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Mystic Farm & Distilling Company

Durham, North Carolina


Crusin' Rating: A

Booze Rating: C+


This week is our final review from this year’s trip to North Carolina. Mystic River Farm & Distillery in Durham, North Carolina boasts a reputation as the first bourbon distillery in the triangle (The area whose points are Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh) and use their own grain and onsite aquifer water to make their spirits. We took a particular interest in the fact that this was a distillery that used solar - an area of professional interest for Hannah and I - in order to power up to 40% of its total energy load. A distillery that was growing its own corn was reminiscent of one of our preferred bourbon spots in Wisconsin, J. Henry & Sons and we were excited to see how the North Carolina Bourbon measured up to our own as well as learn as much as we could about this very carbon-neutral-leaning imbibery.

Can I just start by saying that Mystic Farm has such a fantastic pastoral quality to it that it has often been what I think of when I think of the word. The sun shining down, wild grasses and trees swaying in the breeze, a small pond, footbridge, hanging lights, and tin roof tasting room. It’s not a far stretch for you to close your eyes and hear summer insects trilling as you feel the sun warming you through.

I think that if I needed to pick a moment in time that encapsulated our experience in North Carolina, this would be the one that acted as a snapshot as our time in the countryside. If you can’t tell by now, I was quite taken by the scenery and perceived vibe from the moment I stepped out of the car but I will try and stick to our more tangible experience for the remainder of the review.

Started by an unlikely duo of ex-engineer and former lawyer, we had the opportunity to sit down with one of the owners, Mike, toward the end of our review to discuss the ins and outs of State Owned Liquor Stores, distribution, renewable energy, and the far-reaching consequences of Prohibition. For those counting, lingering legislation related to Prohibition was only repealed in 2005. In fact, as Mike cued us in, there was no legal distilling in North Carolina from 1908 to 2005, the better part of a century which was absolutely wild for us to comprehend. During our conversation, we learned that Mystic Farm is actually the biggest solar-powered bourbon distillery in the world. I think distilleries in Wisconsin could definitely look to Mystic Farm as an example in that respect. Mike gave us a brief overview of his history of a home brewer and that an organic chemistry class taken during college really was a key turning point in moving into distilling. With the assistance of federal farm grants in the 2010’s and after a lot of research, Mystic Farm Distilling was born. I would like to point out though, that the owners are not the primary distillers, even though they do enjoy, or at least Mike seems to enjoy, being hands-on involved with the process.

Hannah and I were able to book a tour ahead of time as part of a larger group. Tour tickets cost us just under $22 which covered tasting samples, a cocktail, and lasted about an hour. There is a higher price point tour available at $250 which can accommodate up to six guests and includes a full tasting and cocktail for each guest and lasts 1.5 hours. Finally, there is a barrel experience at around $1,300 that allows you the full distilling experience and you get to come back each year and get a pint of your spirit. That was an interesting twist over other distilleries we’ve visited who will let you buy the barrel but don’t always offer any educational experience along with that.

I will say that the $22 tour was well worth it. Not only was the tour guide entertaining, but we were able to taste some white lightning - unaged whiskey - pulled right off the still and taught a neat little method of tasting, which I now use, that involves placing drops of spirit on your hand rather than just sipping it. One of the only tours that has featured a video component, which was to us, a slight hiccup in the overall vibe and energy (the video was entertaining, don’t get me wrong) but I will always prefer people, even a full-on lecture to watching a recorded video.

The outdoor space, as mentioned earlier, is fantastic if you’re into green grass and small ponds with some picnic tables scattered throughout. There are shaded areas on the patio/porch of the tasting room, but inside the building was standing room only. There is a bar inside where samples are poured, shelves for the retail bottles and a small shelf of swag. Really though the inside area is meant as a sort of lobby for tours, rather than an indoor space to take your ease. I have never been to North Carolina in winter, so there’s a chance that the indoor space can be converted.

Hannah and I were able to taste a few spirits, and while we weren’t able to do our usual full analysis - and you know how much we love group tastings at a counter or bartop - we provided some initial thoughts below:

Bourbon Liqueur (30% ABV) - You read that right, bourbon liqueur. Maybe it’s a southern thing? Maybe to appeal to the sort of hard drinking crowd? We picked up Anise, Cinnamon, and honey here on the nose and an end note of mint. When tasting, those same flavors came through as well as a little clove and that mint was right there at the finish. It was a little too sweet for me and Hannah is just barely on the fence with enjoying great bourbon, so anything out of the realm of peak she steers clear of.

Broken Oak Whiskey (50% ABV) - With aromas of toasted oak and honey, at 100 proof and a price tag of $150 a bottle, this bourbon was smooth and rich as you would expect it to be with plenty of rich caramel in the palate. With only a small sip though, I wasn’t able to take full notes but I did recall that I did not enjoy it more than say a J. Henry Patton Road Reserve which is about half the price. At that price point, I think you are putting your bourbon amongst some serious competition and it was a little too rich for my blood. Hannah forbade me from getting another carry-on just for bourbon as we already had one filled with beer and some Conniption Gin.

Gin 57 Barrel Aged Navy Strength (57% ABV) - Unfortunately, Hannah and I had somewhat unwittingly tried a navy strength gin that has won (as of date of publishing) the navy strength gin that has won best in the US five years running at the world gin competition and had unwittingly spoiled our pallets a little for this trip. Nevertheless, this light gold gin smelled strongly of licorice and I got notes of kola nut, cassia, and anise when tasting. Definitely a unique profile for a gin, and it had the appropriate amount of heat on the finish, but I have just never been that wild about the amount of licorice that this exhibited.

Mystic Farm Distilling is Frenchie friendly, but the heat isn’t. Most likely, he’d make every attempt at making the pond his personal pool. Mystic Farm does not have any onsite food, outside of some dry snacks, but do try and host food trucks along with live music and welcome your own picnic lunches or carry-in food.

I think it was pretty clear from the get-go that I was really enjoying the look of the outdoor space and how genuine this felt. Coming from Wisconsin it’s always nice to sit on a farm and I think Mystic Farm Distilling is really doing some things very right when it comes to being conscious about their footprint, their energy consumption, and producing and using their own grains. We see pieces of that here and there in Wisconsin and you know Hannah and I are always big proponents of that when we see it. I’d love to see distilleries in Wisconsin start to look at cleaner energy - Mystic Farm is an example of that working and it doesn’t seem to have any negative effect on their space or their product. While I wasn’t fully in love with everything I tasted, I think that if you are in the area - this worth the 30 minute drive or so.

We’re heading back to Wisconsin now for a while, but trust us that Carolina is always on our minds.

Until next time, keep on cruisin’, don’t stop boozin’.

To learn more about Mystic Farm and Distilling Company please visit their website at: or on Facebook: @MysticFarmAndDistillery or on Instagram: @MysticFarmDistillery

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