Whiskey Business

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Though North Carolina has welcomed a craft brewery boom in recent decades, distilleries have been a staple here since pre-Prohibition days. The Tar Heel State’s truly spirited history of manufacturing liquor has produced many a tale that harkens back to the days when these highly coveted concoctions were made under light of the moon.

Nowadays, distilleries are state-of-the-art facilities filled with high-tech, shiny copper and steel machinery. Chemists are often at the helm, blending in added flair with hints of cinnamon, honey, chocolate, caramel or vanilla. Unlike the days of prohibition, however, they’re no longer forced to hide in back rooms or run from the law to taste or sell the creations—though they must often wait many years for these spirits to reach their peak.

The Triangle is home to dozens of distilleries—most of which host connoisseurs and newbies alike in their tasting rooms. Whether you like your drink up, neat, on the rocks—or perhaps with a bevy of vegetables or a colorful parasol—one needn’t go far to try some of the best booze on the market. Here we offer high-proof that the Triangle is a distillery destination.

Complex Italian amaro, Scandinavian Aquavit and other botanical-based spirits

Trophy Brewing has become synonymous with the Raleigh craft beer scene. After opening its first taproom on Morgan Street in 2013, a second location and production facility on Maywood Avenue followed closely behind. With visions of expanding beyond the world of beer, Trophy Brewing branched into the craft distillery scene last year, opening Young Hearts Distillery in the heart of downtown Raleigh—making it the city’s first downtown distillery.

Featuring rooftop seating that shows off a cityscape view, Young Hearts Distilling isn’t your typical tasting room. Add in its location in the historic Busy Bee Café building and a mouthwatering scratch menu featuring elevated “bar” foods—like maitake mushroom lettuce wraps and gin-braised brisket—and it’s easy to see why Young Hearts Distilling can make its own rules on the distillery scene.

Bourbon, with vodka and gin on the way

As owner, head distiller and master blender of Olde Raleigh Distillery, Brandon McCraney pours his heart into each barrel. “This is my life’s passion,” McCraney says. “I believe people can taste how much care goes into each bottle.”

His latest limited-release—a honey cask-finished bourbon with local honey from North Carolina’s Baxter’s Bees—is a perfect example of the planning, thought and heart Olde Raleigh Distillery puts into conceptualizing blends. It’s much more than simply stirring honey and bourbon together. This five-month-long process utilizes six types of honey, which crystalize inside the barrel before being extracted from it. At this point, the bourbon-making process begins.

McCraney says Olde Raleigh Distillery’s food menu focuses on bourbon pairings such as candied bacon, chocolate bourbon pecan pie and honey bourbon cheesecake. While enjoying a front-row view of the stills used to create Olde Raleigh Distillery’s signature blends, tasting room visitors can also try craft brews from local breweries.

Olde Raleigh Distillery will soon partner with Workbench Roasters out of Wendell to sell a bourbon barrel-aged coffee. “We have so many ideas for the future of Olde Raleigh, whether it’s recipes for our distilled products; partnerships with local businesses; or broader, more long-term goals, like eventually moving to our namesake city of Raleigh,” McCraney says. “It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.”

Bourbon, gin, vodka, rum and whiskey

Having recently celebrated Aristotle Spirits’ one-year anniversary, owner Jake Howland feels a renewed excitement about the future of his distillery. “We’ve seen such great interest in our habañero vodka that it makes me excited to test more flavors and roll out unique recipes in the future,” Howland says.

Having versatile equipment makes creating many types of liquor possible, since most varieties of alcohol use the same machinery. “It also adds to the fun of my job: Being able to try new ingredients and see what I can come up with is the fun part,” Howland says.

Housed in an old downtown Garner industrial building that used to manufacture cabinets, Howland has turned his hobby of distilling into a legitimate business—just in time for the post-COVID bar and restaurant revival. Aristotle Spirits’ tasting room offers a small patio for outdoor enjoyment, and the distillery partners with local companies like Carolina Popcorn Shoppe to sell snacks patrons can enjoy while relishing Aristotle Spirits’, well, spirits.

