DSR – NC – 018: Southern Star Paragon Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Company/Distillery: Southern Distilling Company, LLC
Location: Statesville, North Carolina
Mash Bill: 70% Corn, 16% Wheat, and 14% Malted Barley
Age Statement: No Age Statement; Straight bourbon designation implies at least 2 years old
Proof/ABV: 92 Proof/46% ABV
Color & Viscosity: Viewing this bourbon from the bottle, it produces a deep mahogany hue. From the tasting vessel, a soft russet color is presented. Tilting the glass to the side, a medium viscous line develops then melds to a thick lip. Large droplets form about halfway down the glass and splinter off to slow dripping legs.
Purchase Price: $49.95 from the North Carolina ABC; 750 ml
Bottle Label Information:
“Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey”
“Distilled in Statesville, North Carolina”
“Release No. 001”
“Southern Distilling Co.”
“Making tasty products for happy people.”
“Proprietor Pete Barger”
“Product of the USA”
“Our Paragon wheated bourbon captures the distinct essence of a traditional North Carolina whiskey. From our local grains to your glass, this is something to be savored. Enjoy.”
“Distilled, Aged & Bottled by Southern Distilling Company, LLC”
“Statesville, North Carolina”
Southern Distilling Company, LLC
Southern Distilling Company, LLC, located just 45 miles west of Winston-Salem in Statesville, North Carolina, was founded in 2013 by husband and wife team Pete and Vienna Barger. The town of Statesville seemed like a logical home for a craft distillery as it was formerly known as the “Liquor Capital of the World” in the 1880’s…a time when quality whiskey and brandy wholesalers dominated the Statesville landscape. The Bargers set out to build on Stateville’s liquor tradition and open up the first distillery since Prohibition.
The Bargers would go on to build one of the largest and most technologically advanced craft distilleries in America. The Statesville distillery is 25,000 square feet in size and the facility houses a 40-foot tall 18″ diameter Vendome Copper & Brass Works continuous column still. This still allows the distillery to produce up to 500,000 proof gallons of spirits per a year. The facility is also home to a 2,500-gallon mash cooker and a small batch copper and stainless steel pot still system.
The size of the distillery lends itself to be shared with Southern Distilling Company, LLC, offering a full range of services to both domestic and international companies including contract distilling using custom mash bills, bottle and packaging services, warehousing, and more. In addition to their contract distilling offerings, Southern Distilling’s in-house product line includes its Southern Star Paragon Wheated Whiskey label, Southern Star Double Rye Whiskey, Southern Star Double Shot Coffee Bourbon Cream Liqueur, Southern Star High-Rye 10-Year Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Southern Star White Whiskey, and Southern Star High-Rye Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Interestingly, many of the offerings from Southern Distilling’s in-house products are sourced from a distillery in Indiana, presumably MGP.
Paragon Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Southern Star Paragon Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the distillery’s brand new offering released in late 2021. This is distilled, aged, and bottled on-site at the Statesville, NC distillery using a mash bill of 70% corn, 16% wheat, and 14% malted barley. Aged at least 2 years to hold the Straight Bourbon designation, Southern Star Paragon Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey is bottled at 92 proof and is available for purchase at NC ABC stores for $49.95. The Paragon series also offers a 100 proof Bottled-in-Bond ($59.95) and a cask strength bottling ($69.95). Southern Distilling provides tasting notes of rich vanilla, chocolate, fruits, honey, and walnuts.
Tasting Date/Vessel: February 1, 2022 – Neat in a Glencairn glass; Then with a few drops of distilled water.
Christian: In the bottle, Southern Star Paragon Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey offers a gentle combination of brown sugar sweetness and cinnamon baking spice. This reminds me a lot of a Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart. In my Glencairn glass, this bourbon has incredibly light aromatics. In my first pass, I detect sweet corn notes and very little else. A quick swirl allows a touch of light brown sugar and uncooked pie crust that has been washed in butter. There may be just a hint of mint there, but it is so vague and fleeting. Overall, the nose leads you to believe this will be a dry pour on the palate. Adding a few drops of distilled water allows the nose to sweeten up. Honey, brown sugar, corn, and caramel are all present. There is still a graininess present, but the sweetness helps mask it some.
Mike: From the bottle, there are no noticeable aromas permeating from the neck. As I have the glass sitting beside me, I’m enticed by soft brown sugar and oatmeal aromas, very common for a wheated bourbon, in my experience. As I lift the glass to my nose, I detect a fruity sweetness, perhaps canned pears with a dusting of cinnamon. A touch of ethanol is present and tends to overpower the soft sweet aromas. Letting the bourbon settle in the tasting vessel and allowing the glass to pass back and forth across my nose, delicate hints of vanilla give way to fresh oatmeal cream pies.
Christian: On my palate this bourbon is thin and almost watery. The flavor profile on the tip of my tongue for this first sip screams earthiness to me. Dry roasted peanuts are the first flavor that comes to mind. A second sip allows me to experience a light hint of grilled yellow corn and vanilla custard. This bourbon has a lot of new make qualities in the flavor profiles, as it sits on the palate. The distilled water seems to tame down the earthiness a good bit. Vanilla pudding really becomes the dominate flavor now. There is a bit of baking spice that accompanies it but that flavor is a bit muted.
Mike: Southern Star Paragon Wheated Bourbon is sweet on the lips, but offers an initially dry mouthfeel. The dryness reminds me of a Brut champagne and hits mid-palate. A honeyed sweetness develops on the second pass but is immediately consumed by a young aged or even new make whiskey flavor. I am really surprised at the lack of depth and overall flavor profile this bourbon offers.
Christian: The finish on this whiskey is pretty smooth and short to medium in length. There is just enough of a hug to let you know you have spirit in your hand. As was expected given the nose, this is a dry whiskey. In the finish, I get a shot of corn with just a touch of bitterness in the form of oak tannin. This really makes me wonder what char level is used here – is the barrel just toasted or a light char because the oak is almost green in flavor. If I try really hard I might pick up some notes of buttered dinner rolls, stone fruit, and light brown sugar but it is really a struggle to find it. The distilled water has little impact on the finish. It does allow the green oakiness to step back some and brings forth more peach marmalade or jam sweetness. Overall, it’s still a bitter and really dry finish.
Mike: This wheated bourbon has a mild overall finish and no detectable burn from start to finish. There is a corn whiskey essence to the finish that is very lackluster. This is a 92 proof whiskey that drinks very flat, more like something proofed in the 80 range.
Christian: When we walked into the ABC store and saw that Southern Distilling was releasing some of their in-house distillate, we were excited to give it a try. The price on the Bottled-in-Bond and Cask Strength made me cringe. So we settled on this base level offering for this review and as an entry point to try first. To be brutally honest, that was a fantastic decision. This whiskey just isn’t ready. I don’t know if it is the barrel char level or the age but this whiskey taste green. There are so many more flavorful, North Carolina made, straight bourbons that offer a lower price and better flavor. Admittedly I had to Google this, but Paragon is defined as “a person or thing viewed as a model of excellence” – a strong marketing statement for any product. To me, this Southern Star Paragon Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey misses that lofty mark. I am so glad we didn’t swing for the higher priced offerings first.
Rating: 2.35 Rickhouses
Mike: The nose is the best thing going for this wheated bourbon from Southern Star. There are no developed flavors in this offering and it drinks much lower than 92 proof. If there was another positive about this bourbon, I will say that while exceptionally young in profile, there is no harsh, off-putting sharpness. Sadly, there is just a void of overall flavor and it drinks as if it is watered down.
Rating: 2.00 Rickhouses