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Legal Mississippi-made bourbon becomes a reality

Rich started making corn whiskey 18 months ago, and put some of it in barrels to age and become bourbon.

By JACK WEATHERLY

Soon, bourbon fans will be able to sip the first whiskey made legally in Mississippi since 1908.

That’s when the state anticipated by some 10 years the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by banning the making and sale of alcohol in the Magnolia State.

But Mississippi jumped on the prohibition band wagon. It was the first state to ratify the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That happened on Jan. 8, 1918.

The amendment was repealed in 1933.

Mississippi, stubbornly held onto its abstinence position, becoming the last state to ratify the 21st amendment, in 1966.

Fifty years later, an Ole Miss graduate and young mechanical engineer shifted careers from aerospace to whiskey making.

Starting around Dec. 1, David Rich will be offering in Mississippi liquor stores bourbon made at his Canton distillery.

Which is not to say that Mississippi has been totally remiss in the craft distillery trend, which had more than 1,500 distilleries as of August, according to the American Craft Spirits Association.

Rich Grain Distillery is the third legal distillery opened in Mississippi in the past decade.

Jackson-based Cathead Distillery sells vodkas, gin and a liqueur, but plans to release it first bourbon next summer, said Richard Patrick, who co-founded the business with Austin Evans about nine years ago.

Patrick said the distiller thus far has 600, 53-gallon barrels of high-rye-content bourbon that has been “aging gracefully” for several years, some of it since 2011, Patrick said.

The Crittenden Distillery in Kiln close to making and marketing whiskey, Rich says. Efforts to contract the distillery for this article were not successful. 

Charboneau Distillery in Natchez started producing rum three years ago.

Rich Grain Distillery started producing corn liquor nearly 18 months ago. Some of it was set aside to start aging in oaken barrels.

He said he used small barrels to speed up the process, without hurting quality.

Ray Isle, executive wine editor of Wine and Food magazine, agrees with Rich about the quality.

Isle, recently visited all 50 states and selected one distillery or brewery in each state and said in an article that “distiller Dave Rich makes some of the best spirits we’ve tasted lately. Sign up for one of the regular Saturday tours, then sample his superb caramel-tinged bourbon.”

Rich said he does not see other Mississippi craft distilleries as competitors.

Patrick said whiskey-making is a matter of taste, whether the small-barrel approach by Rich or the big-barrel method he prefers.

It’s really us against the world,” Rich said. “We’re not competing against each other; we’re competing against the big guys.”

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