[This article is the second in a series about North Carolina distilleries in honor of N.C. Spirits Month, which was first proclaimed in 2017. Each article is part of a “spooky spirits” theme ahead of Halloween.]
Not many people can claim to live as interesting a life as Van McCoy. From growing up in Mount Airy, to going to Georgia Tech to study astrophysics and then spending 25 years living as a monk in various monasteries around the world, McCoy has enjoyed many life experiences. About eight years ago, he returned home to take care of his ailing mother.
“When I came home I saw that the tobacco fields of my childhood were being replaced with vineyards,” McCoy said. “Mount Airy had wineries, craft breweries and I guess we completed the circle with craft spirits.”
Mayberry Spirits uses sorghum to make their whiskey products, which comes in three varieties, clear, oak and toasted vanilla. The idea for using sorghum came from a visit to Horne Creek Farm during the farm’s corn shucking days.
“They had a demonstration where they were making sorghum molasses and I thought I could do something with the juice part. It lead to using a sorghum grain-based mash for our whiskies in place of the more commonly used corn mash. Sorghum is also naturally gluten-free.
In addition to their whiskies, Mayberry Spirits makes its own gourmet extracts and offers whiskey-infused coffee and cigars. “We aim to support local crafters and products in our offerings. Many local crafters are featured in their tasting room.
McCoy is proud that Mayberry Spirits has achieved the No. 1 place to visit for the Mount Airy-area on Trip Adivisor.
“Mayberry means a cohesive community that enjoys life. I want the products we produce to be a celebration of family and friends. We are in the happy business.”
Despite closing for two months due to the pandemic, business has rebounded. “Our last two weekends in October have been some of the busiest we have seen since we opened,” McCoy said. Like many small-batch craft distilleries in the state, Mayberry Spirits is open only on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you are unable to make the trip to Mount Airy for a taste of Mayberry, check out your local ABC store, where the whiskies can be found in the majority of North Carolina counties. “In many ways the ABC system is a help to local producers, especially with time tables and quotas that make is easier for us to sell to them, ” McCoy said. “But every ABC board is independent so you have to actively market to each one you want to be in.”
Look for the products at several restaurants, too, such as Old North State Winery, SOHO Wine and Grill and Whiskey Kitchen in Raleigh.
McCoy has also received assistance from marketing specialists with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In 2016 he joined Peter Thornton, assistant director of international marketing, and other craft distilleries on a trade mission to Australia. This was McCoy’s first foray into the international market and it was a learning experience. “It may be a few more years before we get there with international sales but it helped us know what we need to do. The NCDA&CS Marketing Division has been enormously supportive of the infant distilled spirits industry.”
“Van is the guy that always shows up and does everything right, Thornton said. “When the time is right for him and his products, he will be very successful on the international stage.”
Fans of Mayberry Spirits also have a new product to look forward to. McCoy is producing a brandy from Chambourcin grapes grown at a local vineyard in Dobson. It is just another reason to check out Mayberry real soon.
Mayberry Spirits is located at 461 N. South Street in Mount Airy. Distillery hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tours are offered at the top of the hour and can be reserved online (which is recommended).