Australia is a hot and sometimes dry place. That might make it a thirsty market for one of North Carolina’s fastest-growing products – craft spirits.
That’s why six distilleries, including Charlotte’s Doc Porter’s and two Wilkes County moonshine makers, are headed for Australia next week on a trade mission to introduce the Land Down Under to a growing product here in North Carolina.
“The N.C. distillers, they’re a fledgling industry,” says Peter Thornton, the assistant director of international marketing for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, which helped arrange the trade mission.
“They’re going to need to find as many markets as possible. I think we will be one of the first states to attempt to set up exports there.”
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While mainstream liquors like Kentucky’s Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam are popular all over the world, there’s also interest growing in many countries for smaller-batch spirits, particularly those being made in the South, with its long tradition and colorful stories. For small distilleries, which struggle to find a piece of the beverage market, the chance to get orders from other countries is huge, says Thornton.
“If they get a (customer) that wants a flat on a regular basis, that changes the picture for them,” he says. “A business that gets that changes the game. They see potential and opportunity in Australia.”
The trip is paid for by federal grants that can reimburse the distilleries for some or all of the travel cost. George Smith of Copper Barrel in North Wilkesboro is making the trip with his head distiller, moonshiner Buck Nance. His grant will cover $3,500, only about half the cost for both of them to make the trip, but he didn’t want to go without Nance, he said: The show “Moonshiners” is being shown in Australia, so he wanted Nance to go as a real moonshine maker.
“Buck’s a key part of it,” he says.
In addition to Copper Barrel and Doc Porter’s, the other distilleries making the trip are Brothers Vigalys of Durham, which makes the honey liqueur Krupnikas and other small-batch liqueurs; Call Family Distillery of Wilkesboro; Covington Vodka; and Mayberry Spirits, maker of sorghum-based moonshine. The events they’ll take part in include Sydney Bar Week and a trade show featuring craft distillers from all over Australia.
Thornton says the trip started when several distilleries reported getting contacted by Australian importers. While 10 distilleries originally were interested, the difficulty of costs and schedules trimmed the final list. Many distilleries only have a few employees, so shutting down production for almost 10 days wasn’t viable for all of them.
Still, Smith of Copper Barrel can’t wait to go. He’s always wanted to go to Australia, he says.
“I never thought I’d get there selling moonshine,” he says. “It’s a great excuse to go.”