John Emerald Distillery: The Spirit in The Spirits
The John Emerald Distilling Company: How it Happened
The Lead Up
Jimmy Sharp, co-owner and founder of the John Emerald Disilling Company along with his father, John Sharp, started off as a Venetian plaster artist. After Jimmy ghost bid an idea for Louis Vuitton, his job was finished, but he soon received a new offer in the speciality plaster business. He and his father, basing out of their garage to begin with, ended up doing decorative plasterwork inside Louis Vuitton stores all across the globe. The job was challenging and obviously involved a lot of travel, but was enjoyable and profitable. That’s up until Jimmy had his daughter Lily. He and his dad wanted Lily to have a fully present dad and grand-dad, and so they turned their entrepreneurial sights to something else.
Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown, Scotland. Photo credit: Whisky.com
As hobby home brewers, Jimmy and John Sharp initially thought they’d open a brewery close to home in Montgomery, Alabama, but soon realized the craft beer market was pretty crowded, and they’d likely do better targeting a different market. A conference and some research later, John and Jimmy were all in on craft distilling, and went to go get educated. First came the whiskey school in Breckinridge, then rum school in Loveland, distilling training in the Siebel Institute of Chicago, and for Jimmy, another distilling course and internship all the way in Campbeltown, Scotland.
Once the Sharps were educated and knowledgeable on distilling, it was time to actually open the distillery they’d been training for. They looked for a suitable place in Montgomery where they lived, but learned pretty quickly that the town wasn’t feeling very craft spirit business-friendly. After some searching and a visit with the mayor, Mayor Gary Fuller, the growing town of Opelika, Alabama was chosen as the new John Emerald Distilling Company headquarters. The company blossomed since, now giving tours and doing tastings, and the distillery adds to the vibrant atmosphere of Opelika.
John Emerald Spirits
Every spirit created by the Sharps at the John Emerald Distilling Company is carefully named after a family member they feel fits the spirit, imbuing their spirits with a sense of history, ancestry, and honor. Their motto is, "We honor their Spirits with the Spirits we create."
The multi-award winning "sweet and smooth" John's Single Malt Alabama Whiskey, made with 100% malted barley and smoked with peach and pecan wood, is named after the namesake of the company, John Emerald Sharp. John Emerald Sharp was the father of John Emerald Distilling Company co-founder John Sharp and grandfather of co-founder Jimmy Sharp, and a man who "lived a life to be proud of, a life of integrity and honor with love for God, his fellow man and his family." John was known to be adventurous, smart, and playful, and worked hard as well as played hard. He grew his father's tobacco and candy business, served in the Army Air Corps, and raised two boys with his wife Sarah. His descendants see his spirit in this single malt whiskey that is adventurous and "brings out the best in life." John Emerald was quite a Scotch lover, and this 43% ABV single malt whiskey was the first legally produced whiskey in Alabama in about 100 years, something that would likely make him proud.
adding "an extra layer of oakiness" to the barrel by dropping in toasted American white oak chips.
The John Emerald's Single Malt Alabama Whiskey can be found online here for only $51.99 with free shipping on purchases over $99.
The John Emerald Purveyor's Series Double Oak Bourbon can be found online here for only $35.99 with free shipping on purchases over $99.
The spicy double wood Purveyor's Series Rye whiskey is aged in American oak barrels, and then a "unique method of finishing is employed, where charred pecan wood chips are added into the barrel, imparting the sweet and spicy rye with additional nutty pecan notes." The result is a 43% ABV rye that has smooth and sweet hints of molasses and finishes with notes of pepper, pecan, and smoke.
The John Emerald Purveyor's Series Double Wood Rye can be found online here for only $35.99 with free shipping on purchases over $99.
Named for Gene Snodgrass, Jimmy's maternal grandfather, this rum "is a crowd favorite much like Gene himself," who was known to be a fun loving guy with an infectious smile," who's "happy side was countered by a straight forward personality." The John Emerald Gene's Spiced Rum is firm and solid at the base with spices mixed in for some fun.
Alabama has very minimal rum history, and John Emerald Distilling Company has yet again made history with the first rum produced in the state since the prohibition. Alabama's sugar cane industry is large, but not geared towards rum specifically; the Sharps did not let that stop them and Gene's Spiced Rum is made from local sugar cane straight from Headland, Alabama. Some other ingredients include evaporated sugar cane juice from Florida, Madagascar grade bourbon vanilla beans, Indonesian cinnamon sticks, star anise from Southern China, and back home with Alabama pecans.
