Charlotte: Juicing up the joint
Once the illicit commodity of bootleggers, legal moonshine distilleries are blossoming as U.S. sales of alcoholic spirits reached nearly $72 billion in 2015. Now, 2-year-old Southern Grace Distilleries soon will be brewing moonshine and other spirits in a former Cabarrus County correctional facility.
The business was started by three former staffers of U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, a Democrat ousted in 2012. Making the rounds at ABC stores, “We learned that people were looking for a real moonshine, higher proof and higher quality,” says Leanne Powell, president of Southern Grace and Kissell’s former chief of staff.
Powell, Thomas Thacker and Perry Morris set up a distillery in the back of the historic Warren C. Coleman textile mill in Concord. Texas native Morris drew from old family traditions in making moonshine, and Southern Grace’s first product, Sun Dog 130 corn whiskey, hit shelves last year. The product, which retails for about $30 for a 750-ml bottle, was named for Thacker’s dog Mia. Morris no longer works for Southern Grace but remains a stockholder, while Wadesboro native Thacker is chief operating officer. Kissell is a board member.
Now, the business is expanding into a nearly 20,000-square-foot space that will enable it to add new products. Mt. Pleasant Properties, led by local physicians Tom Earnhardt and Allen Dobson Jr., paid $350,000 for the Cabarrus County Correctional Center, which operated from 1929 until 2011 when state budget cuts forced its closing. The developers plan to spend $750,000 to upfit the property, which sits just outside Mount Pleasant. Southern Grace will finance a 4,830-square-foot barrelhouse to age bourbon.
Southern Grace has five licensed products, and for each bottle sold, the company makes a donation to charity. Sales of Sun Dog 130 benefit local animal shelters, while proceeds from the company’s newest product, Sun Dog Pink Lemonade, will aid breast cancer research when sales start in October. “As a company, we decided that we wanted to make giving back part of our corporate mission and that we would not wait. We wanted to start day one,” Powell says.
A state law passed last year allows distilleries to sell one bottle of alcohol directly to consumers as souvenirs. While the old location wasn’t conducive to tours, the company hopes to draw visitors interested in touring the distillery and the former jail, starting Oct. 1.
For now, Sun Dog products are sold at ABC stores in North Carolina, in Washington, D.C., and, soon, in South Carolina and Louisiana. More than two dozen bars and restaurants also offer the 130-proof whiskey, which Powell says is the most potent moonshine sold in the state.
Sales of distilled spirits have increased steadily over the last 15 years, according to Washington, D.C.-based Distilled Spirits Council. The trade group attributes the growth to soaring worldwide demand for American whiskey, renewed popularity of classic cocktails and millennials’ interest in discovering new products.
$24.1 billion 2015 revenue from U.S. sales of distilled spirits, up from $11.7 billion in 2000
176 percent increase in corn production used in spirits from 2010-14
41 licensed distilleries in North Carolina as of July 1
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