Gin distillery, Wonderbird Spirits, is looking to expand

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A Taylor-based grain-to-glass gin distillery is in the early stages of expansion.

The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors last week approved Wonderbird Spirits’ application for a conditional use license for the expansion of its facility.

Wonderbird Spirits was established in 2017 but only began selling its products in May 2019. The distillery sources jasmine rice from Two Brooks Rice Farm in Tallahatchie County to create an award-winning product.

In three years, the small business has grown exponentially and co-owners Thomas Alexander, Rob Forster and Chand Harlow maintain this momentum.

“Our dream was to always need to grow, because that means we grow and people want what we produce,” Alexander said. “Probably over the last 12 months or so, especially in the genre – I hesitate to call it the post-COVID world because we’re still in it – I think we’ve been encouraged by the growth we’re seeing in our demand and the markets we’ve entered in. We feel like there are a lot of strategic markets that we haven’t tapped into yet.

Wonderbird Spirits distributes its product throughout most of the Southeast. It has entered Texas and recently Georgia, expanding its reach and gaining more customers in the market.

“I think as we get into new markets and continue to have bands in our sort of anchor, local areas, we get to a point where production capacity is something we can see it shrinking a bit down the road,” Alexandre said. “So we’re trying to stay ahead of that demand and that growth trend, and that’s why we’re looking at that expansion right now. “

“We got some placements in New York and we got some placements in California,” Forster said. “We’re definitely kind of ‘The Little Engine That Could’ is how I like to describe it, and it’s very exciting.”

Their eyes are on the future, but Forster said it’s impossible to say how many jobs the expansion will create just yet. They are only in the early stages of their plans and are fortunate to have secured approval so they can start thinking about the expansion in practical terms.

“What we’re hoping for, and what we’ve said in previous meetings, is that within five years we’d like to have 10 people working for us full time,” he said. “If we do our job well, that number could be higher.”

What sets Wonderbird Spirits apart from most distilleries is that they produce their own alcohol.

“(Other distilleries) order it in large quantities, usually in the Midwest, where corn and wheat are kind of too plentiful, and they’re monster factories refining agricultural products into different fuels, basically,” Forster . “We wanted to take a step back and do it ourselves.”

The distillery has a small team, including the owners, who make their gin in a labor-intensive process. Wonderbird Spirits ferments rice sourced from Two Brooks Farm to create a very raw alcohol which is then refined into a purer form of alcohol called base alcohol. They then use this base liquor in a sake beer, a raw liquor made from rice, which is further refined to make a base beer.

“The process of making gin involves taking a very fine, refined base spirit and heating it,” Forster said. “When heated to a sufficient degree, 173 to 174 degrees, it begins to vaporize and rise. We direct the flow of this vapor through what is called a gin basket which is just a piece of mesh metal into which we have placed a variety of leaves, berries, fruit peels, etc.

The vapor will rise through these chosen elements, taking on their essence and flavor, and will later condense into a distillate forming the gin.

“Tom and our third partner Chand do a lot of the distillation and production here, which I’m very grateful for,” Forster said. “I’m going on the road and having the amazing pleasure of being able to tell our story and how we got here and why, and then testing people on our product. I was just telling Tom today that I’ve never been so excited about what’s going on here. It’s a really, really good time for us.

And Wonderbird Spirits is very successful.

The company recently won two gold medals at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition for its gin and packaging design. It also won the 2021 Made In the South global award for its craft gin, distilled from magnolias.

“…We try to stay as humble as possible about everything we do here, but there are some really cool things happening here and it makes us feel good,” Forster said.

Word of Wonderbird Spirits is spreading rapidly and the company is gaining recognition in the region. It becomes so great that it even has an impact on local tourism.

Forster told the story of a couple who contacted him for a tour and tastings at Wonderbird Spirits.

“This really cool, interesting, smart couple had come over from Memphis for a day trip because they heard about us from a bartender at one of those great bars in Memphis restaurants. called Hog & Hominy, which is a famous restaurant,” Forster said. . “They came here because they heard about it. They would do a tasting at Wonderbird, then they would go for lunch in the square and do some shopping… It’s exciting to be a part of the hospitality and food scene in Oxford in this way. ”

This time is a turning point for Wonderbird Spirits. After a few years of building a foundation and establishing themselves in the industry, Forster believes they will be ready to take the country by storm in the future.

“We’ve been trying to create this opportunity now for four or five years, and we feel like we’re coming to a transition point where we’re going through what they call the idea phase,” Forster said. “As if you had learned to make gin. Let’s see if we can go out into the world and gain a fan base, and do all the hard work to create a real brand that’s not only known in Mississippi and the Southeast, but hopefully in time desired, nationwide.

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