Born of Family to Honor Family - The Complete John Emerald Story
In January of 2003 Jimmy Sharp called his father John from New York City where he was living and working for a decorative finishing company as a Venetian plaster artisan. He informed John that Louis Vuitton officials had asked Jimmy to give them, what they called a ghost bid, for an upcoming store project. Louis Vuitton knew Jimmy was toying with the idea of forming his own company. Liking Jimmy’s work they were interested in giving Jimmy an opportunity to start his own company. He complied giving Louis Vuitton New York executives his project bid. Unfortunately the bid made its way back to Jimmy’s current employer and he was summoned to the boss’s office, asked to sign a non-compete clause and promptly fired the following day. Unbeknownst to Jimmy the firing would render the non-compete clause ineffective and start a journey that led to John Emerald Distilling.
John’s response to Jimmy’s call was, come home to Alabama and we’ll start the business from here. Jimmy did just that and Croydon Finishing, Inc. was born in John’s garage on Croydon Road. Even though the non-compete clause was deemed ineffective counsel suggested the company name be changed from Sharp Finishing to Croydon simply to make it harder for Jimmy’s past employer to notice the young company.
Louis Vuitton again offered Jimmy, now Croydon Finishing, Inc., an opportunity to bid a new store project. This time Croydon won the bid and immediately became an international company as that first job was a Louis Vuitton store in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From the Croydon world headquarters in John’s garage, Jimmy and John worked tirelessly to fulfill the commitment made to Louis Vuitton. The project was
completed not withstanding a few challenges along the way. The first shipment of plaster and tools was lost during its ocean voyage, only to show up a year later in some remote warehouse in São Paulo, Brazil and keeping new employees more interested in the project rather than the ladies of Rio was a yeoman’s task. But in the end the store was finished and a long line of international and domestic projects kept Jimmy and John busy until 2013.
In February of 2012 Lily Sharp, Jimmy’s daughter, was born. Not long after Lily’s arrival it was
apparent that Jimmy’s travel with Croydon was going to cause him to miss huge parts of Lily’s young life. With that realization John and Jimmy began seeking a solution. They were home brewers and the thought of opening a brewery was appealing, but it was clear the craft beer industry was becoming saturated with new breweries opening up almost everyday. With a bit of searching John and Jimmy found craft distilling and after attending a distilling conference in Denver decided craft distilling was for them.
Training followed as they attended Whiskey school in Breckinridge, CO, Rum school in Loveland, CO, a technical distilling course at the Siebel Institute in Chicago and Jimmy completed a distilling course at Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown, Scotland. All the time they were completing their final Louis Vuitton store in the Miami area.
Being residents of Montgomery, Alabama, Jimmy and John first pursued a location in that city. After much due diligence it became apparent that Montgomery was not the best place to start the distillery and a search for a more business friendly spot was launched. Towns around Montgomery were evaluated and found not to be acceptable. So the search radius widened. One day as Jimmy and John were visiting an acquaintance in Waverly, Alabama and it was suggested we look at some old cotton warehouses in Opelika, Alabama. Shortly thereafter we met with the warehouse owner and saw the future home of John Emerald Distilling for the first time.
Jimmy and John knew downtown Opelika was in the process of a renaissance and it didn’t take long to realize it was the perfect place to build a distillery. Then a meeting with the Mayor Gary Fuller sealed the deal. Bottom line, Opelika was a super business friendly town with a willingness to work together making it perfect for John Emerald.
In the beginning the distillery name was unclear. But since family, i.e. Lily, was the reason the Sharps’ entered the distillery business they saw an opportunity to honor their family with the spirits they produced.
John Emerald Sharp is the distillery’s namesake. John’s father and Jimmy’s grand father, he was a successful business man taking his father’s tobacco and candy business to new heights. He had a spirit that was smart, adventurous, playful and brought out the best in life. So naturally he was the best pick to represent the distillery.
When it came time to name John Emerald products the idea to honor their forefathers in name and spirit rang true and each product is named after an ancestor, honoring their spirit with the spirit being produced.
Today John Emerald crafts seven products named after their ancestors and they would like to think each individual is looking down with a proud smile.