These 8 awesome NC distilleries and breweries are run by women

These 8 Awesome NC Breweries & Distilleries Are Run by Women

Photo courtesy of Birdsong Brewing Company via Instagram

By Claire Mainprize

September 7, 2023

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In the words of Beyoncé, “Who run the world? Girls.” Asked and answered. But if you were to ask, “Who runs craft breweries and distilleries in North Carolina?” the answer would be: mostly men.

The industry norm is so strong that when Melissa Katrincic started Durham Distillery back in 2013, visitors didn’t believe she ran the company.

“History overlooks women in spirits, beer, and wine,” Katrincic told Fodor’s Travel. “Until we figure out a way to have that not be the assumption when someone walks in this door, we’ve got work to do.”

If you want to be a part of that work, you can support the businesses of these glamorous, glass-ceiling breakers.

(A quick note before you dig in: Although there are many husband-and-wife duos that own breweries across North Carolina, we chose to focus on companies in which women are the sole owners—the head honchos, if you will.)

Raleigh Brewing Company

Raleigh

As the first woman to own a brewery in the entire state of North Carolina, Kristie Nystedt deserves all the praise. In partnership with Atlantic Brew Supply and ABS Commercial, she started Raleigh Brewing Company in 2013 with the mission to supply local homebrewers with quality supplies.

However, Raleigh Brewing Co. quickly became Wake County’s third-largest production brewery, averaging 8,000 bbl of beer per year (a single bbl, or beer barrel, is 31 gallons). Meanwhile, Atlantic Brew Supply is now the biggest homebrew supply shop on the East Coast and ABS Commercial has brewing tanks in 34 states and four countries. Oh, and Nystedt is casually the CEO and president of all three companies, effectively operating a beertopia in the Triangle area.

She also shows her commitment to the community by serving on the board of directors for Raleigh Little Theatre and partnering with Team on Draft, a road cycling group that raises money to combat multiple sclerosis.

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These 8 Awesome NC Breweries & Distilleries Are Run by Women

Photo courtesy of Raleigh Brewing via Instagram

One of the brewery’s latest releases is a Belgian blonde ale called Sheroes, made in partnership with Atrevida Beer Co. in Colorado Springs. The latter company went viral after co-owner Rich Fierro saved lives during the Club Q shooting. His wife, Jess Fierro, is the first Latina brewery owner and head brewer in the state of Colorado. Raise a glass to all your sheroes.

Birdsong Brewing

Charlotte

Although Charlotte’s Birdsong Brewing was founded by a man and two women—Tara Goulet, Chris Goulet, and Michelle Lebeau—it employs women at every stage of production and distribution. In fact, its very first hire was a woman, and women now make up half of its production team (an overwhelmingly male-dominated job).

“I don’t know if we were attractive to women that were in the beer industry or interested in getting into the beer industry, but we definitely have just naturally, organically, been a brewery where females have just thrived,” co-owner Tara Goulet told Queen City Nerve in 2023.

“The stereotype is that women can’t do the job, but it can be done and we’ve been really successful,” Goulet added. “I want those other breweries that might be not sure about bringing women on to see that it could be only good for you. You should try it.”

Tragically, co-founder Michelle Lebeau died in 2015 from medullary thyroid carcinoma, but her legacy lives on at Birdsong and throughout her community.

“To those she knew and loved, the memories shared will last a lifetime,” the company says on its website. “To those who never met her and might be reading this today, we hope that you’ll be inspired by her story: that of someone who never gave up, even in the face of adversity. We hope that throughout your day, you’ll bring some unfiltered joy into the lives around you. Michelle would want that.”

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These 8 Awesome NC Breweries & Distilleries Are Run by Women

Photo courtesy of Birdsong Brewing Company via Instagram

It may sound bizarre, but Birdsong’s Jalapeño Pale Ale is a crowd favorite. Made with fresh, hand-cut, and seedless jalapeños to ensure all the flavor is there but none of the heat, the chili beer pairs perfectly with the peanuts located in self-serve dispensers throughout the brewery.

Bombshell Beer Company

Holly Springs

According to Merriam-Webster, the term “bombshell” means “person who is the cause and object of sensational and usually widespread attention, excitement, or attraction.” All three owners of Bombshell Beer Company in Holly Springs definitely fit this description.

