Brothers Alex and Charlie Mauney have plans beyond producing gin at their distillery. They’ve already begun testing fruit brandies in this copper pot from Portugal.
Southern Artisan Spirits doesn’t look impressive from the outside. On a side street in Kings Mountain, the state’s third legal distillery since Prohibition is inside what at first appears to be one of the many empty textile mills with overgrown parking lots that dot small towns in Western North Carolina. The only thing that gives SAS away is the shiny new sign next to the loading dock door—and the unmistakable scent of gin in the air.
“Everybody thinks we’re making moonshine down here,” jokes Alex Mauney, one of the twenty-nine-year-old twin brothers who own the distillery, which is housed in one of their family’s old hosiery mills.
Several years ago a bread-baking hobby sparked Alex’s interest in other uses for yeast. He decided to get in on the artisan spirits trend and asked his brother, Charlie, to join. Moving from baking bread to selling their small-batch Cardinal American Dry Gin was a long jump, though—especially in a town that only passed liquor by the drink in 2009. For two years the brothers worked to gain approval from the local, state, and federal governments, even as Alex maintained another full-time job. Neither brother has ever been to another distillery, and most of their research for opening this one—and ensuring it was profitable—was done online. “Everything we’ve done is from reading, experimenting, and trial and error,” says Charlie. “We started looking at recipes from the 1700s and we tweaked them a little bit.”
What resulted was a Western-style gin with a mixture of organic botanicals including spearmint and cloves, with less emphasis on juniper. It’s a clear gin with a crisp finish and only a hint of mint. “We made it so it doesn’t have the heavy Christmas tree taste,” Alex says of the product, which is bottled in clear vessels featuring twin images of the state bird, the cardinal, and then sealed with a cork top.
Since its recent launch, Cardinal, which is $29.95 for a 750-milliliter bottle, has distributed more than 500 cases to ABC stores and restaurants throughout North Carolina, including fifteen stores and several bars in Charlotte, such as Cosmos Café and the new RE:PUBLIC. “We’d like to be leaders in the state in microdistilleries,” says Alex. “But for now we’re taking things slow and focusing on the quality of the gin.”
Want to try Cardinal? Look for it at your local ABC store or arrange a visit to SAS for a tasting. State laws prevent distilleries from advertising tastings, but not from offering them. For more information, visit southern artisanspirits.com.