From still to store: North Carolina-made liquors booming

aweigl@newsobserver.comOctober 2, 2012 

  • How do they taste? We assembled a panel of experts for a taste test: Taylor Homes of Fox Liquor Bar in Raleigh; Lee Robinson, general manager at The Pit in Raleigh; and Maggie Ruppert, a mixologist at Halcyon in Charlotte. Here’s what they had to say: Cardinal Gin: Sweet and floral without a heavy juniper taste. But one expert said it would be overpowered in a gin and tonic, while another said it would do well. You will have to decide. This was one of the experts’ favorites. Made by Southern Artisan Spirits, Kings Mountain, Cost: $29.95. Carolina Coast Rum: A spiced rum that one reviewer said “smells like Christmas.” Strong flavors of cinnamon, vanilla, pepper and clove. One expert found it too thick. Another said: “You wouldn’t be upset if you put it in your eggnog.” Made by Broadslab Distillery, Benson, Cost: $24.95. Muddy River Carolina Rum: This clear rum tasted initially of cane sugar followed by the alcohol burn. One expert noted that ideally you want the reverse. This rum should be fantastic in a mixed drink. Made by Muddy River Distillery, Belmont. Cost: $19.95. Troy & Sons Moonshine: This corn-forward whiskey finished like a fine tequila. One said it makes a beautiful cocktail but could not drink it straight. The other said, “I could drink it straight all day.” This was one of the experts’ favorites. Made by Asheville Distilling Co., Asheville, Cost: $29.95. The company also sells an oak reserve for $36.95. Broadslab Legacy Shine: This white moonshine had strong citrus and sweetness upfront. It tasted authentic, like “moonshine off the back of a truck.” Made by Broadslab Distillery, Benson, Cost: $23.95. Broadslab Legacy Reserve: This ’shine gets its golden color from staves, or wooden rods often used to impart flavor in beer brewing. Our experts couldn’t taste much difference between this whiskey and the distiller’s white version. Made by Broadslab Distillery, Benson, Cost: $25.95. Carriage House Apple Brandy: Our experts raved about this liquor, saying it is well rounded. You can drink it straight or enjoy it in a cocktail. Our experts use it instead of rye in a Sazerac or in a Manhattan. “This is for people who aren’t into whiskey. This is a great starting point.” Made by Carolina Distillery, Lenoir, Cost: $23.95. The company also sells a strawberry infusion for $19.95. Junior Johnson’s fruit infusions: We tasted the apple pie, strawberry and blueberry flavors. The experts found them to be too sweet. and one described them as “adult Kool-Aid.” But they noted that the best part about the strawberry flavor was eating the liquor-infused whole berries. Made by Piedmont Distillers, Madison, Cost: $21.95. The company also sells cherry, cranberry and blackberry, as well as Catdaddy Spiced Moonshine and Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon, each $21.95. Top of the Hill Vodka: This vodka had “character” and “some depth.” It had sugar on the finish, which helps with mixing. But you also could drink it over ice. “It’s a good vodka,” one said. “I’ll definitely pick that up.” This was one of the experts’ favorites. Made by Top of the Hill Distillery, Chapel Hill, Cost: $28.95. The company also sells a Carolina whiskey for $21.95 and will eventually sell an “age-your-own-whiskey” kit for about $130. Indigo Premium Vodka: This vodka had no smell and a very neutral flavor, which is what many people want in a vodka, our experts noted. Made by Azure Skye Beverages, Charlotte, Cost: $23.95. The company also sells a peach vodka for the same price and plans to launch a rum next year. Howling Moon Moonshine: Raymond Fairchild’s Mountain Moonshine had a clean smell with an initial sweet taste and a hint of corn at the end. It is a friendly, not overpowering, moonshine that would be good mixed or straight. The apple-pie version smelled of cinnamon and tasted of apples, but the drinker still knows it is moonshine. Made by Copper Still, Asheville, Cost: $23.95 for white and $25.95 for apple pie. Andrea Weigl
  • Where to buy ABC stores operate independently from county to county. Here’s how to find out if the product is available in your county: Wake County: (shows if the county carries the product, but still need to call individual stores). Durham County: (shows stores where liquor is available). Orange County: Call 919-732-3432 or send an email to to find stores carrying which products. Chatham County: Call 919-942-1142 or send an email to to find stores carrying which products. Johnston County: Call 919-934-7249 or send an email to to find stores carrying which products. Mecklenburg County: (shows stores where liquor is available). York County, S.C.: Cardinal Gin, Troy & Sons Moonshine and the Junior Johnson line, including Catdaddy, are available at Frugal MacDoogal, 3630 Festival Dr., and Southern Spirits, 9989 Charlotte Highway, both in Fort Mill. Southern Spirits will hold a Cardinal Gin tasting with distillers Charley and Alex Mauney, 3:30-6:30 p.m. Friday. Andrea Weigl
  • Carriage Car Mixologist Maggie Ruppert of Charlotte’s Halcyon makes this cocktail with Carriage House apple brandy, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, Cointreau and mulled apple cider. Make lemon zest sugar by mixing the zest of one lemon with granulated sugar and letting it sit overnight to dry. 1/2 ounce lemon juice 1 egg white 2 ounces apple brandy 1/4 ounce ginger liqueur 1/4 ounce orange liqueur 1/4 ounce apple cider Lemon zest sugar Cinnamon stick SHAKE lemon juice and egg white in a cocktail shaker until frothy. Add apple brandy, ginger liqueur, orange liqueur and apple cider, and ice to shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass rimmed with lemon zest sugar and cinnamon stick. Yield: 1 drink
  • Carolina Caipirinha This take on Brazil’s national cocktail replaces cachaça, a rum made from fresh sugar cane, with Troy & Sons moonshine. This recipe was shared by Andrew Shepherd, bar manager at Raleigh’s Foundation bar. 1 lime 2 ounces moonshine 1 ounce simple syrup Ice cubes CUT the lime in quarters. Muddle the lime quarters in a cocktail shaker. Add moonshine, simple syrup and ice cubes. SHAKE the cocktail shaker for 10 to 15 seconds and dump drink into a glass. Yield: 1 drink
  • Wine ‘n’ ’Shine Mixologist Maggie Ruppert of Charlotte’s Halcyon makes this cocktail using Troy & Sons moonshine and Carriage House apple brandy. To make moonshine cherries, bring 1 1/2 cups moonshine and 1/2 cup sugar to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Pour liquid over pitted cherries in a glass jar. Seal and enjoy after three days. 1 1/2 ounces moonshine 3/4 ounce apple brandy Dash of chocolate bitters Cheerwine Moonshine cherries POUR moonshine, brandy and chocolate bitters into a glass filled with ice. Stir. TOP with Cheerwine and a few moonshine cherries. Yield: 1 drink
  • Kings Mountain Gimlet At Raleigh’s Foundation bar, manager Andrew Shepherd makes this cocktail with Cardinal Gin. To make his rosemary simple syrup, bring 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 6 sprigs of rosemary to a boil. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Let cool and strain. 1 1/2 ounce gin 3/4 ounce lime juice 3/4 ounce rosemary syrup Ice cubes POUR gin, lime juice and rosemary simple syrup into a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. SHAKE for 10 to 15 seconds and strain into a cocktail glass. Yield: 1 drink

