Made in the South Awards

2016 Drinks Category

With Irish roots and North Carolina soul, Ollie Mulligan’s mellow single malt will warm your winter nights

Photo: Whitney Ott

Drinks Category Winner

Product: American single-malt whiskey
Made in: Charlotte, NC
Est.: 2013

Two hundred–some years ago, scores of Scotch-Irish settlers poured into North Carolina on the Great Wagon Road, which ran from Pennsylvania through the Tar Heel State to Georgia. In 1994, a late arrival from Ireland followed suit. “Those settlers are the reason there’s moonshine in Appalachia,” says Ollie Mulligan, who came of age in County Kildare and named his Charlotte distillery after the historic thoroughfare. “I grew up hearing stories about my Irish grandpa’s moonshine,” Mulligan says. “People just did that back then—in Ireland and Appalachia. They made their own butter, cheese, and whiskey, and they shared it with the neighbors.” These days, Mulligan’s more complex Rúa single-malt whiskey is a neighborly endeavor, too: The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, across the street from headquarters, makes the mash. After distillation, Mulligan brings the spirit down to eighty proof with water from cool, clean mountain springs in North Carolina’s Yancey County. “I go up every ten days or so to get it,” he says. The final product is a polished winter warmer with hints of coffee, toasted grain, and dark chocolate. “It’s mellow enough to enjoy straight, with a nice, long finish,” says Made in the South Awards judge Alba Huerta. Now a naturalized American citizen, Mulligan takes pride in making a world-class single malt that could only come from North Carolina. “Next time I go back to Ireland,” he says, “I’m taking some with me.”

Price: $53

Drinks Category Runners-Up

Product: Oyster-infused aquavit
Made in: Richmond, VA
Est.: 2013

Great on the rocks but even better in a Bloody Mary, James River Distillery’s Oster Vit relies on the subtle minerality of oyster shells to even out the robust flavors of aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit traditionally infused with caraway and often fennel, dill, and orange. The shells come from the Chesapeake Bay, via the Rappahannock Oyster Company. Third-generation oysterman Travis Croxton is married to James River Distillery’s Kristi Croxton, who—with partner Jonathan Staples and distiller Dwight Chew—brainstormed the Old Dominion riff after tasting oysters sprinkled with aquavit at Travis’s Richmond restaurant. With only fifty or so shells per batch, this spirit isn’t as salty as it sounds. Kristi recommends using it as a base for cocktails, especially classic drinks that call for gin.

Price: $37

Product: Yaupon holly sweet tea
Made in: Savannah, GA
Est.: 2013

Back in the 1700s, British settlers desperately tried to grow tea in the Lowcountry, but couldn’t see the forest for the trees—well, shrubs. Clearing land for their doomed foreign plants, they cut back acres of native caffeine in the form of yaupon holly bushes. Native Americans in the South drank yaupon holly tea, and it later became a coffee substitute during lean stretches of the Civil War and the Great Depression. After discovering the plant in Georgia’s coastal underbrush, Lou Thomann experimented with picking, roasting, and steeping techniques before releasing this local brew—an infusion of wild-harvested leaves from Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Judiciously enriched with cane sugar, Asi’s “sweet tea” variety is light and refreshing, lacking black tea’s tannic finish.

Price: $3 per bottle

Product: Bloody Mary mix
Made in: Virginia Beach, VA
Est.: 2000

Willard Ashburn knows shellfish. Before he started making cocktail mixers, the Virginia Beach native oversaw a thousand-odd crab pots off the coast. So he thought it made perfect sense to add the ubiquitous local seafood to his morning Bloody Mary. Not everyone agreed—at first. “Some people thought I was crazy,” says Ashburn, whose Crabby Mary blend includes not only Chesapeake Bay crab but also dehydrated East Coast lobster and shrimp. Just one sip, though, convinced the skeptics. “They started asking me, ‘You got any more of that mix?’” he says. Kettle-cooked with tomato juice, hot sauce, horseradish, Worcestershire, and clam juice, the crab breaks down to produce an umami-rich flavor and a texture similar to spicy cocktail sauce—a welcome taste of the coast at Sunday brunch.

Price: $9