Made in the South Awards

2014 Drinks Category

Dixon Dedman is resurrecting his family’s distillery one easy-sipping bottle of bourbon at a time

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Drink Winner

Kentucky Owl
Product: Bourbon
Made in: Bardstown, KY
Est. 2008

“My grandfather used to tell us that if he ever won the lottery, he’d do two things,” Dixon Dedman says. “First, he’d buy a limousine. And then he’d start the whiskey business back up.” Dedman’s relatives have been spinning stories about the family distillery since 1916, when state authorities shut the original Kentucky Owl down in a fit of pre-Prohibition puritanism. The fifth-generation innkeeper already had his hands full eight years ago when, at the dawn of the whiskey renaissance, a friend suggested that the time might be right to revive the distillery. But the idea stuck with him, and now the family brand is blazing its way back into liquor stores with a powerful barrel proof bourbon swaddled in velvety layers of fruit and cinnamon. Kentucky Owl’s small first release is a blend of whiskeys aged in barrels charred to all five standard levels, meaning that it marries toasted oak with more aggressive notes of thoroughly blackened wood. And because it’s balanced, the bourbon is easy to sip straight, without mixers or even ice. “You can’t hide anything when you bottle your whiskey at barrel proof,” says Dedman, who still runs a hotel by day. “It says ‘Dedman’ on that label, and we have no interest in putting anything in the bottle that is not of the utmost quality.”

Price: $175

Drink Category Runners-Up

Argus Cidery
Product: Tepache
Made in: Austin, TX
Est. 2010

Thirty-year-old Wes Mickel is an apple cider prodigy of sorts, with half a dozen small-batch releases to his name. But when three years of bad harvests interfered with his juice supply, he decided to venture into uncharted territory. Brewed from pineapple scraps, tepache has a reputation as a subsistence wine, typically viewed as a notch above prison hooch. In Mickel’s hands, however, it’s something else entirely. His matures in two months, rather than the traditional four or five days. It’s a rich, electric concoction with a razor-sharp, lightly saline bite and, like many of his ciders, a streak of wild yeast funk. “People love it or hate it,” Mickel says. “But that’s part of the fun.” He suggests that fans of lighter, fruitier beers and wines pour it over ice, add a touch of agave nectar, and let it dilute slightly before sipping.

Price: $12

Fullsteam Brewery
Product: Cack-a-lacky Ginger Pale Ale
Made in: Durham, NC
Est. 2010

Fullsteam produces some of the South’s most creative beers, although you might not know that thanks to the brewery’s so-far limited availability. Slowly, though, it’s filtering out to the masses, with plans to expand distribution beyond the Carolinas in 2015, and a first-ever canned release: Cack-a-lacky, produced in collaboration with the North Carolina hot sauce company of the same name. “We didn’t want to make it gimmicky and put hot sauce in it,” says Fullsteam founder Sean Lilly Wilson. “We did want to make something that was lively, fun, and distinctive.” The solution: ginger, which gives the pale ale a zip that nods to the cultishly adored South Carolina soft drink Blenheim ginger ale. “We like collaborating with all sorts of like-minded people,” Wilson says, “people who get our love of the South, and of community.”

Price: $12 a six-pack

Thibaut-Janisson Winery
Product: Blanc de Chardonnay
Made in: Charlottesville, VA
Est. 2005

Virginia and northern France are not all that different, says Claude Thibaut, who learned how to make wine in his native Champagne region before leaving home to work in Australia, California, and now the Old Dominion. “People in France are always surprised by the quality of the wine we are able to produce here,” Thibaut says. “But Virginia is very much like where I’m from. When you look at the map, the latitude, the terroir, it’s no real surprise.” His flagship release with fellow winemaking veteran Manuel Janisson, who still lives in Champagne, was served at President Barack Obama’s first state dinner, and has since spread to restaurants across the nation’s capital. For good reason: The wine is crisp and refreshing, with a bracing tinge of citrus and small, elegant bubbles.

Price: $30