North Carolina history is full of tales about clandestine copper stills, bootleggers evading revenuers and Mason jars of illegal ’shine.

That legacy can be seen in today’s liquor stores, where more and more legal North Carolina-made spirits stock the shelves.

North Carolina now has nine liquor distilleries with another on the horizon. More than half began selling their products in state-run stores within the past nine months. Tar Heels can now enjoy a cocktail made with rum by Muddy River Distillery in Belmont or vodka by Top of the Hill Distillery in Chapel Hill, which started bottling last week.

It’s part of a national trend. Three years ago, there were about 150 microdistilleries across the country; today, there are more than 400.

That North Carolina has seen similar growth doesn’t surprise Bill Owens, president of the American Distilling Institute, a trade organization founded a decade ago.

“A lot of people (in North Carolina) have distilling DNA in their blood,” Owens said.

While bootlegging liquor – making it without government permits and without paying taxes – has always been illegal, Joe Michalek was the first in North Carolina to take advantage of the legal way to make moonshine in 2005. His Piedmont Distillers in Madison is North Carolina’s largest, selling more than 10,000 cases in the state over the past year.

Michalek smartly tapped into the connection between bootlegging and NASCAR by getting former driver Junior Johnson to add his name to a line of moonshine. Johnson used to race through Wilkes County running bootleg liquor for his daddy – a family history shared by several new distillers.

Jeremy Norris of Broadslab Distillery has a part of his granddaddy’s busted-up still hanging on the wall of his distillery outside Benson in southern Johnston County. Cody Bradford, who makes Howling Moon moonshine in Asheville, is using a condenser that his great-granddaddy used to make corn whiskey.

“My family has been in this business for generations,” said Bradford, whose white moonshine recipe comes from renowned banjo player Raymond Fairchild of the Maggie Valley Boys.

Others see the state’s growing distilling business and bootlegging heritage as a draw for tourists. Chris Hollifield, who is continuing a family tradition by making Carriage House apple brandy in Lenoir, said: “I think North Carolina is going to be the next Bardstown in Kentucky.”

Instead of the “bourbon capital of the world,” North Carolina could be the moonshine (and brandy and vodka and gin and rum) capital of the world.

To see printable versions of the recipes, click on the links below:

Carolina Caipirinha

Kings Mountain Gimlet

Wine ‘n’ ‘ Shine

Carriage Car

Weigl: 919-829-4848

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