DSR – NC – 006: Conviction Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
Company/Distillery: Southern Grace Distilleries Inc.
Location: Mount Pleasant, NC
Mash Bill: 88% Corn and 12% Malted Barley
Age Statement: 2 Years
Proof/ABV: 101.4 Proof/50.7 ABV
Color: Orange Blossom Honey
Purchase Price: $47.05 for 750 ml at the NC ABC Store
Bottle Label Information:
Neck Label: “Break Me Out Already; whiskeyprison.com”
Front Label: “Conviction Hand-Crafted Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey”
“Barrel No. 161”
“Bottle No. 3”
“Age Straight 2 Year”
“101.4 Proof/50.7 ABV”
Side Label: “Distilled and Bottled by Southern Grace Distilleries Inc.”
“Mount Pleasant, NC at Whiskey Prison”
Back Label: “Conviction: A formal declaration that someone is guilty of a criminal offense; A strong belief.”
“At Southern Grace Distilleries at Mt. Pleasant Prison, we have strong convictions about how distilling should be done. We painstakingly hand craft and age every drop of our spirits ourselves on site at Whiskey Prison.”
“This bourbon has been craft distilled in small batches and barrel aged behind bars in our 1929 Prison. It has served hard time, been reformed and refined to smooth out any rough edges. Now all it can be considered guilty of is being delicious.”
“We want you to enjoy this bourbon. Just make sure you walk the line and enjoy it responsibly.”
Southern Grace Distilleries Inc.
In 2014, Southern Grace Distilleries co-founders Leanne Powell (who recently passed away on July 20, 2019) and Thomas Thacker found themselves transitioning out of careers in congressional offices and politics; their new career choice would take them in a completely different direction. Both had noticed the explosion and success of North Carolina craft breweries and wineries in recent years. They believed there was a chance that craft distilling would see a similar boom in the near future. Together they decided to launch Southern Grace Distilleries at the Warren C. Coleman Mill in Concord, North Carolina. Distilling began in August 2014 and the distillery’s first product, Sun Dog 130 Corn Whiskey, was shipped in January 2015. The distillery would quickly outgrow the mill and by 2016, they would move to their Mt. Pleasant, NC facility, affectionately coined Whiskey Prison.
Whiskey Prison was formally known as the Cabarrus County Correctional Facility. The facility, built in 1929, could hold up to 400 inmates at full capacity. The prison closed in 2011 and sat abandoned until Southern Grace Distilleries began to occupy the property. Today, Southern Grace uses the old dormitory of the facility as its barrel house. The prison’s chapel and check-in center operate as the facility’s welcome centers while the newer dormitory is the site of the distilling.
Sebastian Correa is currently the Master Distiller at Southern Grace. Mr. Correa is a native of Winston-Salem, NC where he attended RJ Reynolds High School before going to Appalachian State University. Mr. Correa graduated from App State with a Bachelor of Science in Fermentation Science.
In addition to Conviction Hand-Crafted Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey, Southern Grace Distilleries also produces Conviction Double Oaked 1929 Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Sun Dog 130 American Small Batch Corn Whiskey, Sun Dog Pink Lemonade, and Sun Dog Apple Dumplin’.
For more information on Southern Grace Distilleries and how to visit Whiskey Prison visit their website.
Conviction Hand-Crafted Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
Southern Grace Distilleries currently distills Conviction using the same recipe as their Sun Dog 130 Corn Whiskey. At its conception, Conviction was aged in 10 and 15 gallon barrels. This has since changed and Southern Grace now uses 53 gallon barrels for aging. In addition to the larger barrel, Southern Grace uses sonic aging by pounding their bourbon in barrels with music from a variety of genres. This process causes the bourbon to vibrate in the barrel thus allowing more of the spirit to touch the wood barrel which is believed to aid the aging process. Conviction Hand-Crafted Small Batch Bourbon is a single barrel product sold at barrel proof and typically aged approximately 2 years. Conviction was awarded the 2018 Best Bourbon Double Gold by “The Fifty Best.”
