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Collection: John Emerald Distilling

Crafting the 1st Alabama Whiskey in over 100 years.

John Emerald Distilling is a small batch craft distillery located in beautiful downtown Opelika, Alabama.

It took a hundred years for Alabama to see a revival in quality, homegrown whiskey. In 2015, released the first legally distilled whiskey in the state since Prohibition (which came to Alabama five years ahead of most everywhere else).

Founded by father-son team John and Jimmy Sharp in 2014, JED is named after Jimmy’s grandfather. After brewing beer at home for years as a hobby, the duo thought about doing it professionally. “We actually always enjoyed whiskey more, but we didn’t think we could do that legally in Alabama,” Jimmy says. When they found out they could, and noted the number craft breweries already popping up around Alabama, they decided to found their distillery, which makes John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey, Gene’s Spiced Rum (made with Alabama-farmed sugar cane) and Hugh Wesley’s Gin (made with juniper berries that grow wild in area woods).

Sharp is excited by the new laws that allow distilleries to conduct both on- and off-premise sales and believes it will lead to an expansion of the industry. “It means a smaller distillery can become a viable as business,” he says. “I think we can expect several more super micro distilleries to open up in the next few years.”

John Sharp and his son, Jimmy, own and operate the small-batch distillery in a former cotton warehouse in downtown Opelika. They make and distribute single malt whiskey, gin, vodka and two kinds of rum, and they rely on many Alabama-grown ingredients to make these spirits unique to our state.

John and Jimmy left a lucrative specialty plaster business (creating interior decorative plaster for Louis Vuitton stores all over the world) to open the 8,000-square-foot distillery. They wanted an occupation that kept them closer to home after the birth of Jimmy’s daughter, Lily, now 4. Neither father nor grandfather wanted to miss a moment of her growing up.

The Sharps were homebrewers who briefly considered opening a brewery before turning their attention to spirits. John said they learned the art of distilling by going to school:  whiskey school in Breckinridge, Colorado, rum school in Loveland, Colorado, a technical distilling course at the Seibel Institute in Chicago, and Jimmy had an internship at Springbank Distillers in Campbeltown, Scotland.

Muscadine brandy was the first thing they made, and it’s available only in the facility’s tasting room (recently named one of the top 60 bars in the South). Spirits here are served in craft cocktails or neat in a $10 tasting flight.

The company is named after John Emerald Sharp (John’s father and Jimmy’s grandfather). The products are named after other Sharp relatives, each spirit honoring people, places and traditions.

The most recent offering, the award-winning John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey, is made with malted Irish barley smoked with peach and pecan wood. This new-style whiskey is made like a Scotch and aged like a bourbon in barrels fashioned from charred American white oak from the Ozarks so it reflects the Sharp family’s Scottish and American roots.

The Sharps are working with Auburn University and growers around the state to produce barley. “We want to bring more local base products into the production,” John said. Jimmy added:  “We’re either currently or evolving towards having it be ground-to-glass from Alabama.”