Made in the South Awards
Meet the Winners of the 2021 Made in the South Awards
A revolutionary rice-based gin, a sleek Texas-inspired floor lamp, rare hand-carved dove decoys, and more honorees highlight the astonishing ingenuity, drive, and sheer skill of the South’s top makers and creatives
Drink & Overall Winner
Taylor, Mississippi | $75; wonderbirdspirits.com
A Deep-Rooted Mississippi Gin
Pride, purpose, and yes, Mississippi magnolia blossoms heighten an exceptional new rice-based gin
By Wayne Curtis
“I was always into food and beverage as a child,” says Chand Harlow, so when the thirty-two-year-old native Mississippian returned home after a stint in finance in New York, he began considering a business in the industry to call his own. Restaurants held little allure for him. (See: “finance.”) But he’d worked with one of the city’s pioneering craft distillers while in New York, and that planted a seed. In 2017, he partnered with two interested friends of friends, Rob Forster and Thomas Alexander, and they started talking about opening a distillery and what they might make.
Whiskey? That made sense, given the nation’s love affair with the brown spirit. But whiskey has to age for years before revenue can flow—again, not an entirely appealing arrangement for someone schooled in economics. Harlow, Forster, and Alexander homed in instead on gin. Harlow, already a gin fan, had noticed that many new whiskey distillers first produce vodka and gin, neither of which requires aging. “They were making gin for cash flow,” he says, “but weren’t making it well.” The three partners decided they would make it, too—but not as an afterthought.
photo: Houston Cofield
They found twenty acres of pastureland about fifteen minutes outside of Oxford, in Taylor, and in 2018 built the distillery Wonderbird and commenced working on recipes. While many makers buy their base spirit elsewhere and then add botanicals to develop their gin, Wonderbird opted to be a true grain-to-glass distillery, creating the distillate from scratch: They wanted what was in the bottle to represent Mississippi.
They experimented. They made alcohol from corn, which was fine but undistinguished. Then they connected with Two Brooks Farm, a family-owned rice farm growing varietals revered by local chefs. The family sent them fifty-pound bags to try out—wild rice, black, red, basmati, and jasmine. Some made interesting base spirits for gin, but the friends fell in love with the jasmine rice.
The trio worked out a sake-inspired fermentation process using their in-house-cultivated koji, a mold that converts starches to sugars, which yeast then transforms to alcohol. They streamlined the sake process, which can take more than three weeks, to a more efficient weeklong method that includes running the sake or “rice beer” twice through a still to bring it to about 93 percent alcohol—a lower proof than that of the neutral spirits typically used in gin. “We backed off a few points because we liked the mouthfeel that comes from the rice, and the hint of floral flavor,” says Harlow, who believes Wonderbird stands as the only American gin that starts with rice, and one of the few outside of Japan that do.
Harlow says he and his partners also appreciated the creative freedom gin affords. The art of gin comes in the selection and distillation of botanicals. As they have developed their offerings, they have sampled juniper and coriander from the world over. They have tried various lemon peels, both dried and fresh, and settled on fresh Meyer lemon peels for their brightness. They hired a forager to help them discover local ingredients on their own property, such as loblolly pine needles and red clover, and distill each botanical individually to achieve the best expression (many gin makers combine botanicals and distill them at once), amassing a “library” of about thirty options for blending, ten of which went into their flagship spirit.
That first gin came out in spring of 2019, before the pandemic upended their plans for travel and promotion. Confined to the distillery, they continued to tinker. Intrigued by the delicate aroma of Mississippi magnolia blossoms, they created their first experimental gin using the blooms, the essence of which they combined with that of juniper, coriander, black peppercorn, and cinchona (a South American bark containing quinine). “The goal was to make an elegant martini gin,” Harlow says. Debuting late last year, their ethereal Magnolia Experimental Gin, full of subtle and surprising flavors, is certainly that, but can be sipped just as pleasingly on its own. Those who try it seem to agree: That first release included just eight hundred bottles, which swiftly sold out. Another release followed this fall. Our advice? If you find it, buy it.