Like its famous namesake, Aristotle Spirits strives to take a balanced approach to its philosophy and product line. “Overindulgence is not smart in any aspect of life,” Howland says. “We’d like to see a balance in the enjoyment of alcohol, a healthy work/life balance and a balance in our products.”

Gin, vodka, liqueurs and canned cocktails

Melissa Katrincic may not be the only female distillery owner in North Carolina, but she was certainly one of the first. Paving the way for an influx of women to break into this male-dominated turf, Katrincic—co-owner and CEO/president of Durham Distillery—also happens to have a physics degree and was the first woman to be inducted into The Gin Guild. This prestigious organization works with gin distillers around the world to provide leadership and focus to the promotion of gin.

“I’m excited about the future of women and minorities entering the craft distillery scene in the Triangle,” she says. “I feel like there is more of a level playing field now, making it the perfect opportunity for that to happen.”

Katrincic and her husband, Lee—the other co-owner who is also head distiller and has a master’s degree in chemistry—decided to take a leap of faith and begin the adventure of starting a distillery in 2013. Less than a decade later, USA Today named Durham Distillery the No. 1 craft gin distillery in the U.S., and its Conniption Navy Strength Gin is consistently ranked as one of the world’s best, having been named “Best Navy Strength Gin” for four years in a row by the World Gin Awards. “We want to be a household name for gin within the next five years,” Katrincic says.

Constellation Brands is helping Durham Distillery grow its gin products into national brands, but the canned cocktails and Damn Fine Liqueurs will remain only in North Carolina. The tasting room is open for tours and tastings on Friday and Saturday afternoons. In addition, there is an onsite cocktail bar: Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge, which opened in 2020. Pair a sumptuous bar snack, such as locally sourced deviled duck eggs or rosemary olive oil cake, with a signature martini.

Find out where the magic is made—and stay for a taste—at these craft distilleries across the region.

Aristotle Spirits, 105 Rand Mill Road, Garner
Bourbon, gin, vodka, rum and whiskey

The Brothers Vilgalys, 803 D Ramseur Street, Durham
Specialty liqueurs

Durham Distillery, 711 Washington Street, Durham
Gin, vodka, liqueurs and canned cocktails

Fair Game Beverage Co., 192 Lorax Lane, Pittsboro
Apple brandy, rum and vodka

Gold Leaf Distillery, 209½ Technology Park Lane, Fuquay-Varina

Graybeard Distillery, 4625 Industry Lane, Durham

Instill Distilling Co., 710 W. Main Street, Clayton
White, spiced and Aeva aged rum

Lizard Lick Brewing and Distillation, 138 E. Vance Street, Zebulon
Bourbon, whiskey and moonshine

Lonerider Spirits, 8816 Gulf Court, #100, Raleigh
Bourbon, ready-to-drink cocktails, whiskey and liqueur

Mystic Farm and Distillery, 1212 N. Mineral Springs Road, Durham
Bourbon, gin, vodka and liqueur

Next Century Spirits, 8601 Six Forks Road, Suite 260, Forum 1, Raleigh
Whiskey and canned cocktails

Oak City Amaretto, 1100 Corporation Parkway, #132, Raleigh

Olde Raleigh Distillery, 209 N. Arendell Avenue, Zebulon
Bourbon, with vodka and gin on the way

Pinetop Distillery, 1053 E. Whitaker Mill Road, Raleigh
Moonshine and gin

Raleigh Rum Company, 1100 Corporation Parkway #132, Raleigh
Sweet dark, white, Carolina Reaper and spiced rum

Seventy Eight ºC Spirits, 2660 Discovery Drive, Suite 136, Raleigh
(The distillery is around the corner on South Graham Street)
Limoncello and Orangecello

TOPO Organic Spirits, 505-C W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
Whiskey, vodka, gin and rum

Young Hearts Distilling, 225 S. Wilmington Street, Raleigh
Complex Italian amaro, Scandinavian Aquavit, and other botanical-based spirits

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