Made in the South Awards

2015 Drinks Category

Three Lowcountry restaurant veterans are taking soft drinks back to their natural—and Southern—roots

Photo: Tara Donne

Drink Category Winner

Cannonborough Beverage Co.
Product: Soda
Made in: Charleston, SC
Est.: 2012

Many a soft drink has come of age below the Mason-Dixon Line: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Mountain Dew. Not to mention regional favorites such as Cheerwine and Ale-8-One. But these days, even the little guys tend to forgo fresh ingredients for concentrates and artificial flavorings from who knows where. That’s a shame, says Cannonborough Beverage cofounder Mick Matricciano. “My partners and I all worked in restaurants, and we saw great wine, beer, cocktails, and food,” he says. “Soda used to be an interesting thing, but it has gone downhill.” They set out to bring it back to its more wholesome Southern roots, working with area farms and developing a rainbow of fresh flavors such as honey basil, strawberry jalapeño, and raspberry mint. Growlers of the stuff quickly became favorites at local farmers’ markets, and after three years of trial and error, their creations are now available in shelf-stable bottled versions that taste like soda might have a century ago. With a bit of luck, they could be the next big star on the soft drinks aisle. For now, though, they’re available online, at restaurants, and at specialty shops. “People don’t always understand the work that goes into our sodas,” Matricciano says, “but once they do, I think they appreciate it.”

Price: $10 for a 750-ml bottle

Drink Category: Runners-Up

Swift Distillery
Product: Single-malt whiskey
Made in: Dripping Springs, TX
Est.: 2012

Texans have always done things their own way. So it’s no surprise that a couple of dyed-in-the-wool natives decided to focus on a different kind of whiskey than the small-batch bourbons and ryes cropping up all over: Scotch-style single malt, made using imported barley and mineral-enriched water. Nick and Amanda Swift fell in love with the singular spirit on trips to Scotland before deciding to try a Lone Star version. Turns out the climate works to their advantage. Hot days and cool evenings make the bourbon barrels where the whiskey sleeps expand and contract more quickly, rendering a sippable spirit that will surprise Scotch drinkers with its smoothness. Drink it straight in the winter, Amanda suggests, and with a splash of cold water in the summer. “That, and a cube of ice. It gets hot down here.”

Price: $55

Product: Cold-pressed juices
Made in: Palmetto, GA
Est.: 2014

Plenty of Southerners love to eat collard greens. But drink them? That’s likely to raise a few eyebrows. Still, says Kelley Sibley, who started juicing everything from greens to fennel to apples and carrots after a health scare, they make a surprisingly delicious elixir. The cold-pressed organic offerings on her mail-order menu change depending on the season and what’s available at nearby farms, but there are a few mainstays. A sunrise-orange concoction fortified with sweet potatoes, carrots, and cinnamon is a perennial favorite (imagine sweet potato pie, only liquid and with more vitamins), as is a lemon ginger tonic helpful for kicking winter colds. “People think I add special ingredients to my juices to make them so potent,” Sibley says. “I don’t. I just give the juices to you when they’re fresh.”

Price: $8.50–$10

Early Mountain
Product: Rosé
Made in: Madison, VA
Est.: 2012

America Online cofounder Steve Case knows when to join an up-and-coming movement. Nowadays, the technology pioneer and his wife, Jean (a former AOL executive), are not only successful investors but also the owners of Early Mountain Vineyards, as well as passionate advocates for the increasingly popular—and increasingly impressive—wines of Virginia, their adopted home state. “We’re looking for ways to push the industry forward,” says Early Mountain’s general manager, Dave Kostelnik, who’s also a veteran of the tech industry. One of the label’s major contributions is a crisp rosé made with young merlot grapes that thrive in one particular corner of the vineyard. With a delicate, lightly acidic body, it pairs well with everything from fried chicken to cocktail shrimp to charcuterie and cheese.

Price: $22