Roanoke, Virginia | $30 for twelve; $58 for twenty-four; roanokecoffee.com
Austin, Texas | $10–$18; lucksprings.com
Single Estate Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mauertown, Virginia | $50; filibusterbourbon.com
Appalachian Beekeeping Collective
Black Locust Honey
Lewisburg, West Virginia | $13–$16; abchoney.org
A Distinctive Appalachian Honey
Stunning forest honeys from a pioneering apiary benefit both landscape
By Wayne Curtis
Altman Farm and Mill
Buttermilk Pancake and Waffle Mix
Evergreen, South Carolina | $6; altmanfarm.com
H3irloom Food Group
Baltimore, Maryland | $33 for a trio; h3irloom.com
In early 2020, David Thomas stepped away from Ida B’s Table, the much-lauded modern soul food restaurant in Baltimore he’d opened with his wife and business partner, Tonya. The couple then set off on a culinary trip to West Africa. They toured Senegambia, meeting chefs, sampling local fare, and expanding their palates. When Thomas returned home, he began crafting sauces drawing on the flavors they’d enjoyed. “I wanted to bring back things that make sense not only to who we are, but to who we serve,” he says. Through their culinary education and catering company, H3irloom Food Group, which they run with partners Linda and Floyd Taliaferro IV of the Maesner Group, the Thomases launched a trio of sauces this past summer, including Sosu, their wonderfully spicy and complex “West African–inspired peppa sauce.” And while Africa may have inspired it, Thomas makes it with local ingredients whenever possible. “In everything we do,” he says, “we want to tell a story.”
Chapel Hill, North Carolina | $20 per pack; ladyedisonpork.com
Austin, Texas | $2,470; humphreys.am
A Striking Texas Floor Lamp
A floor lamp takes cues from the Texas Hill Country
By Caroline Sanders
Growing up in El Campo, Texas, John Humphreys wanted to be a pilot. In high school, his teachers tried to tell him he was a poet. As it turns out, the career path he landed on—designing and building architectural, Lone Star State–inspired furniture and spaces—marries his talents for both the mechanical and the artistic. He founded Humphreys Studio with an eponymous chair adapted from an 1800s South African camp seat. Then, in 2017, his friend and fellow tinkerer Skye Witherspoon approached him with ideas for reimagining the chair’s design as a floor lamp. “We used the same bolts and the same wood,” Humphreys says. “It has the same strong presence.”
The roughly six-foot-tall Skye lamp is anchored by a concrete base and accented by a half-moon shade made of American canvas, but the real star is its post and cantilevered arm, crafted from honey-colored pecan salvaged from a family mill near Humphreys’s Austin studio. “We use all reclaimed wood from trees that have died naturally,” he says. “I’m so hooked on pecan—I make everything out of it.” For Humphreys, the wood’s clean lines contribute to his desired aesthetic: rustic yet modern and effortlessly cool. The lamp fits seamlessly into any room: beside a bookshelf in a mahogany-laden study, above a rocker in an eclectic Tennessee cabin, or right at home over a glass of bourbon on an airy Texas ranch.
Southern Pines, North Carolina | $255–$355; hunterhandmadeus.com
In Mary Knudson’s house, her two Westies, Windsor and Willow, have always been treated like family, so naturally Knudson, a lifelong seamstress, crafted their beds with as much support and comfort as she enjoys herself. “When I moved to North Carolina, my new neighbors would ask me to make drapes, pillows, and duvets,” she says. “As a little thank-you for their business, I started to take the extra fabric and make them a dog bed that coordinated with the room.” Soon, that’s all anyone was asking her for. Working through trial and error with the help of a veterinarian friend and a dog trainer, Knudson landed on a two-layer core made of orthopedic and memory foam, with the option to add an additional layer of blue cooling foam that helps keep pups comfortable in summer heat. Interchangeable covers made with indoor-outdoor fabric from the textile companies Sunbrella and Bella-Dura are all customizable, durable, and—not to be underestimated—machine washable.
Bay Minette, Alabama | $200–$400; chathamknives.bigcartel.com
Despite the hours he spends forging his knives with hammer and anvil, Mike Chatham has gotten used to people thinking he discovered them in an attic somewhere. “I get it,” he says. “The way they’re heat-treated through the forging process and the way they’re pinned is the same way they did it two hundred years ago.” His historical methods include sourcing high-carbon steel, sometimes a century old, from sawmills or the wheel bearings from old Peterbilt tractors. Raw handle materials come from cherry trees on his family’s Mississippi property, Jack Daniel’s whiskey barrels, or local whitetail antlers. He then hand forges the reclaimed steel into an ultrasharp blade, then fixes it to a handle with an ideal heft. “I started making knives because I couldn’t find anything that would hold an edge like I wanted,” Chatham says. “But recently I asked a client if she was enjoying her knife, and she told me she has it on her magnet board and just likes to look at it because it’s so pretty.”
Emily Daws Textiles
Johns Island, South Carolina | From $118; emilydawstextiles.com
When Emily Daws begins designing a new fabric collection, both inspiration and intention are front of mind. She not only draws from walks along the water near her home and studio in Charleston, but she also envisions the fabric’s final destination: layered into curtains in a beachside living room, folded into a Roman shade above a sunny window, or formed into throw pillows for a bed. “My background is in sewing,” Daws says, “so I understand how fabrics can play off of each other.” Her newest collection, Waterways, for instance, includes the Salt Marsh pattern, a simple, meandering S shape that mimics the creeks near her home. She also produces smaller-scale patterns, such as the Estuary. “It’s a take on oyster-shell terrazzo and reads as a texture,” she says. Daws sketches each new pattern by hand, then digitally translates it into a final, repeating configuration before printing it by the yard on Belgian linen in her signature soft blues, grays, greens, and other neutrals.
