A monk walks into a small town and winds up enticing residents with spirits of the alcoholic variety.
Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it’s not. This is real. A monk really did return home due to family obligations, and wound up creating Mayberry Spirits Distillery in Mount Airy, N.C.
Mount Airy, of course, is the real hometown of the late actor Andy Griffith, and it served as the fictional town of “Mayberry” in the well-loved TV series, The Andy Griffith Show. The show’s spin-off was called Mayberry R.F.D., and those letters stood for “Rural Free Delivery.” Today, R.F.D. stands for “Really Fine Drink.”
So how does a monk go from serving monasteries to crafting moonshine? It’s simple according to owner Vann McCoy. He returned to his hometown to care for his ailing mother, believing that it was his responsibility to “Honor Thy Mother.” He also says it’s not such a stretch for him to go into the distillery business because as he says, “I was around wine making, distilling and brewing when serving monasteries [in Switzerland and Ireland]. Monks make some of the best wines, beer, and spirits anywhere.”
He enjoys the tie to Mayberry and says that his dad was a friend of Andy Griffith and that when his mom was a soda jerk at Hollingsworth Soda Fountain, “Andy would come in and flirt and chase.”
The business had a soft opening in April, and celebrated its grand opening at the beginning of October. The current lineup features three varieties of whiskeys produced in small batches in handcrafted copper stills using sweet sorghum syrup, which is made from the grain of the sorghum cane. McCoy says this produces whiskeys that are exceptionally smooth and rich. The three varieties they are starting with include:
Crystal Moon: 100 proof. It’s a clear spirit that reminds many of the local moonshine that’s tickled many tongues in North Carolina for generations. Because it’s made with the sweet sorghum syrup, it tastes closer to a tequila or rum and is a great replacement for tequila or rum in margaritas, daiquiris and other mixed drinks. $27.95.
Toasted Oak: 100 proof. Very smooth and really fine, crafted in charred oak barrels with toasted oak chips that are smoothed out by the sorghum spirit. Age equivalent of 1-2 years barrel aged. $29.95.
Toasted Vanilla: 90 proof. Toasted Oak blended with their own pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract creates a smooth, warming whiskey designed to be savored over a good conversation. Makes for an incredible mixer with your favorite soda or blend $31.95
The business also recently bottled its first batches of gourmet extracts. So far they’ve produced Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract, Pure Lemon Extract, Pure Lime Extract, and Pure Orange Extract. “To my knowledge we are the only gourmet extract producer in North America that produces its own gourmet alcohol onsite as the base for our extracts,” said McCoy.
Getting a bottle of the whiskey can be tricky since the state of North Carolina doesn’t allow online alcohol sales. McCoy is working to secure a distributor in another state to fulfill orders from the website, which is also in production at this time. He hopes to have the ecommerce side of his business in full tilt by spring. Local ABC stores sell the whiskey, and those who venture to Mayberry Spirits Distillery in Mount Airy can pick up a bottle, but only one. State law allows people who take a tour to buy one bottle per person per year.
Tours are fun and engaging with costume changes and tidbits about Mayberry. Plus the store is part of the N.C. Distillers Trail, a joint initiative of the N.C. Department of Agriculture/Agritourism and the Distillers Association of N.C. Participants will receive passports that can be stamped when visiting the 26 distilleries across the state.
The store offers locally made crafts and other handcrafted items like cigars hand rolled by a Honduran family now living near Statesville, N.C. “In one of the cigars they make, the tobacco is infused with our own Toasted Vanilla Whiskey,” said McCoy. “Some guys think that’s really cool.”
McCoy reveals a secret—he actually made his first moonshine when he was 13. After attending a summer enrichment program at Western Carolina University to learn about Appalachian culture, he became intrigued with the idea of crafting moonshine. He gathered some ingredients such as corn meal and a packet of bread yeast and found a corner of the porch to hide his experiment.
One day his mother came home and saw her pressure cooker on the stove with a metal pipe running to the sink. “Are you making liquor?” she asked her son. When he told her he was, she burst out laughing and said, “Your whole family has been making it for 150 years and selling it. It’s probably in your blood.”