Always on the lookout for something new and different, today we’ll be considering a corn whiskey with an interesting backstory.
Perusing a small liquor store on a recent trip to Texas, I noticed this peculiar bottle of corn whiskey. As this is a style that has been covered only in glancing fashion here at MALT, a little education is in order before we pull the cork.
According to the TTB: Corn whiskey is “[w]hiskey produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 80 percent corn and if stored in oak containers stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in used or uncharred new oak containers and not subjected in any manner to treatment with charred wood.”
To summarize: this differs from bourbon in that it needs be a mash bill of 80% corn (compared with 51%) and is matured in uncharred new oak or used oak, rather than the charred new oak stipulated by the bourbon rules.
Let’s move on to something a bit more interesting, shall we?
The Lovell family settled in the mountains of north Georgia since the beginning of the 20th century, originally around the town of Clarkesville, near the delightfully-named Chattahoochee National Forest. Apart from their legitimate agricultural enterprise, the family were also what we might today call “craft distillers,” though at the time they were known as “bootleggers.” Evading the tax men, they set up small sheds in mountain hollows and distilled illicit whiskey based on recipes passed from father to son.
Brothers Carlos and Fred Lovell learned the family trade and were prodigiously successful (if not entirely legal) businessmen, moving 125 cases of hooch a day by 1960. A run-in with the law that year (Fred beat the case, Carlos was convicted) caused the family to cease making whiskey for the next half-century.
Proving you can take the boy out of the hills but you can’t take the hills out of the boy, Fred Lovell caught a wild hare in 2010 and decided to commence distilling again. He tasked his daughter Carlene with acquiring the necessary licenses. Though their old home of Clarkesville didn’t want to host a distillery, nearby Mt. Airy agreed to let the Lovells set up shop. The Ivy Mountain Distillery was there constructed, beginning operations in October 2011.
An illness in 2015 forced then-83 year old Fred to stop distilling. He sold his remaining inventory to Indianola Distilling of Houston, TX. Indianola was started in 2017 by restauranteur Morgan Weber, with consultation from the late Dave Pickerell. I got in touch with Indianola and they have yet to return my email; I’ll reserve this space if they care to weigh in. Nevertheless, it is from Indianola that this beautifully-labeled bottle comes.
The mash bill is comprised of heirloom hickory cane, white dent corn, rye, malted barley, and – surprisingly – malted corn, which was hand-malted by the Lovells. This is distilled from a sour mash in a copper pot still. Currently, distribution is limited to Texas and Georgia.
So, what am I expecting here? Truth be told, I don’t quite know what to expect, save for a very grain-driven experience. I’m most excited to try something that bears more resemblance to the rough-and-ready spirits quaffed by mountain men and women of days gone by.
This is Appalachian corn whiskey, aged 6 years. I procured is bottle 2888 from batch 1. It is bottled at 90 proof (45% ABV). I paid $49 for 750 ml.
Ivy Mountain Appalachian Corn Whiskey – Review
Color: Medium orange-gold
On the nose: Super corny aromatics to start. The nose on this is just bursting with fat and sweet grain notes. Beyond that, there’s some astringent green plant stalk notes, as well as a slightly steely scent. A hint of cayenne pepper and some subtly floral aromas of hand soap round this off.
In the mouth: In contrast to the fulsome nose, this is very thin and brittle tasting. Starts with a bit of watery, vague vanilla-oakiness. There’s waxiness at midpalate, and a fleeting moment of corny richness before this finishes with more metallic and vegetal notes.
A promising olfactory start gave way to a weak, at times unpleasant palate. I loved the plump corniness which, while not the height of complexity, at least spoke to the character of the raw materials. On the palate, however, this toothsome character was lost in favor of some harder-edged notes that showed through the otherwise dilute mouthfeel.
While I’d love to report that I’ve found hidden treasure in the hills of Georgia, the best I can say is that I’ve scratched a curious itch. I’ll be reserving the remainder of this bottle for those cats who are similarly inquiring, but would stop short of recommending that any of you seek this out for yourselves.