Peer through the window of a former auto mechanic's shop on Washington Street near downtown Durham, and you may be surprised by what you see.
A large, gleaming, customized copper still dominates the room. Beside it sits a smaller glass contraption called a Buchi R-220 SE Rotavapor, a pricy piece of equipment usually found in pharmaceutical labs. Its glass pot may be full of cucumbers, or perhaps figs. And toward the back, you might spot piled pounds of chocolate or gallons of concentrated coffee. They wait to be transformed into liqueurs.
These are the chief components of Durham Distillery, a new business looking to capitalize on a sudden intersection of shifting state codes, a growing area interest in craft alcohol and a booming neighborhood. Durham Distillery will specialize in gin by finding new ways to challenge an old process. It will combine traditional production methods with new laboratory science, just as you can see through the window.
"We're hoping to really elevate what a modern gin can be," says Melissa Katrincic, who owns and operates Durham Distillery with her husband, Lee. "For us, that meant bringing in modern distillation techniques and modern lab techniques to think about how to rebalance the flavors and the palates of gin."
They are not alone: Just two blocks away, Two Doors Distilling Co. will commence operations in November with plans to sell its products by May. In the past five years, the number of craft distilleries in the United States has gone from around 40 to the hundreds. In 2007, North Carolina had zero craft distilleries; in 2013, 13. There are now at least 28, with predictions suggesting there may be as many as 45 by year's end. A new law that goes into effect October 1 means that state distilleries can sell one bottle of alcohol per calendar year to each visitor. That may not seem like much, but it's an essential step forward for the growing industry.
"It's hard to overstate the importance that the law change is going to have. It's a small step in terms of modernizing our existing system, but it is going to be a winner for the state of North Carolina in many, many ways," says Scott Maitland.
Maitland is the vice president of the Distillers Association of North Carolina, a nonprofit association promoting craft distilling in the state. He founded TOPO Organic Spirits in Chapel Hill, too, and wrote the bill that's now being enacted.
"It's going to allow North Carolina tourism funds to support distillers, spur the growth of the distilling industry as a whole, increase sales in the ABC system, create jobs and strengthen the local foodshed," he says.