At Six & Twenty Distillery in Piedmont, owner David Raad has always embraced the philosophy of using local heirloom grains in his spirits. So it was no surprise that landscape architect and farmer Nat Bradford sought Raad out four years ago to discuss making brandy from the intensely sweet variety of watermelon Bradford’s ancestors first cultivated on their family farm in Sumter, South Carolina, in the 1830s.

Raad eagerly accepted the challenge, and after some experimentation, turned out the first run of Bradford Family Watermelon Brandy in 2015. To make it, the staff processes 250–300 Bradford watermelons (one melon yields one bottle of brandy) in a day, pressing out the seeds and paring the sweet red flesh away from the rind. Then the pulp is fermented with yeast, becoming watermelon wine before it is distilled into brandy.

Photography by Paul Mehaffey

When Raad deems the brew ready to taste, he summons Nat Bradford to sample it. Since the spirit bears the Bradford name, Nat determines at what point to bottle the brandy. “It’s a great collaboration,” says Raad. “Nat has an infectious enthusiasm for his watermelons, and it’s wonderful to work with someone who is as passionate about his products as we are about ours.”

On the shelf now is the unaged 2016 brandy, a clear spirit that’s a direct expression of watermelon, an 80-proof embodiment of the essence of summer. Raad expects his 2017 release will be available later this year. Its amber color and caramel overtones will reflect the year or so it spends in American oak barrels. When asked what his watermelon brandy pairs with, Raad muses before responding:
“It goes best with good company.”

Six & Twenty Bradford Family Watermelon Brandy, $100. 3109 SC-153, Piedmont, SC.(864) 263-8312, sixandtwentydistillery.com

CUCUMBER MINT SPRITZ


Makes one cocktail

Ingredients:

¼ cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 Tbs. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3–5 mint leaves, to taste
1.5 ounces Bradford Family Watermelon Brandy

Instructions:

In a tall glass, muddle cucumber, lemon juice, and mint leaves. Add brandy and ice. Top with sparkling water and garnish with a cucumber wheel, sprig of mint, and lemon wheel.