Southern Distilling Company is the first legal distillery in Iredell County, and one of the largest privately owned distilleries outside of Kentucky.
The 20 acre Statesville campus houses a tasting room, production facility, barrel aging warehouse, bottling area, and conference room. There’s also two rickhouses on the campus, one currently filled with 24,000 barrels and another just starting to fill up. An event center is slated to open in 2023.
Under the leadership of Vienna Barger, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer and Pete Barger, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, SDC produces spirits for over 100 clients globally and boasts an award-winning range of bourbon and ryes. Their Southern Star Double Shot Bourbon Cream Liqueur is the most awarded bourbon cream in the nation.
So, what’s the story behind this local heavyweight? Vienna and Pete share more about the birth of their business, and the Carolina history that informed it.
When did Southern Distillery begin, and what was the impetus?
Vienna: In 2013, Pete and I set out to build a company that embraces the spirit of America’s innovative craft distilling industry. Southern Distilling Company was born on a 20 acre historic farm in Iredell County, and the response has been resounding ever since. We grew up around multi-generational family business ownership, and realized a desire to establish a business of our own. We spent a decade exploring options before launching a startup bourbon and rye distillery with a comprehensive and unique business model that checked all the boxes and was scalable.
How did you all choose your location?
Pete: Everything about Southern Distilling Company is intentional, including the physical location of the distillery: While I am native of Statesville, NC, the city was also once known as the liquor capital of the world and continues to be an agriculturally rich region located at a key transportation crossroads today. Statesville supported a robust spirits industry with hundreds of federally licensed farm distilleries bringing their products into the city to be blended and bottled for distribution on the railroad.
Due to the sheer volume of spirits being produced, the area became a key target for the Temperance movement, which set its sights on putting the spirits industry out of business. Statesville was voted dry in 1903, long before the rest of the nation entered Prohibition in 1920. The thriving farm distilleries and rectification houses either went out of business, moved west to Kentucky and Tennessee, or went underground, giving birth to the illicit moonshine trade that western North Carolina is known for today. Southern Distilling Company is proud to be bringing back this heritage and sharing the largely unknown history of legal spirits production in North Carolina.
Tell us about the “grain to glass” process.
Vienna: We purchase our grains from the local farmers, bring them to the distillery, store them in our silos and mill what we need fresh for each batch of bourbon or rye whiskey being made. A majority of the grain has been sourced from 20 miles around the distillery. Once the grains have fermented and they have gone through the distillation process the grains have been removed of all the sugars and carbohydrates, leaving a fiber and protein rich feed for our local farmers.
Do you have a current favorite whiskey you distill?
Vienna: Our Southern Star Paragon collection is truly something that is unique. Each expression shows the remarkable way that proof points alter the overall flavor profile. Our Southern Star Paragon Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a 92 proof easy sipping vanilla, honey, subtle hints of walnut, and a rich texture. The Southern Star Paragon Bottled-In-Bond Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey has a rich, silky, caramel texture with a complex array of floral notes.
The most unique product in our collection is Southern Star Paragon Cask Strength Single Barrel. This spicy, high proof bourbon was made for slow sipping. It’s herbaceous, woody, and peppery notes are balanced by sweet mint, cardamom and vanilla bean.