“All artists are equal when they are themselves.” – Federico Fellini
Comparing things is simply what we do as human beings. In the whiskey world, we often have spirited debates about the merits of one brand versus another. Though they’re at times productive, and at others ultimately futile, the desire to compare and contrast isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
One realm where comparison seems to run the most rampant is in comparing up-and-coming whiskey brands. We seem to be at the stage in the bourbon boom where fans are thirsty to see the newcomers supplant legacy distilleries who have lost the plot on pricing or availability.
While craft distilleries tend to be more exorbitantly priced (being that they don’t have the economies of scale on their side) and more restrictively available than their legacy counterparts, there’s a great deal of high-quality whiskey to be found in the space, and many folks take pleasure in identifying that next up-and-comer to keep an eye on. Today we’ll have our sights aimed at one such distillery to watch as we review their flagship offering: High Wire Distilling’s Jimmy Red Bourbon.
Rather than chasing a trend, High Wire Distilling’s founders Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall decided to let the grains be their guide. It was Ann’s idea for them to open a distillery in their hometown of Charleston, South Carolina which was inundated with craft breweries at the time. Being the city’s first distillery would prove to be enough to make them stand out locally, but how do you capture whiskey fans across the country? For that, they looked across South Carolina’s agricultural landscape and were introduced to an esoteric corn varietal on the brink of extinction: Jimmy Red corn.
For their part, they say, “Our flagship spirit…is made from 100% Jimmy Red corn, a magenta-hued landrace grain grown for decades on James Island and nearly lost forever. For 9 years, we’ve worked with a team of researchers and farmers to rebuild a secure seed supply for the most flavorful whiskey corn we’ve ever tasted.”
In helping to restore the crop’s prominence among local agriculture – growing stock from what were the last two remaining cobs – they’ve also managed to build a brand capable of capturing the attention of a national audience. I first became aware of Jimmy Red bourbon in 2022 thanks to Jack Rose’s famous Premier Drams event, wherein dozens of whiskey brands descend on D.C. to showcase some of their finest spirits. At the time I asked Jack Rose’s proprietor Bill Thomas “What craft distillery are you most excited to feature?” and the first brand on his short list was High Wire Distilling.
Focusing on the raw local ingredients means that High Wire Distilling mills all of their grains in-house as an added step to ensure quality. As co-founder Scott Blackwell knows – thanks to his successful culinary background – high-quality ingredients going in make for a high-quality product coming out. High Wire Distilling also utilizes a more labor-intensive sweet mash process, pot still distillation, and a lower barrel entry proof between 109 and 110 in the pursuit of optimized flavor. All three steps are less efficient, but many distillers tend to agree that they result in a more flavorful whiskey.
When I reached out to Scott and asked him to tell me a little bit more about their flagship product he said, “We have been growing and working with the corn since 2014 and fell in love with the complexity that it brings. Thus, the single-grain mashbill. We were introduced to Jimmy Red in early 2014 by Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills. He entrusted us with the original seed that we used to grow our first two acres. This year we grew over 450 acres with our four farm partners. Needless to say, we are committed to this corn!”
So then, it’s easy to see that High Wire Distilling is banking on being unique by being themselves and the early returns are positive. Let’s touch on the remaining specs before we dive into the review, shall we? Jimmy Red Straight Bourbon Whiskey is technically also a corn whiskey in that it’s made from 100% Jimmy Red corn. Bottled at 94 proof (47% ABV) and carrying an MSRP of $80 Jimmy Red bourbon comes in an eye-catching old-timey bottle that features a picture of its namesake grain front and center. As a final note, the bottle I’ll be reviewing today was provided at no cost by the brand, but I will be judging the whiskey within as though I paid $80 for it myself.
Jimmy Red Bourbon – Review
Color: Honeyed auburn
On the nose: Initially grain-forward, with Jimmy Red Corn taking the lead and holding it. Soon it becomes mineral-like with nutty and sweet accents arising along with spiced orange peel and cinnamon bark billowing out of the glass enticingly. After a few swirls the nose becomes notably brioche-like, with a bit of star anise in the background. All in all, it has a pretty robust bouquet of aromas for such a modest proof point.
In the mouth: The palate is rich and oily, with all of the above notes finding their way to the tastebuds with the addition of brown sugar and vanilla pod. The medium-long finish leaves you sucking your molars savoring the flavor long after finishing each sip. Honey rises in prominence with repeat sips and of all the nosing notes it’s the brioche that stands out most prominently on the palate. There’s also a welcome helping of butterscotch and golden delicious apples to be found on each sip. This is simply delightful.
While it does reveal its relative youth at times, Jimmy Red Bourbon also quickly overcomes the limitations of its age thanks to its impressively mature mouthfeel, lush arrangement of flavors, and lengthy finish. I really believe this will be an incredible whiskey and brand to watch moving forward. Jimmy Red Bourbon represents one of the few times a young whiskey is “promising,” with every indication that it will fulfill said promise sooner than later. Enjoy it now, but watch this space for more as High Wire’s whiskey gains a bit of age.