In the hills of Wilkes County, Brian Call is making moonshine the same way his ancestors made it for generations. The only difference is, unlike his father and grandfather, he’s making it on the up and up.
“Dad was making and hauling ’shine for a long time, and so was his daddy before him,” says Call, who owns and operates Call Family Distillers in Wilkesboro along with his wife, Laura, and nephew, Brad Call. “I’m the seventh generation of Call whiskey makers.” Call learned the skills of distilling from his dad, Willie Clay Call, who passed away in 2012. It seemed only logical to take that knack and continue the profession in a legal way.
Opened in October 2015, Call Family Distillers welcomes visitors for tours and bottles four flavors of moonshine: original 101 sour mash moonshine, apple pie, cherry and strawberry. They’re sold in ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission) stores throughout the state, as well as at the distillery through the recent legislation that allows for each person who tours to purchase one bottle per year on-site.
Business and Family
Call Family Distillers is part of a trend that has been noted in recent years, whereby an increasing number of people are becoming part of the distillery industry. According to the Distillers Association of North Carolina, an ambitious group comprising of the majority of both actively manufacturing distilleries and distilleries-in-planning, there are 63 licensed distilleries in the state.
“We saw a resurgence of distilleries in the state in 2007, but it has grown very rapidly in the past four years,” says Paul Jones, media marketing specialist for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “I think more people are looking for value-added opportunities or a new business. Every distillery seems to have its own reason for getting into the business. For some distillers it’s an extension of another avenue they’re already doing. For others it’s a way to have their own business and honor family tradition.”
Whether the motivation is family history or a unique process that is used, distilleries across the state have stories to tell. And with many on the North Carolina Distillery Trail, tourism is an important byproduct of making whiskey, vodka or rum. Coupled with the number of wineries and breweries also in the state, the “adult beverage” industry is quite appealing to tourists.
It’s also not bad for North Carolina’s farmers.
“From an agricultural perspective, it’s a value-added product as much as jam or jelly would be,” Jones says. “If (distillers) can use agricultural products that may not be grade-A products for human consumption, it’s a great way for farmers to partner with these distillers to use a product that otherwise would have gone to waste or for feed. That’s a good thing.”
Distillers – as well as brewers and vintners – also help generate business for other entrepreneurs. In Durham, for instance, Sebastian Wolfrum started Epiphany Craft Malt as a provider of malted barley primarily for beer makers. He works with farmers across the state to obtain the barley he requires.
North Carolina’s spirits industry is getting noticed from outside the state as well. Two distilleries – Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill and Asheville Distilling – made a list of the “South’s Best Distilleries” in Southern Living magazine. It’s an industry that seems to have a bright future, and in the case of Call Family Distillers, a colorful past.
“We’re privileged to have a lot of information and pictures of still sites from around here,” Brad Call says of the various displays at the distillery. “We wanted to make the look and the feel of the distillery as much like it was found in the hills of Wilkes County back in the day.”