North Mississippi’s first distillery, Wonderbird Spirits, is just eight minutes away from Oxford on Old Taylor Road. Opened in Spring 2019, Wonderbird is the brainchild of friends and co-owners Chand Harlow, Rob Forster, and Thomas Alexander. Before going all in, each worked separate, unfulfilling careers. One day, they realized their professional goal was to wake up each day with enthusiasm and a passion for what they were doing. They set out to create something they collectively cared about, and for them, that is producing a world-class gin from the middle of nowhere Mississippi.
Wonderbird prides itself on being Mississippi’s only grain-to-glass gin house with a mission to distill an excellent product using Mississippi agriculture. Every part of their product is made in-house at the distillery. Being the only rice-based American gin, their process borrows from centuries-old Japanese sake-making practices to ferment Jasmine rice procured from the Mississippi Delta for the base spirit. This approach sets a clean foundation for layering subtly complex flavors and aromas. This base spirit is also the foundation for all ten micro-distilled botanicals. Two of their botanicals come straight from their Taylor, Mississippi property: red clover and pine needles.
Wonderbird Spirits’ singular goal is to deliver world-class gin to the world, and the world is taking notice. Wonderbird’s rice-based Gin No. 61 won a gold medal in the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. And if you’re wondering how it got the name No. 61, it was the 61st tweak to a recipe the boys had been perfecting. They kicked off 2022 by being named Best Overall at Garden & Gun Made in the South Awards. The Mississippi-based artisanal gin brand received a prominent feature in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of Garden & Gun and a $10,000 cash prize.
“The diversity of these products represents the future of the South,” says acclaimed bartender and mixology teacher Tiffanie Barriere, who judged the nominees. “Wonderbird Spirits offers a lesson in the history of gin and distilling in a bottle. I want it in my house, right now.”
Further, Garden & Gun deemed Wonderbird Spirits “exceptional” and “revolutionary” in its approach to rice-based gin, adding that Wonderbird’s offerings are heightened by “pride, purpose, and, yes, Mississippi magnolia blossoms.”
“To receive ‘Overall Winner’ in a field of worthy and celebrated nominees is a tremendous honor. We are grateful to Garden & Gun and Ms. Barriere for this award,” says Chand Harlow, one of the Co-Founders of Wonderbird Spirits.
“Since we began this journey in 2019, we have not only sought to separate ourselves with a world-class gin, but we also want to celebrate and pay tribute to Wonderbird’s southern heritage – we are forever proud to represent Mississippi,” adds Co-Founder Rob Forster.
Co-Founder Thomas Alexander remarks, “We are thrilled to receive this recognition and continue doing what we love the most – distilling great-tasting spirits and delivering our world-class gin to the world, one glass at a time.”
Beyond Mississippi, the company currently has distribution deals with licensed retailers in Mississippi, Alabama, California, Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee, with plans to expand throughout the United States and abroad. In addition to the normal distillery operations, Wonderbird Spirits offer tours, tastings, and private event spaces. From dinners to corporate events to weddings, the distillery is a beautiful and unique backdrop for any occasion.
When asked what they would do with the cash prize, “It goes back into the business,” they all proclaimed. But of course, these friends and co-owners celebrated with a toast. They prefer drinking Wonderbird neat, occasionally with a peel, sometimes in a martini, but always allowing the gin to be the shining star.
Photos provided by Wonderbird Spirits