Grain to Glass: 10 Unique Small-Batch Distilleries

Industry opportunities for bootleggers soared when North Carolina became the first Southern state to enact prohibition. Bootlegging – selling spirits without taxation or government permits – immediately became a means for financial stability. While national prohibition ended in 1933, North Carolina remained a dry state until 1935, the heyday of hooch, eventually giving birth to the firewater-fueled sport of NASCAR.

While moonshine once lost its luster with cheaper and more accessible liquor, it truly never died. As the farm-to-fork movement continues to grow in North Carolina, the grain-to-glass movement is not far behind. New microdistilleries are opening every year here, crafting small-batch gin, rum, whiskey, vodka – and, of course, moonshine. And this time, it’s legal. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find:

1 Weldon Mills Distillery

People enjoying spirits under umbrellas on Weldon Mills Distillery patio with two-story brick building in background
photo credit: Halifax County CVB

1 Weldon Mills Distillery

WeldonSee on mapSee on map

Extensive renovations to a factory and historic grist mill became Weldon Mills Distillery in 2019. Learn more about local history and distillation on a tour – it includes tastings of award-winning spirits such as Weldon Mills Reserve, which took home four awards at the 2021 International Whisky Competition. Soldier’s Cut Bourbon Whiskey also raises money for families of fallen soldiers, a cause close to the Army veteran co-owner’s heart.

Pair it with: Longtime favorite Ralph's Barbecue in Weldon. The Woodruff family knows a thing or two about Eastern North Carolina barbecue – they've been serving it up for more than 70 years.

2 Broadslab Distillery

People sitting at bar tasting moonshine at Broadslab Distillery

2 Broadslab Distillery

BensonSee on mapSee on map

Owner and master distiller Jeremy Norris uses his grandfather’s moonshine recipe, passed down from five generations and prepared in a 500-gallon solid copper pot still. But Broadslab offers much more than just its Legacy Shine, including Reserve Whiskey and Carolina Coast rums. The distillery offers tastings and tours Thursday to Saturday, plus tours Friday to Saturday at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Pair it with: Starting in May, pack your swimsuit and head to Tucker Lake, which boasts clear spring water and white sand beaches. There are several waterslides and floating playstations, along with beach volleyball, picnic areas and a campground.

3 Great Wagon Road Distilling

3 Great Wagon Road Distilling

CharlotteSee on mapSee on map

More than 60 years after his grandfather was arrested in Ireland for making poteen, Ollie Mulligan is doing the same in North Carolina – on the right side of the law. The County Kildare native uses the same poteen (Irish moonshine) recipe that’s been in his family for generations, and Great Wagon also offers Rua (Irish for red) single malt whisky, vodka and a barrel-aged whiskey.

Pair it with: Great Wagon Road is steps away from Divine Barrel Brewing, where its team has a soft spot for sours but you'll always find a bit of everything.

4 Blue Ridge Distilling Company

Closeup of bottle of whisky at Blue Ridge Distilling Company with equipment in background
photo: Blue Ridge Distilling Company

4 Blue Ridge Distilling Company

BosticSee on mapSee on map

The distillery’s bellwether brew – boldly branded Defiant – is an award-winning barley-based whisky made from pure mountain water and softened and seasoned via white oak spirals rather than barrels. It offers tours Monday through Friday (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and weekends by appointment.

Pair it with: Legend has it that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t born in Kentucky, but rather the small Blue Ridge Mountain town of Bostic. Plays and books have been written regarding the controversy, and The Bostic Lincoln Center (free admission) features permanent and rotating exhibits regarding our 16th President.

5 Muddy River Distillery

5 Muddy River Distillery

BelmontSee on mapSee on map

Produced on the banks of the Catawba River, Muddy River Distillery specializes in rum, including the barrel-aged Queen Charlotte Reserve. Whether it’s the coconut or spiced variant, you’ll find rum that’s equally sweet and smooth, begging for a blender. Muddy River offers tours Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. that include a tasting and shot glass.

