp from 1929 until 2011. I must admit, it makes for some wonderful PR. A visit to Southern Grace combines a distillery tour with a peek at a historic prison.
Using a simple, two-grain mash bill of 88% corn and 12% malted barley,* Southern Grace has matured the bourbon in small barrels, 10- and 15-gallons, after which they bottle at cask strength. According to Leanne Powell at Southern Grace, the bourbon has been aged between 7.5 and 9.2 months. She said that some of the whiskey was just right at 7.2 months, while the rest hit the sweet spot a few weeks later. Most bottles are in the 100 proof range, with all of the particulars hand-written on the label. The bottle I had was 97.36° and was aged 8 months.
I must say, that while what is actually inside the bottle is what counts most for my reviews, I am always amused by creative labeling. Southern Grace has used a square bottle with a delightfully tactile label. The texture on the label is reminiscent of a fine burlap and wraps around three sides. It was a very enjoyable sensory accompanyment with each pour.
On the nose, this young bourbon was full of raw oak, vanilla fudge and chocolate covered cherries. It was, on the whole, very candy-ish, and a lovely ensemble of aromas for any whiskey, but especially for one with only 8 months in the barrel.
Breaking it with ½ teaspoon of water brought out some caramel in the chocolate tones as well as some very low grassy notes.
The mouthfeel was bold, at the roof of the mouth and front of the tongue. The finish was of leather and coffee. And more coffee, with dark burnt sugar and bundt coffee cake. It was an unusual finish and fairly long.
This young bourbon, straight out of “Whiskey Prison,” is a very nice sipper, and would be great as an after-dinner dessert whiskey, in a cocktail, or even in a wintery-day Hot Toddy.
Conviction Bourbon is available in North and South Carolina, DC, and online (where legal to ship) for around $36.
* Editor’s Note: The reason this is bourbon and not aged corn whiskey is the barrel stock. Using new white oak makes it bourbon; using anything else makes it corn whiskey.