It should be a "spirited" Christmas this year at the Crittenden household. Nearly two years to the day after Crittenden Distillery opened in the Kiln, Matt Crittenden on Friday filled the company's 1,000th barrel.
"It's a historic day," he said.
It's also a historic business -- not only is Crittenden Distillery the first legal whiskey producer in Hancock County, it was founded in part to honor the Kiln's decades-old reputation as the "Moonshine Capital of the World."
"Being a source of sought-after moonshine during the Prohibition Era and also because of its high quality and ready availability," according to Wikipedia, "Kiln became known as the 'Moonshine Capital of the World.' At the height of moonshine popularity in the late 1920s, there were at least 50 moonshine stills operating in the Kiln."
Inspired in part by that history, Matt's dad Dr. James Crittenden said, the two began taking father-son trips to different distilleries around the nation while Matt was still in college earning his law degree.
"That's kind of why we got into it," Matt said. "You grow up in Hancock County and hear about the lure and the romance of the whiskey runners during Prohibition -- well, it's not like it was a foreign enterprise in Hancock County."
Dr. Crittenden said that it was not only the opportunity to honor history that inspired them, but the chance to create a new industry in the area.
"You produce a product and if you do well, you grow, and you hire more people and the county's economy grows, as well."
And the business has grown, Matt said.
Although their business was the fourth legal distillery in the state, it is by far the largest.
"We have five times the capacity of all the other distilleries put together," he said.
Back in the warehouse, the filled whiskey barrels are stacked 11 deep and six high, with 53 gallons of product in each barrel, he said.
The barrels, mostly coming from Kentucky, are made from white oak and charred for the bourbon-making process.
Although most bourbon is produced in Kentucky, he said, it doesn't have to be, "it just has to be produced in the United States and must be aged at least four years."
Currently, the distillery makes moonshine, rye and bourbon, and sells Kiln Shine Pure Shine -- the moonshine -- and Kiln Aged Shine, both of which won awards from the American Distilling Institute.
Because of the peculiarities of Mississippi alcohol laws, Crittenden Distillery actually sells its product to the state, which in turn sells it to the various distributors.
The product is made with Mississippi corn mash, rye and wheat and good old Kiln water.
It's available in stores all over Mississippi -- Matt's sister owns a store in the distillery's storefront -- and, he said, "it makes a great stocking stuffer."