From moonshine to bootleggers, North Carolina’s craft spirits have a long – and often illicit – history.
But now, following the state’s boozy boom of local breweries, more than 30 North Carolina distilleries have opened in the past five years, with more on the way.
And this fall a new law loosened the cap even more, allowing distilleries to sell their products directly to customers for the first time in more than a century.
Ready for a taste of this craft culture? Head to one of these 10 spots in the Piedmont and Western North Carolina, where you’ll find tours, tastings and now bottles to take home.
Doc Porter’s Craft Spirits
The story: Charlotte couple Andrew and Liz Porter are behind this newly opened South End grain-to-glass distillery, which is named after Andrew’s grandfather and features vodka made from wheat and corn from a nearby farm. The pair has plans to soon offer gin and then, eventually, whiskey.
The experience: Tours ($10) are offered on Fridays and Saturdays and run about 45 minutes. They include a detailed explanation of the process, a tasting and a souvenir glass, and can be booked online.
232 Peterson Drive; 704-266-1399; www.docporters.com.
Muddy River Distillery
The story: This family-operated spot, housed in an old Belmont textile mill, was the first rum distillery in the state. It’s on the banks of the Catawba River (hence the name) and features a variety of rums, including a new Spiced Carolina Rum perfect for the upcoming holiday season.
The experience: Owners Robbie and Caroline Delaney often give the tours and are full of entertaining insight into the distilling process – and offer tasty cocktail suggestions during the tasting portion of the tour. Check out the website for varying prices, tour times and reservations.
1500 River Drive, Belmont; 336-516-4190; www.muddyriverdistiller.com.
Blue Ridge Distilling Co.
The story: This distillery, at the edge of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, was founded by marine salvage diver Tim Ferris with the idea to create an American whiskey made from the purest spring water around. While the distillery is small, its smooth Defiant Whisky has made a big splash, winning awards in the whiskey world.
The experience: Currently, tours, tastings and purchases are available on weekdays and on Saturdays by appointment at this small distillery. But Ferris recently purchased Camp Golden Valley, a closed Girl’s Scout camp just 2.7 miles away, with plans to create an enhanced distilling operation on that property.
228 Redbud Lane, Bostic; 828-245-2041; www.defiantwhisky.com.
Broad Branch Distillery
The story: Partners John Fragakis and Nick Doumas launched this distillery last summer in the Arts District of downtown Winston-Salem. Its first (and currently only) spirit, Nightlab 1.0, is a whiskey-like drink created using a family recipe from Frank Williams, an Allegheny County octogenarian who started running his own still at age 12.
The experience: All tours and tastings at this modern urban distillery require reservations and are offered on the first or third Friday of each month. And keep an eye on the website; the distillery intends to offer classes soon.
756 Trade St., Winston-Salem; 336-602-2824; www.broadbranchdistillery.com.
Asheville Distilling Co.
The story: Tasting the state’s history doesn’t get much more authentic than indulging in Troy Ball’s spirits. North Carolina’s matriarch of moonshine founded this distillery in 2010 after learning her craft from old-time moonshine makers and using archived recipes. The distillery now creates three varieties of Troy & Sons Whiskey using heirloom grains.
The experience: Tours and tastings at this Asheville distillery are offered on Fridays and Saturdays. (Bonus: The distillery is adjacent to Highland Brewing, which also features free tours and a tasting room for its craft beers.)
12 Old Charlotte Highway, Asheville; 828-575-2000; www.ashevilledistilling.com.
The story: The first building for this Lenoir-based distillery was a small, historic carriage house, which is how owners Keith Nordan and Chris Hollifield got the name for their premier spirit – Carriage House Apple Brandy – when they launched in 2008. Today, the distillery also makes Strawberry Infusion Brandy and Carriage House White Apple Brandy from historic recipes using North Carolina fruits. And you’ll find them in significantly larger quarters: a 40,000-square-foot facility in downtown Lenoir.
The experience: Tours and tastings of the distillery are available by reservation.
1001 West Ave., Lenoir; 828-499-3095; www.carolinadistillery.com.
The story: This grain-to-glass distillery in Conover creates Seventeen Twelve Southern Spirits, made from all N.C. ingredients and named for the year when North Carolina became independent from the Province of Carolina. You’ll find bottles of its original moonshine, as well as Old Nick Williams North Carolina Bourbon, a drink made from a more than 100-year-old family recipe.
The experience: The distillery has recently opened to public tours and tastings, often with its 24-year-old founder Zackary Cranford. They run for about 45 minutes on Friday and Saturday afternoons in its barrel-filled space, and guests can purchase moonshine and Old Nick Williams following the tour.
300 Thornburg Drive, Conover; 828-381-2949; www.seventeentwelvespirits.com.
Call Family Distillers
The story: From its white lightning-bolt logo on its Mason jar “bottles” to its location in the mountains of “Moonshine Capital of the World” Wilkes County, this spot pays serious homage to the state’s most famous historical spirit. Brian Call, who oversees operations, is a seventh-generation master distiller and the son of famed moonshiner Willie Clay Call. Visitors can see Willie’s car, souped up for evading the authorities, “The Uncatchable,” on display in the distillery.
The experience: The newly opened distillery offers tours and tastings of its Uncatchable moonshines in flavors like strawberry, apple pie and cherry, as well as the chance to purchase a bottle – er, jar – to take home.
1611 Industrial Drive, Wilkesboro; 336-990-0708; www.callfamilydistillers.com.
Mayberry Spirits Distillery
The story: When Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife were watching over Mayberry in the fictional Andy Griffith Show, bootleggers were some of the only criminals in the idyllic small town. It’s only fitting then that when this distillery opened in Mount Airy (the town Mayberry is said to have been based upon) it was to sell moonshine. Now, you’ll find whiskey, brandy and other numerous gifts – even moonshine mash soap in its charming tasting room.
The experience: Tours are available throughout the week, and online reservations are recommended. The tasting room, which is decorated with 100-year-old barnwood, is a perfect spot for sampling the spirits and buying a bottle to go.
461 N. South St., Mount Airy; 336-719-6860; www.mayberryspirits.com.
Sutler’s Spirit Co.
The story: Sutlers were the merchants who sold wares – including spirits – to armies on the battlefield during the Revolutionary War and Civil War. So when Scot Sanborn opened his West End Winston-Salem distillery, it was with the idea to revive the legacy of a group who purveyed its spirits against the odds. The spot, which currently crafts Sutler’s Gin, is focused on creating artisan spirits from old recipes.
The experience: Tours and tastings can be booked online and are typically offered on Fridays and Saturdays in the stylish, rustic tasting room, where you’ll also likely find Moose, the distillery dog.
840 Mill Works St., Winston-Salem; 336-565-6006; www.sutlersspiritsco.com.