By Brandi Perry
Situated on a curvy road in north Mississippi, between Taylor and Oxford, sits an unassuming building that blends perfectly with the nature that surrounds it. Unbeknownst to most passersby on Old Taylor Road, the building is home to just one of the three rice-based gin houses in the world. There are only two more the owners are aware of anywhere in the world, and they are both located in Japan.
The three co-founders, Thomas Alexander, Chand Hawlow and Robert Forster, all had ties to the north end of the state in some way. They knew that Mississippi was already famous for the blues, catfish and other amazing products and history that help sell the Magnolia State to the rest of the world. They were certain that with a little dedication and hard work, Wonderbird Spirits could also put Mississippi on the map with their gin. All three shared the vision that they wanted to create something that came from the state.
This grain-to-glass operation starts with a base alcohol made from Mississippi Delta rice. The team of three tried multiple agricultural products, including sweet potatoes and corn, before finally settling on rice that is grown just a little over an hour away from Taylor. The end goal was to make the best gin they could by using Mississippi products. It is safe to say they did a tremendous job of just that.
Every part of this unique product is made on site. The rice is brought in and fermented in a Saki method to make the alcohol that is used in their gin. Their gin begins as a grain mash. The mash is mixed with koji mold spores and fermented for five to 10 days. It is then moved for distilling. The spores produce enzymes that help during the fermentation process. They even grow them on-site at the Wonderbird distillery for easy access and to ensure that they have the quality and quantity needed.
Wonderbird does not purchase any of the alcohol that goes in their gin. They take the base spirit and distill all 10 botanicals individually in single micro distillations because it allows them to create a more layered flavor in the gin instead of adding all the botanicals at one time. Two of the botanicals, red clover tops and pine needles, are foraged from the woods surrounding their gin house. When the gentleman initially bought the property, they met with a forager to find all the edible plants on their property and tell them in which season they were available. Using botanicals in the layered method makes their gin very distinctive, and it stands out among the rest because of its flavor profiles.
The mash is distilled three times to create each botanical, which gives the gin its flavor and aromas. The first run through the still extracts the alcohol from the mash in what is known as a “stripping run,” and then it is run through again in a “spirit run.” The spirit run creates the base spirit for the gin. Finally, the third run through the still distills the alcohol through botanicals. Those botanicals are later blended to create the gin that gets bottled and sold to consumers.
They developed around 80 different recipes before finally landing on recipe number 61. That is why you will see “61” on the Wonderbird bottle. The result is a smooth, floral gin featuring an Italian variety of juniper, fresh Meyer lemon peel and peppercorns, among other botanicals, the marriage of an array of flavors that sits perfectly on the tongue as it inches its way to the back of your throat.
Wonderbird Spirits started it in 2017, but the first year was dedicated to just building the distillery. The stunning gin house is airy and inviting and has a bar and lounge area. From the bar and lounge, visitors can look over the production area and the next batch of gin. The second year of the process was planning, branding, packaging and testing the gin until they had exactly what they wanted. In 2019, they finally opened their doors in the spring.
When Wonderbird Spirits are taken into bars and restaurants for tastings, the owners of these establishments are usually shocked that this product is being produced literally in the middle of nowhere in north Mississippi. Even though people that taste it are astonished that it comes from the Magnolia State, it should be somewhat expected due to the flavorful botanicals and agricultural products that have made our state famous.
The gin is not created in the easiest or the fastest way available. The method they use is the longest and hardest way to process gin, but that is because if you take shortcuts, it is tasted in the end product. Wonderbird thrives on being a commitment to quality and consistency.
If you live in Mississippi, Alabama, California, Florida, Louisiana or Tennessee, Wonderbird Spirits can be found in your local liquor stores and at your local bars. However, if you live in a state that allows you to order alcohol online, you are in luck as well! Check out shop.wonderbirdspirits.com or seelbachs.com to order this smooth, flavorful gin. You will need at least a bottle or two on hand for the holidays as you prepare your favorite gin cocktail. “Enjoy it slow and often! This is one of those gins you can sip on as you sit around with friends,” says Forster.
Wonderbird Sprits currently has several award-winning gin recipes. Their flagship product, Gin No.61, won a gold medal at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The No. 97 Magnolia Experimental Gin won the 2021 gold medal at the San Francisco event. The Cask Finished Gin, which is Wonderbird’s first aged product, is especially unique. The No. 61 gin is aged in a bourbon cask for 75 days to create a gin more than complex than any other, complete with notes of vanilla and spice.
Wonderbird Spirits is a place you must visit and hear the wonderful and colorful history for yourself. They are open for tours and tastings, but they are by appointment only. Please contact them at least 24 hours in advance of when you want to come. They are located at 618 County Road 303 (Old Taylor Road), in Taylor, Mississippi. Their email address is email@example.com and a good phone number for them is (662) 205-0779. Before you go, check out their website at wonderbirdspirits.com, and their social media pages, Facebook and Instagram.
Wonderbird Spirits has definitely found its way on the map not only in Mississippi but in the gin-making world, and this is too interesting of a product and story to not experience first-hand!
Classic Gin Fizz Recipe from ACoupleofCooks.com Materials needed:
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) Wonderbird Spirits Gin No.61 (or any other gin from Wonderbird)
¾ ounce (1 ½ tablespoons) lemon juice
½ ounce (1 tablespoon) simple syrup or maple syrup
1 egg white
Garnish with lemon twist (optional)
Place the gin, lemon juice, syrup and egg white in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds.
Fill the shaker with ice and shake for 30 seconds until cold.
Strain the drink into a glass and top with the soda water; the egg white foam forms on top. If desired, garnish with a lemon twist. Serve immediately.