Gene's Spiced Rum has an ABV of 40% and is a dark copper color, with aromas of sweet vanilla, nuts, anise, and a hint of orange. Tasting notes include cinnamon on the front with a more earth-heavy foundation, and the finish is one of spices and slight oak tannins.
The John Emerald Gene's Spiced Rum can be found online here for only $49.99 with free shipping on purchases over $99.
John Emerald's Spurgeon's Barrel Aged Rum is an Alabama sipping run named for the Sharp's relative Spurgeon, or Spurge, described as a "big man with a gruff exterior and a gentle interior. His spirit was bold, feisty, cocky and kind all at the same time." Spurgeon's barrel- aged rum is aged in used single malt whiskey oak barrels for two years, giving it depth and flavor, and making it bold but with a "sweet woody complexity."
Spurgeon's Barrel Aged Rum's ABV is 43%, and it is a bright amber color with a nose of butterscotch and fig. Once the rum reaches the palate, caramel, dried cherries, and crisp apple can be tasted, with a finish of oak tannins and vanilla.
The John Emerald Spurgeon's Barrel Aged Rum can be found online here for only $41.99 with free shipping on purchases over $99.
Sarah's Silver Rum
John Emerald Sharp and his wife, Sarah Sharp, for whom Sarah's Silver Rum is named. Photo Credits: johnemeralddistilling.com blog
Sarah's Silver Rum is made from that same local sugar grown in Headland, Alabama, and named for John Emerald Sharp's wife, aka John Sharp's mother and Jimmy's grandmother. It also includes evaporated sugar cane juice from Florida, evaporated sugar cane juice from Florida.
In line with the John Emerald theme, the 40% ABV Elizabeth Alabama Vodka is something Alabama hasn't seen yet. It is named for Clara Elizabeth, a schoolteacher, described as "a strong woman with a loving heart." Elizabeth Vodka is a crystal clear, award winning corn based vodka, triple filtered and very smooth.
Elizabeth Vodka has "mild aromas of sweet grass and cucumber" and tastes slightly of cream with a medium body. The finish is one of light sea salt and subtle heat.
The John Emerald Elizabeth Vodka can be found online here for only $28.99 with free shipping on purchases over $99.
John Emerald's Hugh Wesley's Gin is, of course, an adventurous, out of the box kind of gin named for Hugh Wesley, an adventurous and out of the box kind of man. Hugh is described as a "wise visionary with a spirit of adventure, a man not afraid to think out of the box."
The 40% ABV gin has botanicals at the front, including wild southern juniper berries used in no other known gin in the world. Other botanicals include anise, orange peel, pecans, and cucumbers. The gin is completely clear, with aromas of cucumber, coriander, and anise. When it hits the palate, anise, juniper, citrus, and pecan can be tasted, and it finishes with notes of pepper and cucumber.
The John Emerald Hugh Wesley's Gin can be found online here for only $37.99 with free shipping on purchases over $99.
This Barrel Rested Gin is "aged to perfection" in spent single malt whiskey barrels, giving flavors of caramel and smoke that perfectly enhance and complement the anise and pecan. Tasting notes include anise, juniper, coriander, pecans, vanilla, and caramel, with the last two coming from that single malt whiskey barrel resting period that lasts an entire 9 months.
The John Emerald Hugh Wesley's Barrel Rested Gin can be found online here for only $41.99 with free shipping on purchases over $99.
The John Emerald 43% ABV Leslie's Muscadine Brandy is named for Leslie Snodgrass, great grandfather of the John Emerald Distilling Company founders. It is made from muscadine grapes that are locally sourced, batch distilled, and aged in used single malt whiskey barrels for 3 years. This Muscadine Brandy is one of the few or only muscadine brandies in the world made from Alabama Muscadine wine. Tasting notes include notes of caramel and dried fruit with an earthy muscadine flavor and mild heat. There is a tart fruit and slight brine finish.
The John Emerald Hugh Wesley's Barrel Rested Gin can be found online here for only $51.99 with free shipping on purchases over $99.