New Favorite: Old Nick Williams Whiskey

I have found the perfect hot toddy.

I didn’t realize there was such a thing until I tried it. The whiskey has to be smooth, a perfect complement to the honey. I’m staunchly against honey-flavored whiskey — too sweet and artificial. My not-so-secret ingredient is Old Nick Williams Carolina bourbon whiskey.

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And I’m not being paid or getting any kickbacks or favors for saying that.

I asked my husband to give me a bottle for my birthday because I’m on a mission to try more North Carolina liquor. I’ve been a big fan of Fainting Goat Spirits (Greensboro) and Broad Branch Distillery (Winston-Salem) for a while, and I’d heard of Old Nick Williams distillery in Lewisville when it was still being built a couple years ago. According to their Facebook page, the Williams family had decided to resurrect their old family recipe, dating back to pre-Prohibition (like, wayyyy before Prohibition), and I was excited to try it.

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The distillery in Lewisville

The flu kept me from celebrating the distillery’s opening weekend in May 2017 (could’ve used somma dat whiskey in my hot toddies). Then, life and a lot of craft beer got in the way. In the meantime, the Williams visited different counties’ ABC boards, as per NC law, to get their product stocked on store shelves.

We finally visited the distillery a couple weekends ago. I was curious to know how big the business is considering it’s family run and still young. Van Williams himself gave us a tour of the modest, high-ceilinged building. Unlike other tours that educate you on the milling, fermenting, barreling, and bottling, this one started in the gift shop, where a display case along one wall contains documents from the 1800s and early 1900s, including the original license and letters from U.S. presidents who were sent some of the stash.

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A letter from President Buchanan

Like a lot of distilleries, the company was doing very well for itself, and then Prohibition crushed it. Van reminded us that North Carolina prohibited the sale and production of alcohol a full ten years before the federal decree (1909), and four years after it had been repealed (1937). In that time, the recipe wasn’t lost, but the family had to turn to other sources of income, and after the repeal, it was hard to get re-licensed.

This happened to other parts of the alcohol industry, too, like beer. It’s why so many articles about NC’s backwards alcohol laws are still being written, and why so many distillers complain about the limit on the number of bottles they’re allowed to sell directly to consumers each year (five). Even during the tasting, we had to mix our own drinks because the distillery isn’t allowed to. (Unlike in Kentucky.)

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The bottling room — machinery on right

At any rate, the distillery seems to be doing well. Several other customers were there when we arrived, and more were being given tours by the time we left. Bottling day, though, is the worst, says Van. The machinery allows for only four bottles to be filled at a time, and the room is pretty small, allowing just enough space for someone at each station. I’d heard of distilleries in other states having bottling parties for those who want to volunteer, but Van said they aren’t allowed to imbibe on site, making it hard to convince outsiders to help.

Maybe the laws will change considerably in my lifetime. After all, the Brunch Bill (i.e. buying alcohol before noon on Sundays) passed last year, and distilleries were allowed to sell one bottle a year on-site to consumers in 2015; that number increased to five in 2017. With luck, they’ll be able to sell more soon, thereby bypassing part of the tax they pay to ABC. (Bottles going to ABC stores have to be sent to Raleigh before being distributed to ABC boards that have approved of the distillery selling their product. You can’t see it well in the photo above, but that’s actually why my bottle has tape on it; the labels were damaged in shipment during Hurricane Florence.)

Next time I need more hot toddy whiskey, I’ll make the fifteen-minute drive from my house to go to the distillery itself. After all, I might need to get a bottle of their white whiskey, too.

 

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