Judy Bender

Some very fine whiskey can be found in a surprising place.

You’ve probably suspected Grumpy enjoys good whiskey. You suspected correctly. It is my favorite spirit, it lifts my spirits, so I lift some to my lips every day. During that shining moment, I live in the best of all possible worlds.

So imagine my delight as I prepared for a recent trip to the Florida beach. I came across an article in “The Whiskey Wash” heralding an exceptional, new craft spirit distillery in Florida that I would be driving right by called Timber Creek Distillery. My excitement was such I knew I could never sleep again until I arranged a visit and sampled a dram or two or three. Well, maybe four. Grumpy is nothing if not thorough.

I sent Timber Creek a Facebook message and received an invitation. Tears flowed.

For those who question what does whiskey have to do with gardening, the answer is everything. Whiskey is made from grains like corn, rye, wheat, and barley, along with another magical plant called yeast that converts sugars in the grains into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The fermented and distilled liquid is then aged inside barrels made from another plant, American white oak, to add color, flavor, smoothness, and complexity. Producing great whiskey is like growing the perfect tomato, only it takes more time and a lot more equipment.

Timber Creek Distillery

Timber Creek is located outside of Crestview, Florida on a farm owned by the family of Aaron Barnes, who, together with partner Camden Ford, turn grain, water, and time into sips of heaven. (That’s Aaron and Grumpy in the tasting room above). In addition to several whiskies, they also make craft gin, vodka, and rum.

Use of local ingredients make their spirits unique. For example, most bourbon and rye whiskies use rye grown in Canada. Timber Creek uses Florida 401 Black Rye that is adapted to the Florida climate and needs very little care. Because it naturally grows in poor, sandy, dry soil, the grain yield is low, but the flavor more concentrated. Other whiskey grains, such as Red Soft winter wheat and Yellow #2 dent corn, are also locally sourced. Combined with pure, iron-free spring water, the results are uniquely Florida spirits – something to take home, enjoy with sophisticated, worldly friends, and remind you of your visit.

Although some whiskeys are made from a single grain – like single malt (barley) and rye (guess!), most blend three or four in different proportions to achieve a particular flavor. Corn adds sweetness and lots of the alcohol; rye lends spice and kick; wheat offers a gentle, smooth sweetness and bready character; barley contributes caramel and honey notes. At Timber Creek, I savored the four-grain Southern Reserve Bourbon, the surprisingly good Single Malt, and the big, bold Florida Black Rye. I recommend them all. I should – at this year’s North American Bourbon & Whiskey Competition held in New Orleans, both the Southern Reserve Bourbon and Black Rye took home silver medals.

But what if you’d like to make your own signature whiskey blend? Timber Creek has you covered. You can buy a bourbon blending kit that includes 100 proof bottles of corn whiskey, Black Rye whiskey, single malt whiskey, and wheat whiskey, along with a mixing beaker and stir rod. This allows mad scientists like Grumpy to experiment with different ratios, until I find the Grumpiest.

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Timber Creek’s spirits are available in many stores in the Florida Panhandle with wider distribution planned. If you happen to be one of those lucky souls living in a place where you can legally ship spirits, you can order online from Chan’s Wine World. The distillery is located at 6358 Lake Ella Rd., Crestview, FL 32539 (take your GPS). Visits and tours are by appointment only, so don’t show up unannounced. Email them first at camden@timbercreekdistillery.com or check out their Facebook page.

Could it be cocktail hour already??