By Anna Grace Usery
Instead of popping open a bottle of champagne or cracking an ice cold beer, University of Mississippi graduates and their families will have another option to get in the commencement spirit – a freshly-bottled craft gin made right in Oxford’s backyard.
Rob Forster, co-owner of Wonderbird Spirits in Taylor, said he and his team worked tirelessly last week to produce their first batch of about 600 bottles.
“The vast majority of that left the distillery on a pallet earlier this week and will be on shelves and back bars all over Oxford for this big graduation weekend,” Forster said.
Wonderbird gin will be at High Cotton Wine and Spirits, Social Wine and Whisky, Star Package Store, Kiamie’s and Magnolia Wine and Spirits today, as well as on bar menus at Snackbar, City Grocery, St. Leo, St. Leo Lounge and Grit.
As for the rest of the stock, patrons will have to wait for the next batch to be distilled. Owners said the coveted gin sold out in four days.
“(It’s a) wonderful start about which we are gratified and humbled,” Forster said.
Wonderbird gin is uniquely made with Delta jasmine rice, a staple food grown less than two hours from Oxford. The owners originally envisioned corn or sweet potatoes to use as their distillate but decided it didn’t quite meet their level of quality.
In a previous interview with Hottytoddy.com, co-owner Thomas Alexander said they are fortunate to have world-class rice in their backyards.
“It just happens that the rice made a distillate that fit our palettes perfectly for making a gin and provided this canvas to really allow us to accentuate the flavors we wanted to put forward in that taste profile,” he said.
The partners envision the distillery to be a destination in the constellation of Oxford’s biggest attractions, along with food, sports and literature. Even as they welcome those from different states, countries and continents, they want the essence of the experience—from sip to stroll—to be as local as possible.
Chand Harlow, the third business partner in Wonderbird’s trio, said he envisions Wonderbird as a destination for national and international travelers.
“A dream is that one day some international gin aficionado decides he or she wants to come to Mississippi to see Wonderbird’s distillery. When that happens it’ll be a great day,” he said.
The distillery—located on 618 County Road 303—is now open to the public five days a week: Wednesday-Friday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Upon arrival, the owners offer a full tour of their operations followed by a tasting. Bottles can be purchased on premises.