BENSON — Using his grandfather’s recipe, Jeremy Norris has begun a legal moonshine-making business.
Last week, Norris hopped off his tractor and walked through a corn field to his distillery, Broadslab Distillery, located off N.C. 50 southeast of Benson.
When he’s not working in his fields or running his two auto-body shops, Norris is making moonshine and selling it in the Carolinas and Georgia.
“I saw a lot of people capitalizing on moonshining as a trend, but it wasn’t the real thing,” he said.
His distillery opened last August and is, for now, a production and distribution center, though Norris would like to open it for tours in the future. All of the corn used in the recipe is grown right outside the building.
A moonshining legacy
The land Norris farms has been in his family since the early 1800s, though it was sold once before he bought it back.
In the open fields surrounding the distillery are spots where, according to Norris, law enforcement officers approached his grandfather in the 1950s in search of his moonshining operation. But his grandfather, he said, was cunning enough to escape detection.
“He told me that when he was working out in the fields, he’d hear a ‘boom, boom,’ and that was the ALE agents blowing up the stills in the area,” Norris said.
In those days, moonshiners didn’t consider themselves criminals, Norris said. “They didn’t think they were doing anything wrong because they were around it their whole life, and they did it, and their granddaddies did it,” he said.
In the early 1900s, Johnston was known as North Carolina’s “Banner Whiskey County.” As late as the1950s, North Carolina annually produced the most bootleg booze in the country.
When his great-grandfather lived on the land, he would carry his moonshine on wagons to Fayetteville to be exported.
For his operation, Norris wanted to stay true to tradition while also making moonshine on a large scale.
With the help of his neighbor, an expert welder, he built a 500-gallon copper still that looks every bit like those found in photographs of yore.
“It doesn’t strip it of all of the flavors,” Norris said of his copper still.
He makes three types of liquor -- a white whiskey, an oak-aged whiskey and rum. They’re available in ABC stores and in several bars, including Rally Point Sport Grill in Cary, Foundation in Raleigh and Moonrunner’s Saloon in Garner.
“I like to have the whiskey with lemonade,” Norris said.
Johnston County still has many moonshiners, Norris said, but he wanted to make his a legal operation. Doing so, however, cost him a pretty penny.
He said it costs $200,000 to $300,000 to launch a legal moonshining operation. Much of the cost is in equipment and a building. (By law, the operation must be outside of the home.)
Unlike the illegal moonshiners, Norris has to pay taxes and insurance. For every fifth of whiskey me makes, Norris pays $2.41 in taxes. That’s after the cost of production and packaging.
Each bottle is priced around $23, and even then, Norris said, he pockets only about $4 per bottle.
The name tells a story
According to Norris, the area bounded by highways 50 and 242 was known as Broadslab in the 1800s and 1900s. Some speculate that the name came from the flat terrain – perhaps a “broad slab” of land formed by a meteor strike.
Others say the name came from the road that led to the coast. The road was “paved” with broad slabs of pine laid on the soggy ground to keep wagons from getting stuck.
Norris subscribes to that theory. “The road ran right through this area, so I thought, ‘Why not name it Broadslab?’ ” he said.
Antique farm equipment lines the walls of the distillery, along with black-and-white images of Norris’ family. He said he would like to continue promoting history and open a museum attached to the distillery.
It would have different stills from different eras dating back to the 1800s. He said he’s also envisioned opening a tasting room and gift shop.
But he’s not in a hurry.
Good things take time.