By Angela Cutrer

Wonderbird Spirits took flight in 2019 after three friends let their imaginations fly on what was possible when it came to producing gin. From rice. Grown in Mississippi.

It was a wild concept – that worked. They bottled their first batch – Gin No. 61, in May 2019 – inside a 2,500-square-foot distillery they built.

“We’ve been on that property for about five years now,” said Rob Forster, one of the founders of the distillery located at 618 County Road 303 (Old Taylor Road) in Taylor, just south of Oxford.

“We built everything ourselves, as much ourselves. It was a total bootstrap effort to build a production facility for our brand, whose core mission is to make top gin from rice cultivated in Mississippi.”

Excluding the time of COVID-19, Wonderbird Spirits gin has been in production ever since.

Now that grain-to-glass gin product needs more room to spread its wings, Wonderbird Spirits’ founders are expanding – and they are about 80 percent done so far. The new expansion will bring their floor space to 7,500 square feet, which means more room to future proof the business.

“It’s time for us to go ahead and build out a true gin factory for our product,” Forster added. “We’ve come to a really important milestone on the road to real financial success, but it doesn’t come without major headaches.

There’s the physical pain of it. We are changing from only 2,000 of production space. We’ll have new equipment with three new large fermentators, which will allow us to expand the raw alcohol through the physical expansion of the plant. In total, the production space will take up 6,500 to 6,750 square feet.”

They’ve also built a gift shop. Their tasting room has been there from the beginning, but now they’ll have space for merchandise and locally sourced items to go along with the Wonderbird Spirits products.

The location has already been the site of meetings and weddings, but now the facility will include a nice break room and kitchen capabilities for catering so there is more of an enticement to socialize at the location.

But first and foremost, Wonderbird Spirits is a gin distillery. “This is going to be our home,” Forster said. “We have tried to think very carefully – short, middle and long term – about what we wanted to do. Oxford-Taylor is our home. Our goal was to create something beautiful, something to be proud of – here.”

That means Wonderbird Spirits won’t fly the coop of North Mississippi – ever. They are in it to stay, which means no matter how much they grow, they will always be based in the same area.

However, Forster said that this expansion is necessary because the only way to truly become a global success is to increase production, and that takes more space.

“You really hope for something beautiful that people will like and appreciate,” he said of their gin. “We believe that we’ve done that with our gin expressions. We know it’s really, really good.”

Now the spirit of that realization is causing an update and expansion of the well-known and beloved company.

As the company’s websites reflect, North Mississippi’s first distillery is an eight-minute drive south of Oxford on Old Taylor Road. The brainchild of friends and co-owners Chand Harlow, Forster and Thomas Alexander, the company ferments Mississippi Delta rice to make their base spirit. “Our approach, which borrows from traditional sake making, sets a beautifully clean foundation for layering subtly complex flavors and aromas,” the site eloquently stated.

The founders developed their distillery and their resulting products after each had a epiphany that there was more to life than their regular jobs. They read up, researched, discussed, found people in the know and then jumped in, all six feet on the floor to make things happen.

As they have stated before, the founders created a process for creating the base spirit of their gin that “borrows from Japanese sake making. We methodically ferment Mississippi Delta rice and grow our koji in-house. The resulting spirit creates a beautifully clean foundation for layering each of our individually distilled botanicals, delivering the subtly complex flavors and aromas you experience with every sip.”

The end results included their first, GIN No. 61: “Our flagship product is a uniquely sippable gin with a complex layering of ten botanicals. It has a balanced profile with sweet florals, citrus, and spice being the most prominent nuances. Of the ten botanicals, we harvest the pine needles and red clover directly from the distillery grounds. Our No. 61 gin won two gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits competition in 2020.”

Then there is No. 97 Magnolia Experimental Gin: “A 2021 San Francisco World Spirits competition gold-medal winner, the first of our experimental gin series was inspired by the enchanting aroma of midsummer Mississippi Magnolia. We distilled all of the fresh Magnolia blossoms we could harvest. The beautiful floral essence is highlighted and delicately balanced with cinchona bark, juniper, coriander, and black peppercorn. A truly wonderful martini gin.”

Lastly, there is their Cask Finished Gin: “For Wonderbird’s first aged product we finished our No. 61 gin in a bourbon cask for 75 days. The result is a wonderfully smooth gin with all the complexity of its predecessor plus vanilla and spice notes brought on by the barrel. Initially an exclusive for one of our clients, we plan to make this a permanent offering. A fantastic bourbon replacement for an Old-Fashioned or to sip neat.”

Wonderbird Spirits’ gin is now making waves among gin fanciers and competitions, but that doesn’t mean the founders are expanding physically and not worrying about what comes next. “This product can only come from here, where the rice is grown,” Forster said. “That gives us an anchor here. It’s a great strength and in due course, we want to employ local folks from the area to help us in this endeavor.

“We are proud to overdeliver and make our home in the Oxford area. We all felt unfulfilled in our jobs, but we wanted to be able to support our families and live our lives in this wonderful small town, so we have to stick to our core goal – make it right every time.

“We have to do that and success will follow, as will financial success. But we are not in a rush; we are just three people trying to make something beautiful and take care of our families.”

Wonderbird Spirits’ hours are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours and tastings are by appointment. Contact them at 662-205-0779 or email