In 1907, the period of Prohibition began in Alabama and distillers were forced into hiding. Whiskey was made undercover and illegally until 2015, when John Emerald Distilling Company opened in Opelika.
This company said it was the first distiller of whiskey in Alabama after Prohibition was lifted.
Jimmy Sharp, the grandson of John Emerald, is the head distiller and co-founder of the distillery.
John Emerald Distilling Company is named after John Emerald, Jimmy’s grandfather and John’s dad.
Emerald “took his father’s tobacco and candy business to new heights,” and the Sharps found it fitting to name their distillery after this hardworking man.
“It was always a dream of mine and my father’s, John Sharp, to open a distillery,” Jimmy Sharp said. “We first tried to open one in Montgomery, where we lived at the time, but soon found that Opelika offered a better space to start our company.”
The distillery was set to open in fall 2014 in an old cotton warehouse in downtown Opelika.
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Before the John Emerald Distilling Company opened its doors, Jimmy Sharp was becoming familiar with the distilling business all over the globe, he said.
“I traveled for a long time with my business, including across South America,” Sharp said. “I also managed to get an internship in Scotland, where I had the opportunity to get experience at a distillery there.”
When Jimmy learned that he was expecting a daughter, he knew that he wanted to settle down to watch her grow up. This led him back to Alabama, where he wanted to continue his career in the distillery business.
John Emerald Distilling Company has hosted several bands, including Penny and Sparrow and The Brook and The Bluff.
“We partner with Cotton Seat Studios, and they are responsible for booking those shows,” he said. “They have different avenues to get in contact with bigger bands, and they get these bands to route their tours through Opelika.”
While the distilling company’s main focus is to produce spirits, they also host occasional private events, such as sorority and fraternity events, military parties and birthday parties.
Their most famous whiskey is John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey, also called Alabama’s Whiskey. It is made from 100% malted barley, and part of it is smoked with peach and pecan wood.
John Emerald’s award-winning John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey now finds itself in five states around the South.
“We add about one state to our list every year,” Sharp said.
Tours through the distillery are offered, showing the entire distillery process. The community is able to see how the grains of barley are transformed into John Emerald’s whiskey.
“We set out to make a top-shelf whiskey that we and all of Alabama could be proud of, and I think we have done just that,” Sharp said.
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