Distillery plans to open in Statesville early next year

Poised to open early next year, Statesville-based Southern Distilling Co. is joining a growing list of North Carolina distilleries. In 2013, there were just 13 distilleries in the state. Now, more than 50 dot the North Carolina ABC Board’s map.

One reason for the explosion of craft distilleries is a state law passed in October 2015 that allows distilleries to sell their products on-site in limited quantities. Recent national legislation has also worked in favor of craft distilleries.

“Our goal was to develop a family business that we could grow and enjoy working together successfully,”
– Pete Barger, owner.

Another reason for rapid growth is, oddly enough, the “slow food” movement. Increasingly, customers insist on understanding the origins and production methods of their food and drink. When those origins are local, even better.

Better still is when a company honors the traditional agriculture and economy of the region, which is just what Southern Distilling co-owners Pete and Vienna Barger are doing. Prior to Prohibition, Statesville had become a key shipping point for the state’s whiskey distribution, moving liquor from upwards of 450 distilleries.

Now, the largely agricultural region’s grain and fruit will help revive that tradition.

Pete Barger, who grew up working in his family’s lumber business in Statesville, said he and Vienna had at first considered viniculture, but after researching winemaking for over a year, decided to look into distilling.

“The business model had to make sense and be something we could justify from an investment standpoint,” Pete Barger said. “We were looking to invest in a business that was very scalable.”

The Bargers have put more than $4 million into the business and have, so far, not utilized outside investment. They purchased the 25,000 square foot building just north of I-40 in 2014. They currently have four 4,000-gallon fermenting tanks and are awaiting a 40-foot continuous column from a Kentucky manufacturer before they can begin the distillation process.

Although production was originally scheduled to begin this year, gathering equipment and obtaining permits have delayed the projected opening until early next year. Even after distillation begins, the bourbon and rye whiskey will take years to age.

Still, the Bargers have big plans for the label. Like many entrepreneurs looking to marry North Carolina’s combined interests in traditional agriculture, artisan beverage production, and tourism, they plan to offer tours of the spacious facility and tastings in a 3,000 square foot tasting room. Once production is fully under way, the plant will produce 40 barrels of bourbon daily.

Much of this, Pete hopes, will be headed overseas. Taking advantage of the fact that bourbon can be made only in the United States, Southern Distilling Company plans to market the whiskey in Asia, where developing communities want American luxury products.

Future plans for the Statesville property include a vineyard, walking trails and an event space and, possibly, a separate tasting room in downtown Statesville.

Like many other newcomers to the Tar Heel State’s distilleries map, Southern is now part of the Distillery Trail, a national listing of craft distillers, recipes, events and distilling history. The company can also be found at #VisitNCSpirits, the corner of Twitterspace devoted to North Carolina distilleries.

The state’s economy has long rested on agriculture. Agriculture and agribusiness contribute $76 billion annually to the state’s economy. Value-added agricultural products, like corn liquor, also boost local farming. Not only will the Bargers purchase grain from local farmers, the thousands of pounds of spent grain produced daily will provide feed for local cattle.

The Bargers also plan to produce “bridge” spirits like gin while the whiskey ages, which leaves time for the company to build relationships in the local business community as well. Most recently, the distillery became a sponsor of the Statesville Balloon Festival, an annual event famous throughout the region. The Bargers project the company will create 40 jobs for the Iredell economy.

“Our goal was to develop a family business that we could grow and enjoy working together successfully,” Pete Barger said. Like the carefully-aged whiskey that will eventually bear the Southern Distilling Company label, the end product takes time. But it’s worth the wait.


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