Tasting Date/Vessel: April 19, 2020 – Neat in Glencairn Glass
Christian: Initially, the nose of this pour brings a steady dose of allspice, cloves, and vanilla bean. As I nose longer, hints of caramel sweetness and honey begin to arrive. Nice bold nose. Adding a few drops of water to this bourbon brings out a floral component. Caramel sauce becomes even more pronounced with added hints of brown sugar.
Mike: First pass on the nose is very interesting as I pick up sweet fruity notes and a bite of cinnamon. I’m reminded of having a stick of Juicy Fruit and Big Red gum under my nose. A second pass helps me pick up a light honey sweetness and a trace of oakiness.
Christian: Conviction brings a very silky smooth mouth feel. Lots of oak and clove are present on the palate. As I swish the bourbon, leather moves to the forefront with an ever so subtle taste of chocolate syrup arriving quietly. Adding drops of water brings a smooth syrupy consistency to the mouth feel. Leather still remains dominant in the pour with chocolate moving a bit in the back, yet, still present.
Mike: Mouth feel is a little thin and very sweet on the lips to start. Very floral and light as it passes over the tongue to the back of my mouth. A touch of oaky bitterness on the back end with sharp sting of cinnamon. Overall the mouth is citrusy and has a delicate burnt orange peel zest that tends to linger with a hint of bitterness.
Christian: The finish is dry and long. A taste of black licorice comes forward in the back-end. Additional oak and black pepper are present in the slight kick. As the flavors begin to dissipate, I catch hints of peach puree in the finish. Water does not change finish a lot, still a nice kick with black pepper and a toned down black licorice flavor. Peach aftertaste goes away and is replaced with a pleasant and refreshing mint and green apple taste.
Mike: The finish is medium to long. A pleasant warm burn down the throat. Lots of cinnamon and oak. There was a flavor I couldn’t quite pin down but after conferring with Christian, he nailed it with black licorice. There is a noticeable aftertaste of black licorice on the finish. This may be enjoyable for some and displeasing to others.
Christian: Overall I believe this is a very good showing of a North Carolina bourbon. Aged 2 years, the bourbon is a little young as is noticed in the back-end kick. The leather and chocolate flavors on the tongue are both different and enjoyable. I am admittedly not a black licorice fan and that impacts my overall feelings about the pour. As a result, I really enjoy this bourbon more with a splash of water to tame that licorice taste. Using the water to reduce the licorice, thus allowing the pour to bring forth the mint and green apple, was a refreshing way to end the glass. The $47 price tag doesn’t seem too high and is in line with many other craft offerings in our area. I would love to see what this bourbon will be like with a couple more years of age on it. All in all, I will likely add and keep a bottle of Conviction around on my bar. I also am interested in trying some of their additional offerings.
Rating: 3.25 Rickhouses
Mike: This is a single barrel, barrel proof bourbon. I love that! Aged 2 years so it is a straight bourbon whiskey…another plus! The $47 price tag is a little steep but when comparing it to other local products, it is not completely over the top in price. When you consider that it is a single barrel, barrel proof bourbon, the price point becomes more reasonable. I enjoyed this neat and the black licorice flavor was not a deal breaker for me. This is a respectable product and as I’ve said in other reviews, I’d like to taste this with a little more age on it.
Rating: 2.75 Rickhouses
Conclusion: Southern Grace Distillery’s Conviction Hand-Crafted Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey is a solid craft bourbon from the State of North Carolina. Don’t let the fact that it’s made in a prison distillery make you think this bourbon is hiding behind a gimmick, it just isn’t true. Being barrel proof and single barrel are two huge assets for this offering. Conviction offers you a variety of layered flavors and aromas as you move through the pour. We recommend that you give it a try, neat or with a cube of ice, and experience the differences each pour has to offer. Keep this one on the bar and share with friends, that’s what we plan to do!
Special thanks to Southern Grace Distilleries Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer Thomas Thacker for spending time with us through email and phone as we prepared for this review. We really appreciated his willingness to share the history of the distillery and their process with us. We look forward to a visit to this prison distillery in the near future.