by Eric Ginsburg
We talk a decent amount of trash in these pages — and rightfully so — about the North Carolina General Assembly, a body dedicated to making me face-palm at least once a week while its in session. But there’s at least one nonpartisan thing this cabal of legislators has accomplished that pretty much anyone can applaud: slightly less stringent liquor laws.
This past weekend, distilleries in North Carolina welcomed a new era that began Oct. 1, selling one bottle per person per year onsite. It may sound small, but the step is significant for distillers, who otherwise must route all spirits through the state-run ABC board.
To call the existing process cumbersome and restrictive would be an understatement, but let’s focus on the positive: The direct sales could lead to significant revenue generation for distillers. That’s because selling a bottle to someone immediately after they finish a tour greatly increases the chances they’ll end up consuming the product at home, rather than counting on a costumer to remember to snag some on their next liquor-store run.
Sutler’s Spirit, the first legal distillery in the Triad’s Three Cities in several generations, and Broad Branch Distillery — also in Winston-Salem — celebrated with a weekend of tours. Sutler’s gin and Broad Branch’s Nightlab 1.0 whiskey are the only legal liquors made in the Three Cities (though there are a couple more made not too far away), and now visits to either can end with a tangible takeaway.
Greensboro Distilling Co., which signed a lease for a space just behind Triad City Beat’s office, is not open yet. Until then, Winston-Salem controls the local distillery scene, especially after Broad Branch hit ABC store shelves in August. Just a couple months earlier, Sutler’s Spirit gin had arrived to such excitement that finding it in stores required diligence and perseverance.
There are currently about 30 legit distilleries in North Carolina, a state where legends of moonshiners racing out of the hills and the legacy NASCAR still dominate local imaginations. Not surprisingly, in-state products labeled moonshine abound, like Midnight Moon from Piedmont Distillers up in Madison. The best, at least that I’ve tried, is Broadslab’s moonshine whiskey.
Some of the state’s liquors are better than others; Cardinal gin from Southern Artisan Spirit, the Brothers Vilgalys’ Lithuanian-style Krupnikas spiced honey liqueur, Defiant whisky and Covington’s vodka made from sweet potatoes are among my favorite. Sutler’s Spirit easily ranks on the list as well — there are two bottles in my modest liquor cabinet now.
I can’t speak to Broad Branch Distillery’s Nightlab 1.0 yet. But as the company expands its footprint to more local bars, checking it off will be easier. Better yet, I’ll be able to add it to my home stock after stopping into the Trade Street business directly rather than running around to various ABC stores, hoping to catch a bottle on the shelf.