Twin brothers and Appalachian State University graduates Alex and Charlie Mauney, 30, have converted their great-great grandfather's hosiery mill in Kings Mountain, N.C., into their very own gin distillery. Less than a year old, Southern Artisan Spirits is the only legal gin-making operation in North Carolina and is earning awards and national recognition.
Although Kings Mountain was the first community in the U.S. to become legally dry, it now hosts one of only a few legal distilleries in North Carolina. Southern Artisan Spirits' Cardinal Gin is a "new style" of gin that can be appreciated even by those who don't typically like gin. Using recipes dating back to the 1700s as a starting point, the brothers were able to create their own special blend that downplays the traditional juniper flavor and embraces some other organic ingredients.
After a year of experimenting with non-traditional ingredients like licorice root and grapefruit peel, the Mauneys finally got it right. Their award-winning recipe consists of 11 different botanicals, including spearmint, cardamom, coriander, orange peel, apricot kernels, cloves and a few ingredients they prefer to keep secret. Cardinal Gin is available in North Carolina and South Carolina and will soon be found in New York, New Jersey and Virginia.
The brothers' interest in distilling began with baking bread. They became fascinated with yeast and fermentation when experimenting with a brick oven they built together. Then, "My uncle gave us a wine-making kit for Christmas and we started playing around with that in the garage," said Alex Mauney. The brothers said gin is their favorite white spirit and they believed it would have good business potential. "Gin has more character than vodka and the market is saturated with vodka right now."
The Mauneys are staying true to their Appalachian roots by making an effort to be environmentally conscious and mindful of energy use. In addition to using the family building for their operation, they have taken other steps: The industrial cooker they use is an economical method of heating and they have even switched to an organic ink for their bottle artwork, which appears more vibrant than the original label. Charlie Mauney added, "All of our botanicals are organically harvested."
Alex Mauney, who graduated in 2006, earned a degree in industrial technology and works for an engineering company in Kings Mountain. He said that his interactions at Appalachian, both inside and outside the classroom, provided him with the people skills it takes to run a business.
Charlie Mauney graduated in 2004 with a degree in political science and was in his first year at Thomas A. Cooley Law School when his brother called to propose launching a distillery. He says making gin is definitely more fun than law school, but it's also hard work. "It's a lot more labor intensive than people think it is, especially making small batches like we do."
The entire distilling process takes about four days and the brothers fill every bottle by hand. "We get about 180 bottles out of one distillation, which is 60 gallons," said Charlie Mauney.
Amid a growing popularity of small-batch distilleries, the Mauney brothers seem to have entered the market at just the right time. They hope to continue to grow a following for their gin, and they say small-batch bourbon is their next endeavor.