You would be forgiven, but only briefly, for thinking that our Tar Heel State only produced fine brown spirits. And while bourbon and whiskey may still be kings, innovative distillers, are making a name for themselves with their small batch crafted gins. The North Carolina “ginscape” is particularly intriguing because of the range of strong and boldly individual flavor profiles that will appeal to cocktail connoisseurs as well those who prefer to sip their gin neat. Each one, is worthy of your attention.
Washington, North Carolina
Before moving to Washington, North Carolina from London, England, Nick and Susanne Sanders (a Washington native) spent years building brands for large multinational companies. “We wanted to open our own business and contribute to the future success of Washington. We felt that a gin distillery would marry up well with our other concept, which was to open a restaurant,” says Nick Sanders. The idea for The Hackney was cemented when they found a beautiful former bank which leant itself perfectly to the concept.
1000 Piers Gin is a modern style botanical gin distilled using the traditional 'London Dry' method, meaning that nothing but water is added post distillation. “The gin is inspired by the uniquely beautiful Coastal Carolina landscape where the ocean and land seamlessly merge,” says Sanders. The use of fresh local botanicals and a high quality winter wheat base, results in a delicious citrus, spice flavor profile.
Botanicals: Complex citrus upfront driven by locally grown lemongrass combined with fresh orange & grapefruit peel, and kaffir lime leaves. A spicy midpalate driven by fresh ginger root, galangal, black pepper and a smooth finish showcasing warming anise and cardamom notes.
Best Sipped: Neat over ice with a twist of orange. “Because of its super high botanical load 1000 Piers Gin turns pearlescent when mixed with ice and tonic making what we call a cloudy G&T. It also makes a delicious French 75, and works brilliantly in classic gin cocktails like The Last Word and Corpse Reviver No.2,” says Sanders.
Conniption Navy Strength Gin
Durham, North Carolina
Women owned and led Durham Distillery is one of only a few US distilleries focusing entirely on gin. The attention to detail and dedicated focus has clearly paid off. Since launching in 2015, Conniption Gin has been lauded as one of the finest gins coming out of the U.S. Owners Lee and Melissa Katrincic were inducted into the Gin Guild in London in 2018, with Melissa as the only woman distiller from the U.S. to ever be inducted.
“Conniption was born out of a passion for gin,” says co-owner Melissa Katrincic. “But it is also about bringing in modern distillation techniques and rethinking how to distill gin. We are the first distillery in the U.S. to introduce vacuum cold distillation with the use of rotary evaporators. Conniption Navy Strength gin is unique because of its complex flavor profile achieved in a high proof (114) gin.” This is a bold and savory gin that will excite both gin and whiskey drinkers alike.
Botanicals: Juniper is very BIG in this gin, but it is complemented by savory notes of caraway, rosemary, bay leaf, Indian coriander and cardamom. “The citrus in this gin is fresh lemon peel and then a distillate of figs is blended in from the rotary evaporator. The fig adds to a luxurious mouthfeel and helps to elongate the finish. Many are surprised that it is a 57% ABV gin,” says Katrincic.
Best Sipped: In a dirty martini: 2 oz Conniption Navy Strength gin, .5 oz olive brine. Shake it to chill. Then there’s a vermouth rinse of La Copa Extra Seco in a chilled martini glass and garnished with a freshly stuffed blue cheese and bacon Castelvetrano olive.
Dark Rhythm Gin
Oak & Grist Distilling Company
Black Mountain, North Carolina
Grain to glass distillery Oak & Grist, situated in the picturesque community of Black Mountain, prides itself on its inclusion of all locally grown base ingredients. Their Dark Rhythm Gin is distinct first and foremost because it is North Carolina’s only (and one of only a few U.S.) Genever-style gins being made.
“Since most gins are made from purchased GNS (Grain Neutral Spirits or Vodka) distilled somewhere other than the gin producer’s distillery, it is among a small number of gins actually being made from scratch at a single distillery,” says co-founder and head distiller William Goldberg. “We also produce a very limited quantity of barrel rested Dark Rhythm which is even more of a marrying of whiskey and gin with the introduction of flavors and aromas derived from the cask.”
Botanicals: Locally grown sumac and lemon verbena along with a lineup that also includes juniper, coriander, chamomile, sumac, carrot, orris root, and angelica root.
Sipped: In a precursor to the martini, The Martinez, a traditional Genever cocktail. “One of the wonderful things about making a Genever is that because it is the result of combining a whiskey and a gin, it is suitable in a wider variety of cocktails,” explains Goldberg. “I really quite enjoy making an Old Fashioned with Dark Rhythm. We have developed two versions for our gin; a muscadine grape Old fashioned and a lemon ginger yaupon tea old fashioned. If I am sipping it straight, which was one of my goals as I developed the flavor profile, I enjoy it over ice with a simple twist of lemon peel.”