Pair it with: Head to Primal Brewery to sample beers with fun names such as the Not So Hairy Porter and the Charley Brown Ale. Or check out The Jailhouse Spirits + Lounge, a private bar and cigar lounge housed in the town’s former jail. Day memberships are $2 upon entry, while annual memberships are $12.

6 Top of the Hill Distillery

Worm's-eye view of distilling tanks at Top of the Hill Distillery

6 Top of the Hill Distillery

Chapel HillSee on mapSee on map

Chapel Hill's well-known watering hole is brewing more than beer these days. The Tar Heel tavern has introduced handcrafted Carolina Whiskey, Piedmont Gin, vodka and spiced rum. After a personalized tasting and tour with the distiller, sip your choice spirit on the TOPO patio overlooking famed Franklin Street.

Pair it with: The Crunkleton is one of the top cocktail spots in North Carolina, featuring more than 500 distilled spirits, craft beer and a detailed wine list. The speakeasy atmosphere and attentive personalized service make this a must-stop when in the area.

7 Outer Banks Craft Distillery

Two bottles of Outer Banks Distilling's Kill Devil Rum on sand with waves rolling in background
photo: Outer Banks Distilling

7 Outer Banks Craft Distillery

ManteoSee on mapSee on map

“From molasses to glasses” is the tagline for the Outer Banks’ only distillery, located in the former Board of Education building in downtown Manteo. Rum is the primary spirit here, as Outer Banks offers several types of its Kill Devil series, including gold, silver, and a unique pecan and honey combination.

Pair it with: Manteo is home to the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, which boasts several exhibits about the inhabitants around the Outer Banks. Just make sure to secure your ticket upon arrival. You can also visit Lost Colony Brewery on the waterfront before taking in the historic Lost Colony outdoor drama.

8 Southern Grace Distilleries

8 Southern Grace Distilleries

Mount PleasantSee on mapSee on map

A visit to this distillery is like no other, as it’s the only one in the United States housed in a former prison. Whereas the correctional facility once housed captured bootleggers, Southern Grace honors them with its whiskey collection, including the award-winning Conviction. Tours are offered (and encouraged, given the site’s history) with online reservations.

Pair it with: Mount Pleasant boasts one of the largest antique malls in the South with White Owl, which is housed in a former textile mill. Vendors range from collectibles to fine china in this 100,000 square-foot facility.

9 Copper Barrel Distillery

Two friends tasting various spirits at bar with bartender at Copper Barrel Distillery

9 Copper Barrel Distillery

North WilkesboroSee on mapSee on map

Located in Wilkes County – or what some call the “Moonshine Capital of America” – is an award-winning distillery that crafts smooth, full-flavored spirits. Copper Barrel is Wilkes County’s first legal moonshine distillery and the world’s first to produce a legal beverage using a direct steam-injection distillation process. Instead of neutral grain spirits, Copper Barrel uses grains from North Carolina farms and mills along with well water from a crystalline-rock aquifer. Its flagship spirit, White Lightning, has an aroma of ripe green apples and a slightly sweet flavor.

Pair it with: Award-winning craft wine and mead is just a short drive away. Stardust Cellars & Taproom is the first biodynamic vineyard in the state, practicing sustainability from seeding to bottling. Wrap up your Wilkesboro visit with a foot-stomped, basket-pressed craft wine in the cozy taproom in the heart of the Yadkin Valley.

10 Holman Distillery

10 Holman Distillery

Moravian FallsSee on mapSee on map

Undisturbed North Carolina water is the backbone of these spirits, and applejack is Holman Distillery's specialty. Each bottle contains about 60 apples and comes in traditional, white or black varieties. Schedule a free tour and tasting on a Sunday and learn all about the distilling and jacking processes that make these products so special.

Pair it with: If you can't get enough apples, head to one of the many nearby orchards – like Parker's or Tevepaugh – to pick up some more local goodies.

Please drink responsibly. Designate a driver.

Updated June 1, 2021
About the Author
Matt McKenzie

Matt McKenzie

Matt McKenzie is a craft beer writer based in Charlotte and has written for Charlotte Magazine and Charlotte Visitors Guide. He enjoys the fact he can get to either the North Carolina beaches and mountains in 3 hours’ time.

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