Southern Grace Distilleries is a relatively new craft distillery housed in a former North Carolina prison. That’s right. A prison. In late 2016 the distillery released its first small batch bourbon, appropriately named Conviction. The whiskey is made from a mash of 88% corn and 12% malted barley. It’s bottled at cask strength after aging for less than a year in former jail cells at what has come to be known as “Whiskey Prison.” According to the website, Conviction is the first bourbon to ever be (legally) aged behind bars, and while that doesn’t exactly conjure images of quality or fine flavor, we were actually surprised with the final product.
On the nose, Conviction shows the expected dose of cereal notes, but they’re baked and caramelized, not raw or grassy as can often be the case in a young spirit. There’s a pleasant caramel corn sweetness, as well, along with lighter aromas of apple and molasses. The body is sizable given its youth, and it offers a surprising richness of flavor. Again, there are initial grain notes that suggest this whiskey may have escaped from prison too soon, but they evolve quickly into toffee, caramel, baking chocolate, and cola with vanilla frosting and a sprinkling of spice cabinet on a medium-length finish. One of the secrets here, I suspect, is Conviction’s low proof at barrel entry (100 proof) which gives this whiskey a good concentration of flavors for its youth and a very approachable heat, even at cask strength.
In the increasingly crowded world of craft whiskey, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out even with a quality product like Conviction Small Batch Bourbon. I wish I could say that whiskey distilled in a former prison is the pinnacle of gimmick in the world of craft distilling. But I’m sure it’s just the beginning.
B+ / $36 / southerngracedistilleries.com