A Taste of Place: Whiskey as Food

Ann Marshall holds cobs of Jimmy Red corn to be distilled into whiskey.

When most people sit down to enjoy a pour of whiskey, they aren’t thinking about where the grain that it is made with comes from, nor do they think much about how it’s produced agriculturally.

Harvesting Jimmy Red corn at the Clemson experimental station in Charleston, SC. Photos by Peter Frank Edwards.

Though spirits are distilled from wheat, potatoes, rice, and even quinoa, many don’t view the end result as an agricultural product. The discussion about composition of whiskey’s mashbill is usually where the conversation about the grain begins and ends, creating a disconnect between the way in which we perceive the food on our plates and the alcohol in our snifters. When we do start to engage with this aspect of spirits in a meaningful way, however, we can start to notice their terroir. Reporter-producer Shanna Farrell explores how whiskey can have a sense of place, as seen through High Wire Distilling Company’s use of landrace grains in their spirit production.

Ann Marshall harvests Jimmy Red corn at the Clemson experimental station in Charleston, SC.

Husband and wife duo Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall founded High Wire Distilling in Charleston in 2013, the first distillery in South Carolina since Prohibition. Their mission is to source the best possible ingredients to make small batch spirits. They work with the farm community, as well as with Anson Mills, to source the raw materials for their product. This is true of their Jimmy Red Bourbon, which has a terroir unique to the three farms on which it is grown. Their work in using landrace grains grown locally is a great example of the strong connection between spirit production and agriculture.

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To learn more:

High Wire Distilling

Anson Mills

Clemson University Research Farms

Thanks to Ann Marshall, Scott Blackwell, Glenn Roberts, Jimmy Hagood, and Peter Frank Edwards. 

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Shanna Farrell works at UC-Berkeley’s Oral History Center. She is the author of Bay Area Cocktails: A History of Culture, Community and Craft. Her writing has appeared in PUNCH, Distilled Stories, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Edible San FranciscoShe is the co-host of the Prix Fixe podcast, a new show about the intersection of food and drink.