Taking the legacy of NC Moonshine around the world

by | Mar 11, 2024

The legacy of moonshine in North Carolina dates back generations, long before the Civil War. Growing up in the South Mountains, Don Smith was surrounded by the heritage of moonshine and learned about the process of making it at a young age. Today, he is not only continuing his family legacy of making liquor in the South Mountains, but he is also carrying that legacy across the country and the world.

South Mountain Distilling, located in Connelly Springs, opened its doors on Dec. 31 of 2016, but its history and legacy date back long before then. Don Smith’s family has inhabited the South Mountains since the early 1700’s and his family has been in the moonshine making business for as long as he can remember. In fact, in 1828, his ancestors were involved in the first U.S. Gold Rush, which is when they not only discovered gold, but also a more efficient way to get some of the gold through making moonshine and whiskey. From the time he was ten years old, Don remembers hearing stories from his grandfather and great uncle on the family history of moonshine, how to make moonshine and other liquor products, and the importance of moonshine to the state of North Carolina. “I was always around my great uncle and grandfather growing up, so I constantly heard the talk of how to make whiskey and moonshine,” he said. “At the age of ten, my great uncle took me under his wing and started teaching me how the process worked. He also allowed me to help in small ways, like bringing the mason jars to them when needed.” Although he diverted from the family liquor business for a few years in early adulthood, Don began looking back to his roots of distilling in 2015 and has been fully immersed in it ever since.

After a year of paperwork and preparation, Don opened the doors to South Mountain Distilling in 2016. “The South Mountains used to be a mecca for liquor production, so I am proud to be carrying on the legacy, not only of my family, but of all the families who have a history of distilling in this area,” Don said. “Ever since we opened the doors to South Mountain Distilling, our business and clientele has been growing. People from all across the country come to buy our products and learn about our heritage of moonshine, and that means more to me than they will ever know.” Although they were well-known in the area from the moment that they opened, South Mountain Distilling truly took off once Don and his team got the opportunity to be involved with the Moonshiners TV Show on the Discovery Channel. “Being a part of Moonshiners was an incredible opportunity that really opened the doors for us to expand our product line beyond the North Carolina border,” Don said. In fact, one of their best-selling products, JB Rader’s Honeycrisp Apple Moonshine, gives credit to one of the shows main characters, JB Rader, and his longtime history of moonshining.

All the products made at South Mountain Distilling are taken through a unique process and prepared with both time and intention. Don works with local farmers as much as he can to obtain the ingredients for his products. In fact, the corn that they use comes entirely from farms in the area. Barley, honey, and oak barrels are also products that Don and his team seek to source locally wherever possible. “I like to support local businesses as much as I can, but sometimes it becomes difficult when looking for products like barley,” he said. The process for each product begins by grinding the grains in the hammer mill on-site. Then each product is taken through the mashing process where the starches are loosened before being cooled down. Once the cool down process begins, Don and his team add in malts and enzymes to convert the sugars to alcohol. Then each product typically sits for five days before being sent through their still for distilling. The still that Don and his team use is incredibly unique to the moonshine industry because of the materials it is made out of and the way that it runs. “When we first started seeking out a still, I drew up on a piece of paper exactly what I wanted,” Don said. “I found a guy in Missouri that was just starting to build his own still made out of copper and stainless steel. After talking with him, we partnered with him to build the still that we have today.” The very first spirit to ever run through the still was Table Rock Rum, which is still sold at South Mountain Distilling today. “It is a slow, oil-bathe process that makes each spirit with time, intention and love,” Don said. “We wanted to replicate the triple distillation process that was used by our ancestors, while also allowing the full flavors of each product to shine through. Ole’ Bessie, named after my grandmother, produces a high-quality product every time.” Once the distilling process of each product is finished, the liquid alcohol is produced and final ingredients are added to complete the process.

Today, South Mountain Distilling offers a variety of products that both men and women alike enjoy. Don’s favorite is their Sinister Whiskey because it replicates his family recipe. “It means more to me than just another product sold, or another dollar made,” he said. “It’s about heritage, legacy and love, which are all things that this whiskey encompasses.” He also has a special place for the JB Rader Honeycrisp Apple Moonshine because it was the first product that got the South Mountain Distilling name outside of the United States. In addition to those best sellers, South Mountain Distilling also produces the following spirits for purchase: Master Distiller Big Nick Calo’s Peanut Butter Banana Moonshine, Triple Chocolate Cold Brew Sipping Cream, Chocolate Cherry Sipping Cream, Jesse’s Honey Gold Commemorative Spirit, Patti’s Peach Pie Moonshine, Killer Beez Appalachian Ambrosia, Penny’s Pecan Pie Moonshine, Kelly’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake Moonshine, Colt Ford’s Mr. Goodtime Southern Sweet Tea, Sally Janes Sin A Shine, JB Rader’s 103 Proof Straight Moonshine, Cherry Bounce Whiskey, Jasper’s Shine, Kelly’s Moonarita, Cherry Bounce Moonshine, Dignified Single Malt Whiskey, Purple Jesus, and Table Rock Rum. As members of our Got to Be NC Program, they also offer a line of flavored moonshine products, including Blackberry, that features our Got to Be NC logo.

Recently, Don and his team at South Mountain Distilling embarked on a new and exciting journey that aims to take the brand, name and legacy of moonshine in our state across the world. Through a $15 billion partnership with Moonshine International/Bahamas Inc., South Mountain Distilling will begin expanding their products globally to areas such as the Bahamas and India. In fact, in the Bahamas they have already launched a deal with Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant, a major contributor to the success of this partnership and a historic landmark in the area. “Graycliff is a high-end hotel that offers unique dining and drinking experiences, which is what they will be offering with our products as well,” Don said. “We are very excited about this partnership to expand not only our name but the knowledge and legacy of moonshining in North Carolina to others across the world. The Bahamas has ties back to the U.S. through the days of rum running and moonshining, so it’s also a neat aspect to be starting the partnership there and bringing that history back to life in a new way.” Although the partnership is launching in the Bahamas, Don and his team have big dreams for entering many other areas overseas and continuing to further the name of South Mountain Distilling and N.C. moonshine. “It brings excitement and meaning back into the liquor industry,” he said, “and we are honored to be a part of this process alongside our wonderful partners.”

So, what does the future look like for South Mountain Distilling? It looks bright and full of life! “I am a very goal-oriented person, so my dreams are always growing and evolving,” Don said. “I want to bring moonshine to people across the world. We will always be making new products to appeal to a variety of tastebuds. Most of all, I always want to be someone who provides jobs and creates opportunities for people to better themselves and the liquor industry.” We know one thing is for sure, Don and his team will not rest until the name of moonshining in North Carolina has reached its full potential not only in the U.S. but all across the world. We are so thankful for their contributions to our state’s liquor industry and our Got to Be NC Program. Follow along on their social media channels to receive the latest updates on their partnership in the Bahamas, new product launches and more. We can’t wait to see what the future will continue to hold for Don and his team at South Mountain Distilling!