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North Carolina has rich distillery history

LEWISVILLE, N.C. -- Let the good times pour.

“We’re in a renaissance of spirits, right now,” said Matt Williams, one of the owners of the Old Nick Distillery in Lewisville.

But, really, it’s just a recreation of what once was.

“At one point, North Carolina had more distilleries than just about anybody else,” said John Trump, the author of "Still and Barrell: Craft Spirits in the Old North State," a book that both tells the history and current state of distilling of whiskey and the like in North Carolina.

Trump’s book points out how North Carolina was early to prohibition – beating the federal government to it by more than a decade and not coming out of it until 46 years after the feds.

“Distilling wasn’t really legalized in the state until 1979 and we got our first distillery in 2005,” Trump said.

And don’t think the Williams family wasn’t counting.

“My fifth-great grandfather, Col. Joseph Williams, was given 8,000 acres here by the lord proprietor to settle this area,” said Zac Williams, who runs Old Nick with his cousin Matt. “It passed from generation, from father to son, father to son, until my great grandfather, Nicholas Glenn Williams in the late 1800s.”

It was that Old Nick who turned it into the behemoth it was, before the North Carolina government shut him down in 1909.

The state government is, in some ways, beginning to help this industry restart.

“I feel the tides are turning,” Zac Williams said. “I feel like the state’s moving in the right direction. I feel they’re beginning to open their ears and listen to what craft distillers have to say.”

But there is still a plethora of red tape for any small distillery.

“For us, it’s a little tough because we have to do all of our own sales,” Matt Williams said. “There are 422 ABC stores and 133 ABC boards across the state. So, in addition to making alcohol, we have to also go out and pitch our product to each ABC store.”

Which is why it remains for most of them, a labor of love.

“I think anybody here – or, very few – are doing it for the money. I think they’re doing it for the tradition and to keep something alive,” Trump said.

See the entire Old Nick tradition – and more about John Trump’s book on the industry – in this edition of the Buckley Report.