I was recently in Charlotte, North Carolina to do an event that benefitted the American Heart Association. I was hosted by the Southern Distilling Company of Statesville, North Carolina. I have been to the distillery before, in 2019, but they have grown quite a bit since my last visit. I was able to tour the distillery and experience its growth.
Southern Distilling Company was founded by Pete and Vienna Barger, a husband and wife team who have a dream of making good whiskey. The distillery has some history as it is located in what was the heart of North Carolina distilling in the 19th century. North Carolina had thousands of distilleries in the 19th century, but they were farmer distillers with small pot stills making a barrel or two a day. These barrels were sold locally for the most part, but there was plenty of demand for local whiskey. There were also a few larger companies purchasing the barrels such as the Casper Co., Inc., located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who purchased barrels of whiskey and sold them nationally.
The Southern Distilling Company is a large distillery. It has grown in the last three years from a single column still and doubler to having two column stills and doublers. They have expanded from three mash tubs to twelve mash tubs. The growth is mostly due to the fact that they are contract distilling. They are filling the demand for contract distilling as companies such as MGP and Bardstown Bourbon Company get harder to book distilling time.
They have their own brands of whiskey as well. One of the reasons that they are not as well known for their own whiskey is that they have waited until their own whiskey was ready to start promoting their brands. They do have a traditional Bourbon that includes a sourced whiskey, but they now have their own wheated Bourbon on the shelves that is very good Bourbon. They have also released a rye whiskey that is very good. Their label is the Southern Star Bourbon and Rye.
The tour starts in their visitor’s center, in the same building as the distillery. It is a very attractive visitor’s center with all of the expected items such as glassware, t-shirts and other distillery branded items. There is also a bar with all of their products and they offer tastings and cocktails. You walk through a door into the distillery. There you will see an attractive column still and doubler with a tail box shaped like a double barreled shotgun. This design reflects Pete Barger’s interest in bird hunting. You will then walk to some steps up to the mash tubs, passing their cooker on the way. They have a dozen mash tubs filled with fermenting mash. They have a very thick mash so sticking your finger in it for a taste of the mash is a messy thing to do, but worth it. They make several different recipes, depending upon what the client requests them to make, but they also make their wheated mash bill and a rye mash bill for their own use.
Leaving the fermenters behind, you next walk past the second column and doubler, into a warehousing area. They palletize most of their whiskey, but they do have several rows of whiskey stored on the side using the old dunnage method of laying out a row of barrels, placing rails on the row of barrels and stacking another row of barrels on top of the barrels. They have six high dunnage storage. They have additional warehouses on the site. These warehouses are not part of the general tour, but are 100% palletized warehouses.
There is also a new event space that was built recently. It was not quite finished during my visit, but will be available for events in the near future. It is a large building that looks like a warehouse from the outside, but inside, it has a large, open area with a second floor above one end for smaller events and a room that can be used as a dressing area for weddings. There is a fireplace with gas logs on the ground floor which looks inviting for events in the winter.
Southern Distilling Company is well worth a visit when you are in North Carolina. They make quality whiskey, have a friendly, well informed staff and offers a great tour. I would recommend a stop at the distillery the next time you are in the area.
Photos Courtesy of Michael Veach