Thursday, June 8, 2023

Southern Pines company crafts flags using whiskey barrels

Photo of Heath Trigg at the Heritage Flag Co.

Photos by John Gessner

It all started with a dream. Heath Trigg, owner and founder of Southern Pines-based The Heritage Flag Co. woke up with a jolt in the middle of the night in 2014. He was dreaming of an American flag.

“No earthly idea why or how that happened. But I got out of bed … and I painted a picture at 3 in the morning of the world’s first whiskey-barrel American flag.”

At the time, Trigg’s construction and cabinet-building companies were working on a custom brewery bar for three Army veterans in Southern Pines. “They were getting out of the Special Forces to start work,” he says. “I looked at a set of plans, and they had a room that intrigued me: a barrel aging room [for beer]. … We decided to construct the tasting room at the brewery all out of deconstructed whiskey barrels.”

A special friendship formed between Trigg and the Southern Pines Brewing Co. owners, Micah Niebauer, Jason Ginos and John Brumer. They were all in their early 30s, and Trigg was impressed with their passion for the business and how they applied lessons learned while serving in the Special Forces. “Such an awesome friendship was formed that when we were nearing the end of the project, [my team] wanted to make something for them that said ‘thanks,’” says Trigg, now 35.

So Trigg and his team of eight got to work on his late-night sketch: a 49-by-26-inch American flag made from deconstructed white oak whiskey barrels. They kicked the owners out of the brewery right before the soft opening to put the finishing touches on the tasting room and hang the secret flag. Trigg, a burly 6-foot-5-inch guy, tears up when he recalls the moment the veterans first saw the flag.

“I’ve told this story many times, and it still means something every time,” Trigg says. “When they saw the flag, it was a total surprise. … That was awesome. Just seeing these Special Forces guys lose it over this flag.”

His workers initially swore they wouldn’t make another flag because of the intricacy involved and the special meaning the first one had, but they were soon bombarded with requests for the handcrafted designs. Trigg officially launched Heritage Flag at his Southern Pines property and now works at the company full time, putting his cabinet-making and homebuilding on hold. The business sells flags and other handmade items made from whiskey and wine barrels to customers in every state and more than 38 countries. Although most of its sales are online, Heritage Flag has a retail store in downtown Southern Pines that sells birdhouses, wooden stars, wine racks and other home knickknacks made from barrels. One flag hangs in the Pentagon’s main visitor entrance in Arlington, Va. Prices range from $99 to several thousand dollars, and the company employs about 20 workers, including part-timers.

Heritage Flag buys its barrels from distilleries and wineries, typically paying $60 to $100 each. They are delivered by 18-wheelers to Heritage’s campus in Vass, then dismantled and transported to the Southern Pines workshop.

Creating flags isn’t a simple process. After the barrels are broken apart, they have to be flattened by hand and left outside to dry for weeks. The pieces are then cut to the correct width, sanded and cut to the right length. Each flag is assembled by craftsmen who figure out the puzzle of putting each piece of mismatched wood together to create a unique design. It typically takes 30 to 60 days to complete a flag from start to finish. Each one is slightly different, which Trigg says is part of the appeal.

“Heritage flags are perfectly imperfect. …The materials that we’re making these flags out of have a life, have a story, have heritage. … They didn’t start their journey to become an American flag. They started their journey to age whiskey or wine, and this character is in the wood and the smell and the texture.”

Trigg, who grew up in Charlotte and has a bachelor’s degree in business from Appalachian State University, won’t discuss his company’s financials. He notes Heritage Flag has helped nonprofits raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through auctions and donations. One Heritage Flag line promises a portion of profits to pro-gun rights groups. The company has also donated hundreds of flags to doctors, teachers and, of course, military veterans. Though Trigg didn’t serve in the military, both his father and grandfather are Navy veterans. Trigg recalls when he was invited to Arlington, Va., to present a flag to a veteran who lost his arms and legs while serving in the military. The man’s bravery and positive outlook left an indelible mark.

“I didn’t have a clue what sacrifice was,” Trigg says. “But I’ve learned a lot about what sacrifices are in this journey. I’ve been very fortunate to have been surrounded by a lot of talented people and to be able to do this with our own hands — make something that appreciates what sacrifice really means.”

Trigg plans to expand the company at a 20-acre property he purchased a few years ago just north of Southern Pines. It will include a shop, event space for parties or weddings and a skeet-shooting range. Heritage Flag also is exploring licensing and franchising opportunities, but those plans are at least a few years off. One thing is for sure: Heritage Flag will always be a made-in-America enterprise. Though it is cheaper to source materials and have them processed overseas, Trigg says “neither one is an option.

“It’s an American flag, you know?”


Related Articles