Washington, D.C. | $24-34; appointed.co
Bold D.C.-Made Notebooks
This line of notebooks and planners celebrates the pleasures of writing by hand
By CJ Lotz
Spoon + Hook
Asheville, North Carolina | $30–$250; spoonandhook.com
A decade ago, Anneliesse Gormley moved from her hometown, Lexington, Kentucky, to Asheville, ready to blaze her own trail—if she could just figure out where to start. “I wanted to try everything, whether it was playing the banjo, becoming a runner, or turning into a bourbon expert,” she says. Then her grandmother visited, carrying a box of heirlooms that included a wooden spoon the family could trace back to their Native American ancestors. “I was beside myself realizing that something functional could be so beautiful,” Gormley says. “I bought a little hook knife and tried carving. It was the first hat I ever put on that fit me well.” Gormley now works with a network of Western North Carolina lumber and salvage yards to find cherry, walnut, and maple, which she carves into casually elegant mixing spoons, serving sets, and coffee scoops. “It has become my life’s joy to work with materials that may otherwise be thrown away,” she says.
Savannah, Georgia | $26; darlinglemon.com
When a young Georgia man wanted to win Ksenia Phillips’s heart, he sketched her a note featuring a few stick-figure doodles. She, a Russian-born artist who studied graphic design in Atlanta, replied with a watercolor of a radish and a carrot, their roots intertwined in the shape of a heart. The pair eventually married, and at their daughter’s baby shower, Phillips received a gentle etiquette lesson from her mother-in-law regarding the Southern art of the thank-you note—an education that led to the creation of Darling Lemon, her cheerful line of stationery. From her home on Skidaway Island, Phillips now makes note cards from her hand-painted scenes of hummingbirds, flowers, blue crabs, and butterflies. Recently, she designed a charming botanical desk calendar as an ode to her favorite houseplants, including a fiddle-leaf fig she’s tended since her Atlanta days. The graceful organic shapes bloom across luxuriously thick paper, which slides into a custom arched stand made by Savannah’s Shibui-Ceramics.
Jules & Vetiver
Charlotte, North Carolina | $24–$114; julesandvetiver.com
“My dad’s a chemist, but I wasn’t good at chemistry growing up—I never knew it could be applied in this way,” says Katrina Sellers, a Charlotte perfumer. Three years ago, she left a corporate marketing job to create her fragrance company, Jules & Vetiver, with the aim of making perfumes with ethically harvested ingredients—blends free of secrecy and vague marketing mumbo jumbo. “All of my fragrances are unisex, with all their ingredients listed, and with simple names—there’s no Rugged Man Saddle or Vanilla Sugar Kitten here,” she says. Take the Hemingway–inspired H813: “I made this with the bare minimum, much like his writing style: tobacco for his pipe and lime for his mojito.” Sellers also offers kits with top, middle, and base notes, so anyone can design their own scent, which Jules & Vetiver will then mix and ship straight to his or her home.
Charleston, South Carolina | $95–$195; brackish.com
Jaw-Dropping South Carolina Jewelry
With an assist from nature, a new jewelry collection takes flight
By Elizabeth Hutchison Hicklin
Everyone from Bill Murray and Don Cheadle to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Cam Newton are fans of Brackish’s signature feather-layered bow ties. And while plenty of women, including Blake Lively and Lena Waithe, have sported the brand’s eye-catching neckwear with aplomb in the decade since Ben Ross and Jeff Plotner cofounded the brand (the ties originated as handmade gifts for Ross’s groomsmen), the pair always imagined a broader line of feathered jewelry inspired by the women in their lives. “Because the collection was going to reflect our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, cousins, nieces—we really wanted to do it right,” Ross says. It took three years of tinkering with prototypes before they were satisfied that the small initial collection of cuffs and earrings met the Brackish standards for quality and style. “All the credit goes to our artisans,” Plotner says.
Two years postlaunch, the jewelry line now includes more than fifty day-to-night designs. Like the company’s original bow ties, the collection showcases the brilliant natural colors and patterns of sustainably sourced pheasant, peacock, partridge, quail, and guinea fowl feathers, among others, but also introduces bright, hand-dyed goose feathers to the mix, allowing the artisans to play with color trends and seasonal runs. “Mother Nature shows us the way,” Ross says, “and we’ve always stayed true to that, but we’re also constantly striving to evolve.” brackish.com
Richmond, Virginia | $225–$235; handleywatches.com
A self-described classic watch enthusiast, Jay Carpenter admits that even he’s owned an Apple Watch. “They’ve gotten my generation into wearing things on their wrists again—and noticing other kinds of watches for the first time,” he says. The renewed interest in analog timepieces sparked Carpenter, who was willing to wager he wasn’t the only one weary of the constant ping and buzz of emails on his wrist. And as an athlete, he envisioned a contemporary chronograph with modern performance capabilities, at an attainable price point. When he couldn’t find it, he set out to make it, debuting Handley Watches in early 2020. Assembled in Richmond, each of Handley’s fifteen unisex styles is water resistant and features a sapphire crystal face, surgical-grade stainless steel, Japanese and Swiss quartz movements, and a lightweight waterproof silicone band.
