By Donna Williamson
The John Emerald Distilling Company, located at 706 North Railroad Avenue in Opelika, is scheduled to open this summer. The distillery is a family business, owned and operated by Jimmy Sharp and his father John.
The company is named after Jimmy’s grandfather. In fact, all of the products are named after different family members. “We are honoring the spirits of our ancestors in our spirits,” Jimmy said.
The distillery will make two rums, whiskey and gin, and a peach liqueur.
“The single malt disappeared after prohibition and is still a young category. Our feature product is a single malt whiskey, which we call John’s Alabama Single Malt. It is similar to Scotch in that it’s a single malt that’s all barley, but it’s going to be smoked with pecan and peach wood instead of peat,” Jimmy said. “Alabama does not have a defined whiskey, so we are putting our two cents worth in and trying to tie down that slot.”
The Sharps try to use all local or Alabama-grown products. This includes Chilton County peaches for their peach liqueur and Alabama cane syrup for their rum. According to Jimmy, locally-sourced botanicals provide a balanced flavor with juniper berries, Alabama cucumbers and pecans to deliver a gin with “Southern Heart.”
To master the art of making whiskey, Jimmy and John have traveled to distilleries all across the United States and Scotland. “We’ve honed our distilling techniques, and we’ve worked out the specific recipes,” Jimmy said. “Now we are ready to start making whiskey.”
Jimmy has discovered that most people don’t understand the difference between aging and maturing in terms of whiskey making. “Age is a number; maturation is a flavor,” he explained. “Whiskey in small barrels matures faster. We have a barrel room, which simulates the season changes. We can increase or decrease the temperature and control humidity. This is an innovative technique that allows our whiskey to mature at a faster rate.”
John added – “The whiskey lost through evaporation is known as the ‘angel’s share.’ Our smaller barrels allow for less evaporation, which will only be 3-4 percent a year.”
The Sharps are proud that theirs is a “hands-on” business. “We do everything, even down to bottling. There’s no automated anything really; from start to finish it’s a hands-on process,” Jimmy said.
The distillery will have a taste room where cocktails may be purchased. The Sharps plan to provide tours of the facility and offer classes on the distilling process. “I think the distillery is going to bring in a lot of tourism. Every small distillery I’ve visited told us they are bombarded by tourists,” Jimmy said.
The Sharps originally wanted to open their distillery in Montgomery. However, according to John, “We couldn’t find the right place and kept hitting dead ends.”
Then they met developer Richard Patton in Opelika. “We liked what he was doing; we liked the location, and the building was perfect,” Jimmy said. “Also, the mayor and city council members were very receptive and business-friendly.”
Jimmy and his family have moved to Opelika, and John plans to join him in the near future.
John Emerald products will be distributed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in statewide ABC stores. Local bars and restaurants will also offer John Emerald products.
For more information on the John Emerald Distilling Company go to www.johnemeralddistilling.com.