When Ellen Joyner, Jackie Hudspeth, and Michelle Miniutti decided during a conversation on the golf course to quit their jobs in telecommunications, banking, and health care to take their love of homebrewing to new heights, less than 2% of breweries in the US were owned by women. And when Bombshell Brewing opened its doors in 2013, it became the first brewery in the state of North Carolina to be fully owned and operated by women.

“All of us grew up with fathers that said you can do whatever you want. Don’t think of it as being female or male. If you want to do something you do it,” Hudspeth told CBS17.

The trio also wants to help change the stereotype of drinking and making beer as a masculine endeavor. Through Bombshell Brewing, they “draw upon the power of their brains, beauty and beliefs that great brewing practices make for great beer and great times for all.”

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These 8 Awesome NC Breweries & Distilleries Are Run by Women

Photo courtesy of Bombshell Beer Company

Lady in Red, Bombshell Brewing’s year-long amber ale that’s aged in bourbon barrels, is rightfully award-winning. It took home a bronze medal at the esteemed Great American Beer Fest. Stop by the taproom to try a pint of the caramelly goodness or take some cans to-go.

Chemist Spirits

Asheville

Chemist Spirits began with a mother and daughter making moonshine together in a small family still. While Debbie Word had the entrepreneurial and distilling genes, her daughter Danielle was an actual chemist. Together, they created a delightfully curious gin made with botanicals vapor-infused with wheat spirit.

They were inspired by turn-of-the-century chemists who “found ways to flex their inventiveness and turn contraband bars into happy-hour science labs.” In creating their 13 (and counting) unique spirits, the team continues to refine the science behind distilling.

Less than two years into running the business, owner Debbie Word won the prestigious Distillery of the Year award at the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association’s Chef Showdown, and the success of the company shows no sign of slowing down.

Their products aren’t the only successful aspect of the business, though, as the on-site tasting room/cocktail bar called Antidote has garnered a huge following of its own, partly due to its unique, apothecary-style aesthetic. In 2023, it was voted the best rooftop bar in the state.

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These 8 Awesome NC Breweries & Distilleries Are Run by Women

Photo courtesy of Chemist Spirits via Instagram

If you get the chance to check out the oh-so-cool Antidote bar, order the Garden Martini. Made with Chemist Spirit’s Navy Strength Gin, it incorporates fresh, Mediterranean flavors. Yelp reviewers also say Antidote’s gimlet is one of the best they’ve ever had.

Asheville Distilling Co.

Asheville

Troy Ball is the wonderful woman behind Asheville Distilling Co., which makes whiskey under the brand name Troy & Sons. Before distillery owner was on her resume, Ball’s main roles were mother and caregiver, as she has three sons—two of whom have special needs.

“As the boys got older and we qualified for assistance with their care, I finally felt I could start something outside the home for myself,” she said, per the company’s website. By that point, she’d already been learning her craft from “old men in the mountains” making moonshine.

When it finally came to naming her businesses, she chose to honor herself and her boys. “So much of who I am has been taught to me by these three amazing young men. Luke is the only one who physically works at the distillery with us, but the hearts and spirits of all our boys infuse everything we do.”

Another family that’s involved in the distilling process is the McEntire family, who have been growing heirloom Crooked Creek Corn on their farm for seven generations. The original strain is the foundation for all Troy & Sons’ whiskeys.

After more than a decade in business, one of the things Ball is most proud of is getting her products on Disney resort menus. But her main goal has always been the same: to create what she calls “pure heart whiskey.”

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These 8 Awesome NC Breweries & Distilleries Are Run by Women

Photo courtesy of Asheville Distilling Co.

One of Troy Ball’s favorite ways to use her T&S Platinum whiskey is to mix it with fresh watermelon juice and a twist of lemon. In her words, “Basically any fruit muddled, with equal parts sour (lemon or lime) and simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar) or agave, topped with something sparkling like Perrier, Sprite, or tonic are all great.” The company provides tons of other recipes to try out, too.

Liberty & Plenty Distillery

Durham

These 8 Awesome NC Breweries & Distilleries Are Run by Women

Photo courtesy of Liberty & Plenty Distillery via Instagram

As its logo clearly shows, Liberty & Plenty Distillery in Durham is named after the two robed women featured on the Great Seal of the State of North Carolina.