Miami, Florida | $300–$600; campocollection.com
“I have a passion for sleepwear,” says Cinthia Boni Cordioli, the Brazilian-born, Miami-based founder of Campo Collection, a boutique line of sustainably made luxury sleepwear. “In Brazil, people wear pajamas; they wear nightgowns. You would never go to sleep in a T-shirt.” Supported by decades of experience—Cordioli worked for Marc Jacobs and Giorgio Armani, as well as small Brazilian start-ups and others—Campo Collection eschews seasons and trends to minimize waste, opting instead for timeless, beautifully made garments. “If you invest in a piece from Campo Collection, it’s not going to go out of style,” Cordioli says. “It’s intended to be something you can have for a long time.” The brand’s minimalist nightgowns, robes, caftans, and pajama sets (for men, women, and children) are also chemical-free and produced in small runs using natural fibers such as organic cotton by a team of local seamstresses. They’re also versatile enough to wear beyond the bedroom—to the beach, on the boat, even out to dinner.
Atlanta, Georgia | $200–$485; meganhuntz.com
Poring over dress patterns with her mother taught the clothing designer Megan Huntz a lot about craftsmanship. “My mother made all of my special-occasion dresses until I was about thirteen,” she says. But it was a decade in Italy, where Huntz earned a master’s in fashion design, that taught her about style. “There’s a phrase or saying in Italy, ‘fare la bella figura,’ which translated literally means ‘to make a good figure,’ but it really means to make a good presentation—to be put together and well dressed,” says Huntz, who cites her time in that country as the inspiration for her eponymous line of chic, well-tailored dresses and separates. Centered around sustainability, the collection gets sewn in Atlanta, where low-impact materials such as linen and silk become classic wardrobe staples with multigenerational appeal: pleated pants, shirtdresses, button-downs, and blouses.
Charles Jobes Decoys
Havre de Grace, Maryland | $120; charlesjobesdecoys.com
A Brilliant Dove Decoy
One Chesapeake Bay carver revives the art of the hand-carved dove decoy—just as his father taught him
By T. Edward Nickens
Willy Roberts Boats
Cape Canaveral, Florida | $59,000–$85,000; willyflatsboats.com
The granddaddy of the modern technical poling skiff is still a serious contender on the flats—and a serious head turner. “I tell customers to plan for that,” says Mike Williams, owner of Willy Roberts Boats, with a laugh. “They’ll need an extra half hour when they stop for fuel because people always want to talk about the skiff. When you pull one on the interstate, people are honking, zooming up to get beside you, and flashing okay signs. It’s crazy, but it happens all the time.” That’s easy to understand. The late Willy Roberts designed and built one of the earliest flats skiffs—some say the earliest—in Islamorada in 1959. The company constructs its versions, based on Roberts’s original molds, one at a time using modern composite materials and techniques, and they can include generous swaths of gleaming wood. (How generous depends on your budget.) The Classic 20 handles bigger chop like a bay boat but can be fashioned to float in water six inches skinny.
Nicholas Nichols Knives
Leland, North Carolina | $200–$350; nicholasnicholsknives.com
Mauser Fly Fishing
Swansboro, North Carolina | $695; mauserflyfishing.com
My Wild Ride with Jimmy Buffett
How a chance career opportunity turned into an enduring friendship that ended too soon
Arts & Culture
The Bold and Generous Spirit of Lee Smith
No one has tapped into Southern truths quite like the Virginia-raised author, whose fifteen novels span Appalachia to the Florida Keys. Just ask the legion of writers who praise Smith for guiding their own stories
Arts & Culture
Step into the World of the Carolina Shag
For almost a century, one dance has captured the spirit of the coast and beyond. Follow along with three generations of the Free family as they pivot, belly roll, and boogie walk to keep the tradition alive
The Lasting Power of Larry McMurtry’s Not-So-Secret Texas Truths
In a new book, writers pay homage to his words. Read an exclusive excerpt here
Food & Drink
Six Grilling Tips from Rodney Scott and Bryan Furman
The Southern pitmasters share a few rules of thumb
Arts & Culture
Meet Blackmon Huckabee Jr., Clemson’s Viral TikTok Crooner
A Tiger wide receiver scores big on SportsCenter—with his singing voice