Whiskey begins life as a beer of sorts, and so it makes sense that a new local distillery is partnering with one of Charlotte’s breweries.
Oliver Mulligan will open the Great Wagon Road Distilling Co. in Charlotte this year, and he has contracted with The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery to produce what is called the “mash.” As they do with their beers, the brewery creates this mash by heating grains in hot water, thereby extracting the sugars necessary for fermentation.
Unlike the other beers, though, the fermentation is not done at OMB. The brewery pours this sweet, malty liquid into big, plastic cubes and then trucks them over to Mulligan’s small warehouse in Pineville. There, Mulligan pitches yeast directly into these cubes to ferment the liquid into what’s called a wash, which is similar to a beer without hops. And then he takes that “beer” and distills it into a spirit.
Most distilleries handle all of this, so this partnership is an uncommon one. It makes perfect sense for Mulligan, though, who doesn’t have to squeeze more expensive equipment such as a grain mill or mash tun into his small warehouse. Instead, he can count on OMB to brew his mash to the exact specifications he requires.
Great Wagon Road Distilling Co. will have two offerings: Bán Vodka will use the same wheat that OMB uses in its Southside Weiss, while Rúa Whiskey will be a single malt whiskey built upon the same Pilsner malt that goes into the brewery’s Captain James Jack Pilsner. The whiskey will be aged in new American oak barrels, while others in a special reserve line will be finished in barrels that once held bourbon. Mulligan also plans to do some fruit brandies, and as a member of a barbecue team he is already cooking up a recipe that incorporates hickory-smoked malt.
Both Bán and Rúa – which are Gaelic for “white” and “red,” respectively – are a nod to Mulligan’s native Ireland. His grandfather was a moonshiner in that country, where he was once busted on Christmas Day. A framed newspaper clipping of the account is proudly displayed in Mulligan’s office.
Many Scotch-Irish immigrants settled in the north when they first journeyed to America, though some would eventually travel down the Great Wagon Road to reach the Carolinas. This long trail ran right through Charlotte, a portion of it becoming what we know as Tryon Street.
Mulligan will settle near that old trading path soon when he moves into his new, larger location at 227 Southside Drive. It’s about 300 feet away from OMB, a short enough distance that Mulligan anticipates being able to transport the cubes from the brewery to his distillery via forklift. He also plans to upgrade from his 1,000-liter electric still to a 3,000-liter steam-powered model.
Great Wagon Road Distilling Co. is already in production, and later this year Mulligan will open the distillery and tasting room and distribute bottles to local bars and stores. Until then, you can follow his progress online at www.facebook.com/GWRdistillingco.