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Daringly Delicious at High Wire Distilling

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Scott Blackwell at High Wire Distilling

When Scott Blackwell was a baker, he developed a line of gluten-free products with alternative grains. As the distiller at High Wire, he and his wife Ann Marshall craft Sorghum Whiskey and Four Grain Bourbon. “He has researched so many grains and knows innately their flavor profiles,” said Ann. “He really gets what a grain is going to add to a spirit and he can mix and match and blend accordingly. He has a very sophisticated palate. He can look at a mash bill and already have a feel for what it’s going to taste like.”At High Wire, Scott and Ann distill with specialty grains. “We think about the quality of the ingredient first, or its uniqueness,” said Scott. “Sourcing is an ongoing thing. We’re partnered with some high-end grit makers, so we’re able to source some heirloom, open-pollinated, GMO-free meal from them.”

“We’re not buying GMO corn that you can get for pennies a pound,” said Ann, “which is what most distillers do. We like our product to be pretty consistent, but it doesn’t need to be the same every time. It’s small batch. We’re foraging. They’re not going to be the same year after year. The Jimmy Red corn we grow in 2014 is very different from the Jimmy Red corn in 2015. Maybe there’s 20 more days of rain or 20 more days of drought, and we love that! That’s seasonality. That’s different. Every bottle tells a story because of that.”

Highwire Distilling -- Harvesting Jimmy Red corn at the Clemson experimental station in Charleston, SC

Ann Harvesting Jimmy Red corn at the Clemson experimental station in Charleston, SC

Bemoaning corn that’s traded on the commodities market, or the fact that most consumers don’t realize that their spirits are made with corn that comes from a Monsanto GMO-field, Scott and Ann are committed to helping resurrect heirloom grains. “Corn has been bred away from its nutrients like a lot of vegetables,” said Ann. “It’s being bred toward predictability and yield, and away from flavor.”

“We pay five times more,” added Scott, “because we want the farmer to be incentivized. You’re going to get a lower yield. It’s going to be a little harder. You won’t be able to pour chemicals on the field. As Glenn Roberts at Anson Mills says, ‘If you can get away from using chemical fertilizers, the flavor is so much richer.”

Hence the name Revival for their whiskies. “We are hoping to move more and more towards reviving these heirloom grains,” said Ann, “and doing our part to convert. Maybe it’s ten acres in 2014 and 30 acres in 2015. The whole idea is to take back the land; to do as much as we can as small business owners.”

Working with Jimmy Haygood who grows their corn, Scott and Ann have piqued his curiosity and now he wants to work with them to grow wheat and rye. And as other farmers note his success, hopefully they’ll follow. “If we can work with a small farmer to get him to convert 30 of his 100 acres from commercially grown to naturally grown,” said Ann, “then we feel good about that.”
T. Edward Wines & Spirits, High Wire Distilling, Karen Ulrich for T. Edward Wines
Just last week, High Wire launched their Hat Trick Southern Amaro Liqueur in New York, the end result of Scott’s growing obsession with bitters. Upon realizing that a few drops of bitters can add complexity to any cocktail, most especially a Negroni, Scott started thinking about Amaro, and what goes into it. “I was having a conversation with Brad Thomas Parsons, who wrote Bitters,” said Scott, “and he said, ‘Why don’t you make an Amaro?’ So I started thinking about how that might fit under the umbrella of what we do.”

Taking note of the Yaupon Holly tree that grows in their front yard, whose bitter berries Native American used for cleansing teas, Scott said they started playing around with it to see what it might yield. “We had this reduction of yaupon that’d been steeped and reduced,” said Scott, “and the stuff is syrupy but has this really herbaceous/green tea/floral but bitter flavors. The leaves are foraged. You can’t but this stuff. You roast the leaves, which dries them out and makes a more concentrated tea. And they don’t have Yaupon Holly in Italy,” he continued, “but we do. So it becomes our Amaro. We have Charleston Black Tea, and we use cane syrup that we get from a local guy. We use local mint and fresh dancy tangerine. We’ve been tasting it around, and people are excited about it.”

An amazing southern rendition of Italian Amaro, High Wire Southern Amaro is not only “daringly delicious” but its label really pops off the shelf. “When we were coming up with names for the business, we wanted something that was fun but that evoked the previous turn of the century, the age of industry,” said Scott. “We thought about what else was going on, steam punk and Jules Verne. Then that led to traveling circuses and magic acts with those hand painted canvas posters.” With two different kinds of spirits: botanical gin and whiskey, they chose Hat Trick for the gins and Revival for the whiskey. “The Revival is a throwback to that era, with heirloom seeds and the single source stuff is under the High Wire label,” he added. “People have really gotten it.”

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