Mystic 57 Navy Strength Gin
Mystic Farm & Distillery
Durham, North Carolina
Inspired by a Scottish holiday liqueur produced by a small distillery on the North coast of Scotland, Katie Sinclair created an elegant bourbon liqueur from wildflower honey and whole exotic spices. Scaling up, the craft brand leased a distillery space in downtown Durham and later purchased a disused 22 acre farm on the Northern edge of the city. In addition to a zero waste production process, the distillery is now the largest solar powered bourbon distillery on earth.
“We always wanted to make a gin and had the opportunity to buy a gin basket that another distillery had ordered but never used. We modified one of our existing stills and spent a year making test batches,” says co-owner Michael Sinclair.
“We decided to make Mystic 57 Gin because we really like gin and we wanted to make a tasty modern gin. As we were doing test batches we started enjoying the robust flavor of the higher proof samples, so we decided to release the gin at Navy Strength.
Botanicals: “We based the spice blend on the 9 spices we use in our Mystic Bourbon Liqueur and added additional citrus and two types of juniper along with Spanish orange peel and pink peppercorns,” explains Sinclair.
Best Sipped: On the rocks or in a gin martini.
Sutlers Spirit Company
Winston Salem, North Carolina
Winston Salem’s first legal distillery in more than two centuries, founder and distiller Scott Sanborne, spent almost a year experimenting with an array of botanicals before settling on his beautifully balanced citrus forward gin.
“Together with talented local bartender, Tim Nolan, who helped create the flavor profile (a mad scientist type guy that has a phenomenal palate and experience with many botanicals),” says Scott Sanborne. We created three different flavor profile gins (during this time we almost also went broke) but decided on the citrus forward for a few reasons. It still has the backbone of the juniper, but one of our strengths is how very well balanced our flavor profile is with no one botanical overwhelmingly standing out. It is also at 94 proof to hold its own in a cocktail.
Botanicals: “There is one botanical that we do use in a different way than most gin makers, but we cannot exactly describe how we do that,” laughs Sanborne. “Sutler's strength comes from balancing the botanicals so well together.”
Best Sipped: In a complex cocktail like the Aviation: 1.5 oz Sutler's Gin, 3/4 oz Lemon Juice, 1/4 oz Luxardo (Maraschino Liqueur, 1/4 oz creme de violetta Garnish: brandied cherry.
Asheville, North Carolina
Founded by Debbie Word, Chemist Gin was born from a small family still and many hours of moonshining with her daughter Danielle, a practicing Chemist and Pharmacist and son-in-law James Donaldson. Their unique appreciation for classic distilling and modern science led to the creation of their first spirit – simply called American Gin and later opening a 1920’s apothecary themed distillery, called Chemist Spirits, in their home of Asheville, North Carolina.
American Gin uses the least amount of juniper required to be considered a gin, leaning instead into other flavorful botanicals to create a contemporary, fresh, very well balanced, citrusy gin.
Botanicals: Include Five types of citrus, peppermint, coriander, grains of paradise, rose petals/rose hips, cardamom, Thai ginger and cacao.
Best Sipped: In Debbie’s favorite cocktail, a Bees Knees, using her own honey and American Gin. 2 oz Chemist American Gin, 1 oz Lemon Juice, 1/2 Honey Syrup, Lemon Twist for Garnish. Shake over ice and strain.
Port of Entry Gin
End of Days Distillery
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington's first distillery offering tastings and tours, was founded by husband and wife team Shane and Beth Faulkner. The couple made a hobby of visiting distilleries wherever they vacationed, always fascinated by the art of distillation and the distillery experience, they created End of Days Distillery.
"End of Days Distillery was born from a legacy of hard work and hustle, where creating something with your own two hands meant a day well lived. We are devoted to creating premium handcrafted spirits," says Co-owner Beth Faulkner. "The name was born after an evening of conversation around a backyard fire, where Shane and friends were sharing stories and passing a bottle of something special.
He noticed that many of the stories about love, life, kids, the future all concluded with “At the end of the day…” a phrase that perfectly summed up the situation and conversation.
At the end of the day, who do you want to be?
How do you want to be remembered? What’s your mark on the world? What do you reflect on? What are you proud of? What will you remember? These are all part of what End of Days Distillery stands for,” explains Faulkner.
Their Port of Entry Gin set out to create a non-polarizing gin. Using 14 different botanicals and spices, and conducted over 12 trials, the end result is a complex citrus forward, floral gin.
Botanicals: Juniper; coriander; cardamon; elderberries; rose hips; citrus peels; lemongrass and orris root, along with Hawthorn berry grown right here in NC.
Best Sipped: In a Restoration Tonic Cocktail. "Our take on a classic Gin and Tonic," says Faulkner. "We make our tonic in house with fresh citrus and lemongrass."
Tilley’s Club Cocktail: Port of Entry Gin, Raspberry, Thyme, Dry Vermouth, Lemon, Egg Whites.
The Hanger Cocktail: Gin, Cherry, Crème De Violette, Lemon