Distilling the South, A Guide to Southern Craft Liquors

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Distilling the South, A Guide to Southern Craft Liquors by Kathleen Purvis, UNC Press 2018, cloth $30.00, 208 pages

Well, between Scotch and nothin’, I suppose I’d take Scotch. It’s the nearest thing to moonshine I can find. 

William Faulkner

The distillers in this book are making liquors that are far more sophisticated than moonshine, but like moonshine, are anchored in their place.

Kathleen Purvis, author and food editor at the Charlotte Observer, begins with a quick history of Southern distilling traditions, beginning with the Scots-Irish settlers who adapted their tradition of barley brewing to American corn.

After a reminders of what the Whiskey Rebellion was all about–taxation–and a nod to the skills of enslaved distillers, Purvis hits the road, crafting six tours through 11 Southern states.

In each place she fits a puzzle piece of local laws. In Florida, there seems to be a constantly changing limit on the number of bottles you can buy from a distiller. In Virginia, a two-level ABC system relies on a board of 10 people who approve every spirit stocked on retail shelves. In South Carolina, be alert to the state’s “blue laws” that limit Sunday liquor sales in ten counties.

But she also finds the stories and flavors that make visiting the distilleries worthwhile, whether through spectacular Shenandoah scenery or ferreting your way though an industrial park. Some communities have embraced local distilling. In Lexington, Kentucky, the Distilling District of old industrial buildings is active with restaurants, entertainment, and bars. Others, like Richland, Georgia are hoping distilling will revive a dying farm town.

Purvis doesn’t get into judging flavors. As she writes, “…in alcohol, quality is in the palate of the taster…”. And there are plenty of flavors to evaluate–apple pie moonshine, tangerine brandy, red or green absinthes–along with the traditional like silver and golden rums, and aged whiskeys.

The book is designed for you to undertake your own evaluations, highlighting distillers and their stories in each state, but also with a list of even more distilleries that might be closer to your home. She also provides some tasting advice–unlike wine tasting, there’s no spitting. Purvis suggests an initial inhale, attentive sipping, and swallowing to get the liquor’s full flavor.

There are a few recipes here as well. Not for someone like me, who never baked a cake that couldn’t be improved with a tot of brandy, but for real connoisseurs who appreciate the bartender’s art of mixing. Some drinks are as simple as a Charleston Storm Warning–spiced rum, ginger beer and a lime wedge. Others, like the Revolver, are more nuanced combinations of whiskey, fig bitters, and coffee liqueur.

But whether you’re sipping solo or ladling punch, quality counts. So clear a space in the trunk, turn on the GPS, and hit the road.



About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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