Moonshine, Rum and Gin: Our Guide to the Best Liquors Made Here in NC

Southern Grace Distilleries out of Mount Pleasant has the unusual distinction of being housed in a former prison. Shout-out to all the bootleggers once jailed there. (Image via Southern Grace Distilleries)

By Michael McElroy

July 26, 2021

Already considered one of the finest states for brewing beer, North Carolina has some top-flight liquor to offer too. 

VisitNC, the state tourism agency, has all sorts of ideas about where you can go, what you can see, and where you should spend your vacation dollars in our fine state. And what you should imbibe.

There are several top-notch small-batch distilleries in North Carolina, and with lots of outdoor seating (and even movie screenings at some of them) they can be a safe space in a stubborn pandemic to drink safely among friends. A relatively new distillery in Weldon, for example, has helped bring needed visitors to a town that has long-struggled economically.

Here is a look at some of VisitNC’s most recommended places for adults to get a taste of our state.


We’re all about the moonshine: The state’s history is steeped in it. Its array of recipes have been handed down from family to family since prohibition turned our great-grandparents’ bathtubs into personal distilleries, and it even helped spawn NASCAR.

But, moonshine’s history is not dead. It’s delicious.

Great Wagon Road Distilling, Charlotte

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“More than 60 years after his grandfather was arrested in Ireland for making poteen (Irish moonshine), Ollie Mulligan is doing the same in North Carolina – on the right side of the law. The County Kildare native uses the same poteen recipe that’s been in his family for generations, and Great Wagon also offers Rua (Irish for red) single malt whisky, vodka and a barrel-aged whiskey.”

Copper Barrel Distillery, Wilkes County, “the moonshine capital of America.”

“Copper Barrel is Wilkes County’s first legal moonshine distillery and the world’s first to produce a legal beverage using a direct steam-injection distillation process. Instead of neutral grain spirits, Copper Barrel uses grains from North Carolina farms and mills along with well water from a crystalline-rock aquifer.”


Ok, and now for the good stuff.

If I were banished to a small island and could bring only one kind of spirit, it would be whisky. (Or is it whiskey?) Neat, rocks, all fine with me. While I’m partial to my ancestors’ Irish whiskey, North Carolina more than holds its own.

Blue Ridge Distilling Company, Bostic

“The distillery’s bellwether brew – boldly branded Defiant – is an award-winning barley-based whisky made from pure mountain water and softened and seasoned via white oak spirals rather than barrels.”

Southern Grace Distilleries, Mount Pleasant

One of North Carolina’s most decorated small-batch whiskey makers, Southern Grace Distilleries in Mount Pleasant. (Image via Southern Grace Distilleries)

“A visit to this distillery is like no other, as it’s the only one in the United States housed in a former prison. Whereas the correctional facility once housed captured bootleggers, Southern Grace honors them with its whiskey collection.”


North Carolina’s coast was once thick with pirates, and those pirates were full of rum. The rum trade was thriving here in the days of eye patches and shivering timbers, and the coast remains a fine place to try some state-made rum.

Outer Banks Craft Distillery, Manteo

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“From molasses to glasses” is the tagline for the Outer Banks’ only distillery, located in the former Board of Education building in downtown Manteo. Rum is the primary spirit here, as Outer Banks offers several types of its Kill Devil series, including gold, silver, and a unique pecan and honey combination.”

Muddy River Distillery, Belmont

“Produced on the banks of the Catawba River, Muddy River Distillery specializes in rum, including the barrel-aged Queen Charlotte Reserve. Whether it’s the coconut or spiced variant, you’ll find rum that’s equally sweet and smooth, begging for a blender.”


Lee and Melissa Katrincic, founders of Durham Distillery, makers of Conniption Gin. (Image via Durham Distillery)

Durham Distillery

This one is not on the VisitNC’s list, because they are not really small batch. They are huge.

And, they say, they have come up with a new way to make gin. I’m not a chemist and will take their word for the novelty of it. What we can say with full confidence, their gin, Conniption Gin, is amazing.

We’ll let them speak for themselves.

“Since its inception in 2013, Durham Distillery has been rethinking how gin can be brought from the traditional into modernity. As the first distillery in the United States to leverage vacuum cold distillation with rotary evaporators, Conniption Gins are now recognized as the most awarded and among the best distilled in the country.”


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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