North Carolina auto racing heroes like Junior Johnson are reputed to have developed their formidable driving skills while running bootleg liquor.
This morphed into stock car racing and, ultimately, NASCAR (which is strongly linked to North Carolina via the Earnhardt, Petty, and Jarret families).
Despite being located in the Bible Belt and playing a role in the end of Prohibition in 1933, North Carolina has kept the tradition of moonshine alive.
Spirits (and the spirit of the outlaw) remain much beloved here, with homespun moonshine still passed around the campfire at North Carolina music jams and other gatherings.
Today, distilleries in North Carolina can be found in abundance, with a new generation of distillers carrying on old traditions.
There are plenty of choice distilleries in the state, such as the End of Days distillery in Wilmington and the Fainting Goats Spirits distillery in Greensboro. But our list concentrates on Western NC, in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the foothills.
In this region (particularly Wilkes County, near Boone and Blowing Rock), we find many distilleries clinging to moonshine tradition. Closer to progressive Asheville, we find exciting new spins in the casks.
Either way, the best distilleries in North Carolina have a lot to offer both the connoisseur and the casual consumer.
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North Carolina Distilleries Guide
- Asheville Distilling Company
- Blue Ridge Distilling Company
- Call Family Distillers
- Chemist Spirits
- Copper Barrel Distillery
- Cultivated Cocktails Distillery
- Mayberry Spirits Distillery
- Oak and Grist Distilling Company
- Southern Distilling Company
- South Mountain Distilling Company
1. Asheville Distilling Company
45 South French Broad, Asheville NC • 828-575-2000
The Asheville Distilling Company was founded by Troy Ball, a woman who was determined to discover the secrets of the best moonshine.
Their recipes remain simple, but specific, relying on special heirloom corn (Crooked Creek Corn) and Mennonite wheat (Turkey Red Wheat) to create smooth and complex flavors.
The other trick Troy learned from the mountain men was that the best whiskies skip “the head” (the first liquids distilled) and “the tails” (the last liquids distilled). Instead they keep only “the heart” that comes in the middle of the distillation process.
The Asheville Distilling Company distributes under the name Troy & Sons and offers several different types of whiskey, as well as a true moonshine.
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2. Blue Ridge Distilling Company
228 Redbud Lane, Bostic NC • 828-245-2041
Proudly breaking with convention, the Blue Ridge Distilling Company is located in Bostic, about 35 miles southwest of Morganton NC.
This NC distillery was started by a crew of salvage divers who aimed to meld Scottish whisky techniques with American ingenuity to make a unique North Carolina whiskey. But it has recently come under new ownership.
Their “Defiant Whisky” relies on basic ingredients and intuition. The unique flavor lies in the toasted white oak, cultured yeast, brewer’s barley, and water from the North Carolina mountains.
Their Defiant American Single Malt Whisky took home Gold as the Best American Single Malt in 2019. In 2022, they won Gold for their Defiant American Single Malt and Double Gold for their Defiant 100% Rye Whisky.
Thus far, the Blue Ridge Distilling Co has kept it simple and good, and it has made them one of the best North Carolina whiskey distilleries.
3. Call Family Distillers
1611 Industrial Drive, Wilkesboro NC • 336-990-0708
The Call family has deep roots in the mountains of North Carolina.
Rev. Daniel Call is said to have taught Jack Daniels how to make whiskey back in the 1860s. Willie Clay Call was among the most esteemed moonshiners to come out of Wilkes County a century later.
Clay Call’s reputation for hauling moonshine around North Carolina is second-to-none, warranting him the moniker of “The Uncatchable.” This is also how Call Family Distillers brands its legally distributed moonshine today!
Call Family Distillers now has a 2100-gallon, direct-steam injection still known as “The Bull.” It was designed by Brian Call, the company’s master distiller.
The distillery puts out several flavors of Willie Clay’s moonshine (including apple pie, strawberry, and cherry), several flavors of Rev. Daniel’s liqueur (cinnamon, apple, coffee), and a delicious apple brandy.
4. Chemist Spirits
151 Coxe Avenue, Asheville NC • 828-832-0212
Specializing primarily in fine gins of many variations, Asheville‘s Chemist Spirits also produces some other tasty liquors that visitors can try.
Chemist Spirits was founded by Debbie Word, and the tradition lives on with her daughter, Danielle. Together, they combine classic techniques with modern invention.
Rather than relying on the juniper-laden gins of yesteryear, Chemist plays with modern botanicals, in particular plants native to North Carolina.
