- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - Legal whiskey production in the state of Alabama came to a halt in 1915, with the onset of early-era Prohibition — a constitutional ban on the sale, production and importation of alcoholic beverages that was implemented nationwide in 1920. Fast forward 100 years, and Opelika’s John Emerald Distilling Company has released what is believed to be the first legal, Alabama-distilled whiskey in a century.

“It’s the first legal whiskey made in the state of Alabama in 100 years, since Prohibition. Alabama actually instituted prohibition five years before the federal government did and, in fact, they ran out a very prominent distillery - they ran out Jack Daniels,” said John Sharp, co-owner of John Emerald. “Prohibition came along and nobody made a whiskey, basically, until we actually started doing this.”

The reason for such delay in in-state whiskey production, according to Jimmy Sharp, son of John and co-owner of the company, is likely due to the complexity of Alabama’s liquor laws.

“The way the laws are written, it’s written and it’s written over, and over written, and over written, so it’s real difficult to discern for the average person who doesn’t speak legalese to understand you can,” he said. “Initially, we didn’t think we could have it . but actually the head of enforcement for ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) was the guy that told us we could. He actually went and highlighted the laws, and said, ‘Here’s how you do it.’”

The information ABC supplied them, John Sharp said, were laws he and his son had already read, but had misunderstood.

“It was like you had to read this, you had to go over here and read this, and it kind of cryptically said, ‘This is the exception to that,’ and you have to go to G-4 over here to look. And you’re like whoa, eight pages apart from each other, and it was tough to figure out,” said Jimmy Sharp.

Perhaps another reason Alabama distilleries shied away from whiskey production, the Sharps said, is because of the amount of time whiskey takes to distill.

“When they did the Brewery Modernization Act in 2011, that altered the alcohol manufacturers’ license, which affected breweries, distilleries, wineries — anyone who made alcohol of any sort. That made it where you could do a tasting room, which is important for the business models, so you can have a source of income while you’re waiting for your product to get ready. So that was probably part of it, why people hadn’t done it,” Jimmy Sharp said.

Now that Alabama distilleries understand the laws more clearly, the duo said multiple companies have begun the process of producing whiskey. But John Emerald was the first to make an official release, they said, as John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey hit shelves in June.

“We use these small, five-gallon barrels as well as temperature control that helps simulate seasons and gives us a mature product in a short period of time. I believe others here trying in the state are using traditional techniques where they’re just going to have to wait probably a minimum of three years,” said Jimmy Sharp.

It was John Emerald’s use of nontraditional distilling techniques that afforded them the opportunity to make the landmark release.

“Obviously, this had to be in the barrel for a while, so therefore it was the last thing we released. We tried to hold off, but the demand was so great, honestly, that we did kind of a trickle out, kind of like a pre-release,” said John Sharp.

The Sharps had a friend who requested use of their whiskey to make a cooking sauce for an event last spring, Jimmy Sharp said, so in order to legally sell the whiskey, John Emerald had to obtain a product code from ABC. It wasn’t long until other accounts saw the code, and orders started to come in. The distillery decided to start selling, and officially released the first in-store bottles in June.

“People were buying it before we were trying to sell it, basically, which was good. We were happy with it then, but it will also get a lot better,” Jimmy Sharp said. “We’re tweaking it just a little bit, trying to find the longest it can age in five-gallon barrels.”

By percentages, John Sharp said, John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey is the distillery’s best-selling product.

“We’ve released the least of that than anything else, but it sells the quickest. We sell out of it constantly,” he said. “The first four cases sold out in 45 minutes. Of course, there was some anticipation with that.”

Jimmy Sharp added, “We’re releasing it four or five cases at a time and, of course, after that, as long as it took four of five cases to sell out over the next two months was three days. And that’s all out of one store. Now four stores are sharing it throughout the state, and several bars.”

John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey is available in two local ABC stores, at 1199 S. Donahue Drive and 1945 Opelika Road in Auburn. The whiskey is also available in several bars and restaurants in the Opelika-Auburn area, including the Hound, Acre and Amsterdam Café in Auburn and Niffer’s Place and Irish Bred Pub in Opelika.

John Emerald Distilling Company spirits are distributed in 42 stores throughout Alabama and surrounding areas. The distillery’s tasting room, at 706 N. Railroad Ave. in historic downtown Opelika, is open for drinks Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. until midnight. Production facility tours are offered Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.

___

Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, https://www.oanow.com/

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide