North Carolina’s distillers are known for being rooted in the region’s rich heritage, but that’s not all they’re about. They’re not just some masterful mixologist with a fancy bar, but the people behind the companies are trailblazers who have created innovative spirits on the state’s backroads.

High-quality spirits have a long tradition in North Carolina. Distilleries were established early on, and today, modern-day distilleries are expanding into the more than 30-year-old tradition of making spirits in the state. The growing interest in craft distilling has led North Carolina’s distillers to create some exceptional products, many of which are now available to the public.

When it comes to drinking, there is no nation more well-known for its strong drink than America. From the pioneering endeavors of the nineteenth century to the colonial days and prohibition afterwards, the United States has been home to several notable distilleries that are still in business today, hosting celebrations of good times and great drink.

North Carolina punches above its weight when it comes to spirits. In 2020, there were 77 artisanal distilleries in the state, up 15% from the previous year. North Carolina is only second in the South in terms of distilleries to Texas, a state more than five times its size.

Previously, the Carolinas were renowned for producing moonshine, an illegal distilled liquor used to avoid paying taxes (or Prohibition). Legal distilleries have lately gravitated toward the so-called “moonshine” style, which includes lightly aged maize whiskey or rum-like “sugar’shine.”

Yashira Mejia, a Charlotte-based freelance mixologist and service industry consultant, says, “There are so many channels on TV that have emphasized moonshining and its history.” She cites Call Family Distillers in Wilkes County as a legitimate distillery with a long history of producing and selling whiskey under the cover of darkness.

Mejia adds, “This is a family, a generation of moonshiners.” “This region was the hub of moonshining in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. You can see the fast vehicles they used to carry the moonshine and elude federal investigators on [Call Family’s] website.”

Muddy River Distillery's tasting bar / Photo courtesy Muddy RiverThe tasting bar at Muddy River Distillery / Photo courtesy of Muddy River

While such tales may pique interest, North Carolina distilleries also produce lots of rum, gin, and even a brand of amaros with a devoted following among bartenders.

So, what distinguishes a North Carolinian distillery?

Mejia describes the beauty of the South as “Southern hospitality.” “You won’t find it in every distillery, but when you do, you’ll know where to find it.”

Here are nine distilleries to visit in North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Distilling Company is a distillery in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. This Bostic factory only produces one product: Defiant, an American single malt. “Some restaurants don’t want to disclose their formula, but they tell you straight out that this is produced using Blue Ridge Mountains yeast and water,” Mejia adds. The whiskey is soaked in oak staves/spirals, which the manufacturer says is “much more efficient than barrels.”

Call Family Distillers: The flagship product here is high-proof moonshines in mason jars. Call Family’s is made using malted barley, local maize, wheat, and cane sugar as a foundation. Apple Pie and Strawberry are two flavors available. The lineup is dubbed “The Uncatchable” after the family’s collection of antique high-speed escape vehicles, which were previously used to elude the authorities.

Durham Distillery exterior, and the producer's Conniption Gin / Photo by Food Seen (Felicia Perry Trujillo) for Durham DistilleryDurham Distillery’s façade and the producer’s Conniption Gin / Durham Distillery photo by Food Seen (Felicia Perry Trujillo).

Durham Distillery: Best renowned for Conniption Gin, this Research Triangle distillery’s goods may be found all across the United States. Mejia praises the Cucumber Vodka and Damn Fine Liqueurs lines, describing the latter as “extremely tasty” and “hazardous.”

Eda Rhyne's Rustic Nocino, Amaro Flora and Appalachian Fernet / Photo by Evan Anderson PhotosRustic Nocino, Amaro Flora, and Appalachian Fernet from Eda Rhyne / Photo by Evan Anderson

Eda Rhyne Distilling Company, located in Asheville, makes small-batch amaro and digestif liqueurs including Rustic Nocino, which is made with walnuts, and bitter Appalachian Fernet. It’s also gained popularity among bartenders. Organic botanicals are used to flavor the spirits, some of which are cultivated on Rett Murphy’s Aardvark Farm and others foraged from the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.

Great Wagon Road's distilling team, left to right: Ryan Waters, Oliver Mulligan, Michelle Piechowicz, and Nala, the three-legged dog / Packaging graphics by Lauren Griffin @typogriff / Photo courtesy Great Wagon Road DistillingRyan Waters, Oliver Mulligan, Michelle Piechowicz, and Nala, the three-legged dog, from Great Wagon Road’s distillation crew / Packaging graphics by Lauren Griffin @typogriff / Photos courtesy of Great Wagon Road Distilling on the Great Wagon Road

Great Wagon Road Distilling: This Charlotte distillery produces poteen (poitin), an unaged spirit with Irish origins that some compare to moonshine. It was founded by an Irish native whose grandpa produced whiskey. It also produces Ra, an American single-malt whiskey named after the Gaelic term for “red head,” a nod to the whiskey’s reddish golden color.

Muddy River Distillery: The Catawba River, just outside of Charlotte, provides a picturesque setting for this rum-centric distillery. “Their Queen Charlotte’s Reserve Single Barrel 4 Year Carolina Rum is one of my favorites,” Mejia adds.

Muddy River's Queen Charlotte's Reserve Carolina Rum / Photo courtesy Muddy RiverQueen Charlotte’s Reserve Carolina Rum from Muddy River / Photo via Muddy River

Southern Grace Distilleries: This Mount Pleasant distillery, housed in a former jail, produces Bourbon and other whiskey under the Conviction label. Southern Grace takes use of the facility’s tumultuous past by offering flashlight-guided “After Dark Tours” of the grounds.

1,000 Piers, a “Coastal Carolina gin,” is the only bottling at the Hackney Distillery. It’s created with 22 botanicals, including orange, grapefruit, lemongrass, and star anise, in the London Dry style. Mejia describes it as “citrus-forward and extremely aromatic.” “The botanicals are used with care.” The Hackney, a British/American restaurant run by chef Jamie Davis, sits just next door to the distillery. “When you sit down, you can see the copper still under the bar,” Mejia adds.

In a state where it’s already hard to find anything remotely related to the arts, a small group of North Carolina distillers has found a way to combine wine and whiskey, with a twist.. Read more about whiskey distillery near me and let us know what you think.

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