According to founder Tina Williford, “We must reimagine and reinterpret Liberty and Plenty for our world today, but to us their meaning is timeless, and they form two foundational values of the distillery: aspiration and abundance.”

Williford is serious about distilling—so serious that she earned a Master of Science degree in Brewing & Distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland as well as a diploma from the Wine & Spirits Educational Trust.

“I was super proud of myself, going back to school at my age with a bunch of 20-year-olds,” Williford told Eater Carolinas. “And there’s not too many women who have gone to Heriot-Watt or who own distilleries in the United States.”

Now, her company sells whiskies and bourbons under Bronze Bull Spirits, premium North Carolina vodka under Slate Belt Spirits, and small batch rums under Cap & Cane Spirits. The distillery also operates an adjoining cocktail bar in the Central Park district of downtown Durham. Its sleek design and giant rolling doors make it the ideal summertime spot for a cocktail.

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Whether you pick up a bottle or try it in a whiskey flight at the bar, Liberty & Plenty’s flagship spirit, the Bronze Bull Bourbon Whiskey, is one of its best. It even won a silver medal at the 2023 World Spirits Competition. According to the brand’s website, “Bronze Bull Batch #1 is sourced from an American Crafted mash bill using 6 and 7 year old Indiana Bourbon. Selected barrels are masterfully blended by hand in North Carolina, and briefly aged in Moscatel casks from Spain, elevating the vanilla and toffee notes on the finish.”

Durham Distillery

Durham

Melissa Katrincic started Durham Distillery in 2013 and launched her own brand of gin, Conniption Gin, two years later. In 2018, she became the first American woman to be inducted into the Gin Guild. In 2020, she opened an onsite cocktail bar called Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge, and in 2021 launched the U.S. Gin Association.

Suffice it to say. Katrincic is kind of a big deal. Her long list of achievements also includes tons of awards. For example, Conniption American Dry Gin was the grand prize winner of the 2022 Martini Competition by Tastings.com Beverage Testing Institute, while Durham Distillery was named the No. 1 Craft Gin distillery in the U.S. in 2018 by USA TODAY and the Best Distillery and Best Local Liquor by Indy Week for seven years in a row.

Just, wow.

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These 8 Awesome NC Breweries & Distilleries Are Run by Women

Photo courtesy of Durham Distillery via Instagram

If you’re a Swiftie, you’ll love Conniption Gin’s Taylor Swift-inspired cocktail, which is aptly called Lavender Haze. To make it, mix Conniption Kinship Gin with simple syrup, lime juice, and pineapple juice. The result is a gorgeous, lavender drink that tastes best while listening to the Midnights album. (Find the full recipe on Instagram.)

Redd Rose Vodka

The last entry on our list is not a distillery or brewery, per se, but a badass woman in the business who’s built a brand worth recognizing. Taylor Redd, founder of Redd Rose Vodka, considers herself a “mompreneur” who used her background in both law and bartending to create a meaningful and unique brand of flavored vodka.

The company is named after Taylor’s grandmother, who was “a trailblazing entrepreneur who created a safe space for women during a time when it was not fashionable to do so.” Despite the challenges of operating in a male-dominated industry, Rose Redd started a small business where women’s safety and enjoyment was at the forefront.

Her legacy of female empowerment and entrepreneurship is continued in her grandaughter’s company.

The company’s flagship flavor is strawberry lemon, which you can purchase in multiple sizes and is designed specifically with a woman’s elevated flavor pallet in mind.

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These 8 Awesome NC Breweries & Distilleries Are Run by Women

Photo courtesy of Redd Rose Vodka via Instagram

One of Redd Rose’s most delectable recipes is called a Rose Royale. To make it, shake one ounce of Redd Rose Vodka, one ounce of Sorel liqueur, one ounce of coconut water, and one ounce of pomegranate juice, then pour it over ice and top with club soda, adding a garnish of mint and lime if you so choose.

 

READ MORE: Eat Fresh: 9 Farm-to-Table Restaurants You Must Try in NC

Author

  • Claire Mainprize

    Claire Mainprize is a writer and editor who covers the intersections of pop culture, lifestyle, and spirituality. Find more of her work at ClaireMainprize.com.

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