By Gary Glancy | Photos by Joye Ardyn Durham
It doesn’t take long for visitors to Elevated Mountain Distilling Co. to sense the pride that co-owner Dave Angel exudes for his native Haywood County.
“He’s so passionate, which is nice to see,” says Nancy Dale of Dallas, PA, following a recent tour of the Maggie Valley distillery with her husband, John, and friends John and Jackie Miller from Beaufort, SC. The two couples made Asheville their vacation destination to seek out our region’s plethora of craft breweries, but a guidebook led them to another adult beverage whose popularity continues to soar here in the mountains.
Angel and his wife, Sue, both 49, opened Elevated Mountain’s doors to the public on Memorial Day weekend. They happily offer free tours and samplings of the company’s vodka, whiskey and peach-flavored moonshine to anyone who walks into the downtown storefront, where an old delivery truck toting oak barrels sits parked in the driveway, beckoning visitors to step inside for a taste of Haywood County history. It’s been a revolving door of tourists each afternoon this summer at Elevated Mountain, named for Haywood’s distinction of having the highest average altitude of any county east of the Rocky Mountains.
“Maggie is a great town for this,” says Dave Angel. “I tell people all the time: I’m not the only distillery in Maggie Valley, I’m just the only legal one that can put a sign out front and advertise. As long as there has been a Maggie Valley there’s been people making corn whiskey. So there’s a history and a culture of it. People come here really wanting that Southern Appalachia experience, and this is just part of it.”
Elevated Mountain is one of about 15 (legal) distilleries located within 50 miles of Maggie Valley, says Angel, with most of them in eastern Tennessee where the laws are much less restrictive for moonshine and whiskey makers. In North Carolina, distillers like the Angels can sell directly only five bottles per person per year, and are limited to just three labels in their product line.
“Because of that,” says Angel, “we have to work a little harder, so we try to give you much more of a full experience. It’s not one of those ‘Come in and get a taste and get you out of here because there are 25 people behind you.’ It’s much more of a ‘We want to give you the complete whiskey experience…how we make it, what goes into it.’”
A tour costs $5 and includes a souvenir shot glass and samples. Guests may begin their tour with a taste of corn-whiskey mash, super-sweet on the first day, and resembling sour corn syrup thereafter. They learn about the nine-day production cycle of corn whiskey, from mashing to fermentation to double distilling.
It takes about 1,200 pounds of corn to make an 800-gallon mash, Angel explains to guests. Most of it is yellow corn, all from Haywood County, but Elevated Mountain also utilizes two heirloom varieties from the Cataloochee Valley.
Each of Elevated Mountain’s products are named to honor beautiful locations and special residents of Haywood County, such as the White Lightning root beer—an ode to the instruments of world champion banjo legend Raymond Fairchild.
Then there is the Hurricane Creek Vodka, which sparks an enthusiastic segue by Angel to the topic of the pristine water of Maggie Valley, one of three places in the US where the local tap water originates in the home county.
“Our vodka is 60 percent water,” says Angel, “so the better the water the better the vodka. You cannot beat the water in Maggie Valley. Everyone who tries our vodka is surprised how smooth it is.”
Summer intern Reel Adams also conducts tours at Elevated Mountain. The 23-year-old Asheville resident, a student in the Brewing, Distillation and Fermentation two-year degree program at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, would like to open his own brewery someday. But right now he’s digging the world of mountain-made spirits.
“Long term, personally, I want to be a brewer,” he says, “but I thought this would be really cool to learn about. (Angel is) kind of stealing my heart away from brewing one day at a time.”
Elevated Mountain Distilling Co. is located at 3732 Soco Road in Maggie Valley. Learn more at elevatedmountain.com or by calling 828.734.1084.