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Allan Benton Smokes Jimmy Red for High Wire's Newest Whiskey

Jimmy Red Corn and We Do Care . . .

The Jimmy Red corn for High Wire Distilling's latest whiskey release was smoked alongside Allan Benton's famous Tennessee hams
The Jimmy Red corn for High Wire Distilling's latest whiskey release was smoked alongside Allan Benton's famous Tennessee hams

By Stephanie Barna

What do you get when you take two and a half tons of Jimmy Red Corn and hang it up in legendary country ham-maker Allan Benton's Tennessee smokehouse? A prime ingredient for making a uniquely Southern smoked whiskey.

High Wire's Jimmy Red corn hangs in Allan Benton's smokehouse
High Wire's Jimmy Red corn hangs in Allan Benton's smokehouse (High Wire Distilling Co.)

Jimmy Red corn by itself is a special ingredient, and one that High Wire Distilling Co. has helped revitalize. At first, the Charleston micro-distillery worked with Clemson University and heirloom seed-saving evangelists like Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills to grow a couple acres and see what sort of bourbon they could make from it. The results, dubbed New Southern Revival Brand Jimmy Red Straight Bourbon Whiskey, were outstanding and showed why Jimmy Red was once prized by moonshiners.

High Wire describes the whiskey as "nutty, sweet, and mineralic with an extremely high oil content." WhiskyCast gave the 2019 Jimmy release a 94-point rating, praising the taste as "intense, yet well-rounded with white pepper and chili powder spices balanced by honey, molasses, vanilla, and oak in the background."

High Wire has expanded production far beyond the initial few acres and is now growing hundreds of thousands of pounds of Jimmy Red each year. The Jimmy Red Straight Bourbon is aged two years in oak barrels and released to eager fans each year in glass bottles as well as a limited edition Le Creuset crock.

When High Wire co-owner Scott Blackwell decided to try his hand at smoking some Jimmy Red to create a smoked whiskey product, he thought, who better to team up with than the king of smoke himself? Allan Benton is an easygoing fellow whom he had struck up a relationship with through the Southern Foodways Alliance. Benton is known for creating country ham and bacon the old-fashioned way, aging it for months in a hickory-fired smokehouse in Madisonville, Tennessee.

Allan Benton (left), Ann Marshall, and Scott Blackwell in Benton's smokehouse in Madisonville, Tennessee
Allan Benton (left), Ann Marshall, and Scott Blackwell in Benton's smokehouse in Madisonville, Tennessee (High Wire Distilling Co.)

To prepare the corn, they placed the kernels in bags and hung them alongside Benton's hams and bacon for a week then brought them back to Charleston for fermenting in the tun. The resulting smoked spirits—called Benton's Smoked Jimmy Red Corn Whiskey—will be unveiled on October 23.

Co-owner Ann Marshall says it's a white (that is, unaged) whiskey, so it presents like mezcal. For the packaging, High Wire worked with renowned letterpress evangelist Kevin Bradley from Church of Type (formerly YeeHaw Industries in Knoxville) to create a special letterpress label.

Looking to get your hands on bottle and have a tasty breakfast, too? The official launch will be a ticketed event on Sunday, October 23, from 9 am to noon at High Wire Distilling on Huger Street. Allan and Sharon Benton will coming down from Tennessee for the occasion, and Charleston chef Forrest Parker will be preparing a menu stuffed full of biscuits, ham, bacon, and red eye gravy paired with craft cocktails using the smoked whiskey. Copies of Bradley’s letterpress label along with posters will be available for sale, too. Tickets and more information are available on Eventbrite.

The Benton's launch party isn't the only fun event happening at High Wire this month. On Sunday, Oct. 10, the distillery will kick off their new Sunday brunch series with Daps Breakfast & Imbibe, a local breakfast restaurant owned and operated by Jeremiah Schenzel and Nick Dowling. Marshall says it's a perfect pairing because Dowling was High Wire's very first employee before he moved on from distilling whiskey to flipping Fruity Pebbles-laced pancakes and other breakfast delicacies.

Each Sunday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. the distillery will open for brunch with a small menu of signature Daps items like chickpea breakfast sammies, breakfast burritos, crispy pork cakes, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch sticky buns alongside craft cocktails, beer, and wine.

About the Author

Stephanie Barna

Stephanie Barna has been covering the Charleston food scene since she co-founded the Charleston City Paper in 1997, where she served as the editor for nearly two decades. Today, she is a freelance journalist and digital marketing specialist. Her favorite things to eat are smoked fish dip on crackers and tomato sandwiches with plenty of mayo.