Some of the gin choices on offer include Conservatory Rose Gin, American Gin, Barrel Rested Gin, Navy Strength Gin, and Chocolate Orange Gin Liqueur.
They also offer a couple of whiskies and a bierbrand.
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5. Copper Barrel Distillery
508 Main Street, North Wilkesboro NC • 336-262-6500
Found on Main Street in Downtown North Wilkesboro, the Copper Barrel Distillery is a far cry from the moonshiners of old Appalachia.
But the North Carolina distillery clearly aims to create flavors that harken back to those days.
The company was founded in 2013 and opened its doors a few years later, using a steam-injected distillation set-up designed by Master Distiller Bruce Nance.
In its first year, Copper Barrel garnered a dozen-plus awards for its liquor, including honors from American Craft Spirits and the Denver International Spirit Competition.
Copper Barrel uses its flagship White Lightning moonshine as a base, adding local fruits to create a variety of ‘shines that smack of North Carolina.
6. Cultivated Cocktails Distillery
29 Page Avenue, Asheville NC • 828-338-9779
Owned and operated by the Howard Family, the Cultivated Cocktails Distillery comes from father-son bonding over the art of distilling and a mutual enjoyment of tasty cocktails.
Wendell and Taylor Howard instill their liquors with regional roots, but use the same vibrant region to put their own unique flare in the flavor.
On the menu you’ll find Hazel 63 Rum, Hwy 9 Gin, Shades of Rosé Gin, Asheville Coffee Liqueur, Steel Horse Whisky, and Asheville Crème de Cacao.
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7. Mayberry Spirits Distillery
461 N. South Street, Mount Airy NC • 336-719-6860
Hoping to lift spirits with its spirits, this up ‘n’ coming distillery is located in the mountain town of Mount Airy, where Andy Griffith was born and upon which The Andy Griffith Show was based.
Mayberry Spirits Distillery is new enough to put sustainability at the forefront of its practice. But it has clinched firmly to the small-town community and authenticity that a name like Mayberry suggests.
In addition to two flavors of whiskey, Toasted Oak and Crystal Moon, this Western NC distillery produces a variety of products infused with their whiskey, including gourmet extracts of vanilla and citrus as well as flavored sugars and salts.
They also have hand-rolled cigars infused with Mayberry essences.
In keeping with the tourist draw of Mt Airy, the Mayberry Distillery has fun tours and plenty of stuff for the casual visitor to do.
8. Oak and Grist Distilling Company
1556 Grovestone Road, Black Mountain NC • 828-357-5750
Celebrating “grain-to-glass” whiskey and gin, the Oak and Grist Distilling Co in Black Mountain is one of the premier small-batch distilleries near Asheville NC.
Oak and Grist was founded in 2015 in the search for a quality single malt for the region. The result blended Scottish tradition with Appalachian enthusiasm, utilizing locally grown and malted barley.
Oak and Grist was co-founded by William Goldberg, a graduate in sustainable agriculture, and Russell Dodson, who was raised in the Glen Moray distillery under the tutelage of his father, Edwin Dodson.
Oak and Grist produces high-quality whiskeys, including Malt, Single Malt, and the upcoming O.G. Rye, as well as a couple of serious gins.
9. Southern Distilling Company
211 Jennings Road, Statesville NC • 704-978-7175
In the late 1800s, Statesville NC was the last stop before moving westward through the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a result, it was branded “the liquor capital of the world.”
With that history in mind, Pete and Vienna Barger founded Southern Distilling from their family farm in 2013, mixing local agriculture with state-of-the-art distillation.
Now, in addition to producing a selection of fine whiskies, the Southern Distilling Company offers its equipment to help other local producers to make the most of their resources.
The Southern Distilling Company primarily specializes in North Carolina bourbon, with Standard, Reserve, Paragon, Double Rye, and White being some of their top choices.
10. South Mountain Distilling Company
1027 Malcolm Boulevard, Connelly Springs NC • 828-368-0681
The South Mountains of Western North Carolina have been home to the Smith family since the mid-1700s. Great Grandfather “Pappy” Hudson passed down his homespun recipes for distilling in the 1950s.
“Old Bessie” is the custom-constructed, 200-gallon still that produces the fine liquors the South Mountain Distilling Company is known for, including an array of rums, whiskies, and moonshines.
While steeped in tradition and history, South Mountain also plays with new-fangled flavors, such as Kelly’s Moonarita and Kelly’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake Moonshine.
Distillery tours are available every weekday, and they include tasting five different liquors of over a dozen that are currently in production. –by Jonathon Engels; featured image of South Mountain Distilling Company by Donald Smith