It began, as few business ideas do, on a family vacation.
What started as a distillery tour on a trip to Seattle germinated for the subsequent eight years, only to begin poking its head above the soil in the thick heat of this Greensboro summer. And now Bill Norman, his wife Shelley Johnson Norman and kids Andrew Norman and Lesley Norman Hobbs are anxious for it to bloom.
It’s practically time.
Located in what used to be the Forge makerspace in downtown Greensboro next door to Gibb’s Hundred Brewing, Greensboro Distilling is capable of producing 50 gallons of spirits a day. The family-run business has already negotiated for its products to land on the shelves of 200 state ABC stores, beginning with its vodka and followed soon by its gin.
The whiskeys, which will take anywhere from 18 months to 20 years to mature in barrels, won’t be on the market until much later. But with everything in place, Bill Norman planned to start filling barrels on Monday.
The company — with products appearing under the name Fainting Goat Spirits — is the Triad’s third legal distillery, at least in the modern era, and the first in Greensboro. It dwarfs Sutler’s Spirit, the Winston-Salem boutique producing excellent gin and soon rum. And while it more closely mirrors the size of Broad Branch Distillery in Winston-Salem, the breadth of Greensboro Distilling’s product line in unparalleled in the Triad.
Greensboro Distilling’s smoked single-malt will be the first whiskey available in about 18 to 24 months, followed by a straight rye whiskey that will take at least two years to ready. The straight bourbon won’t come out for at least four years, and the family will save some of it for 20 or more.
Andrew Norman, 28, spent a decade working in finance in Charlotte before returning to his native Greensboro to help launch the business. In their ideal world, Bill will oversee the mash process while Andrew distills, but right now the two work in tandem, overlooking a stripping run of the vodka and overseeing the installation of a glycol chiller.
Standing on the distillery’s back patio, which abuts a reclaimed alleyway behind HQ Greensboro co-working space and leading to Elsewhere artist collaborative, Andrew said it’s remarkable how much the center city’s changed since his childhood. The shift is obvious; a few feet away from him, a rainwater barrel leads to a tiny manmade pond with a shimmering orange fish in it while food grows nearby and a sign reading “I love your work” lines a rooftop overhead. None of it existed a year ago, and Andrew wanted the business to be a part of that rebirth, even if downtown is more expensive.
They’ll have to expand beyond the space pretty quickly to accommodate the whiskey barrels, but even if demand is high for the Emulsion gin and Tiny Cat vodka — yes, that’s what they’re called — the production facility on West Lewis Street should be able to keep up.
Bill and Andrew said they plan to have their product in stores a month from now, with tours and tastings at the distillery taking place later in August. A tasting room with a bar top and shelves already stacked with Fainting Goat Spirits’ merch flanks the street-facing open area where the mash, distilling and bottling operation will take place.
A relatively new state law allows distilleries to sell one bottle per customer per year on site; it’s a big improvement from before, when all sales had to happen at the ABC store, but it means that people won’t be able to take home a bottle of one of each spirit after a visit. That may change, Bill said, allowing Greensboro Distilling use its smaller experimental still to play around with smaller batches that would otherwise never reach consumers.
One of the fundamental things setting Greensboro Distilling apart from most distilleries is its commitment to local grains — all but the barley come from Sugar Hill Farm in Robeson County, and the minimal amount of barley it does use is sourced from a malt house in Asheville. And maybe more significantly, the company doesn’t buy a pure-grain alcohol base spirit to jumpstart the process, as many distilleries do, a point that the family prides itself on.
There isn’t much time left before the date set as a goal for Fainting Goat Spirits products to be in liquor stores, but the Normans are still tweaking their gin recipe. While they declined to disclose the ingredients publicly, it will likely include several spices and flavors commonly found in gin besides juniper and may even incorporate a vegetable.
While they’re still playing with the exact ratios, the family is waiting on federal approval for its bottle labels, a source of much kvetching among other distillers. The bottlenecks will feature a small, extended tag, a stiff flag for the company’s signature.
The family behind Greensboro Distilling already has thoughts for the future — maybe exporting to Italy or China, and they have an importer’s license and could bring in rum or tequila to barrel-age. But for now, they’re mostly focused on the last few weeks before their eight-year dream of seeing their own distillate for sale becomes a reality.
Visit Greensboro Distilling Co./Fainting Goat Spirits at 115 W. Lewis St. (GSO) or at faintinggoatspirits.com.