By Chris Heagney
The people of Western North Carolina have a rich history of foraging and harvesting a variety of herbs and botanicals. One example of this regional legacy is S.B. Penick & Company, an herbal pharmaceutical company that originated in Marion, and shipped medicinal plants and roots all over the world during the early 1900s. They sourced most of their products from the flora of the Appalachian Mountains.
Chris Bower, owner and distiller at Eda Rhyne Distilling Company, is intimately familiar with the potential of the plants that grow in this region. “We have a very distinct approach here,” says Bower. “We want all of our products to capture the tastes and character of our region.” The distillery, whose name comes from a Haywood County ghost story, produces less conventional spirits. Many of the ingredients used by the company are specific to each recipe, so it is necessary to have access to such a diverse selection. For instance, Eda Rhyne is the only distillery in North Carolina that produces Amaro, an Italian herbal liqueur. “Amaro is regionally appropriate because WNC has traditionally been a hub for folk ‘medicinal’ plants, which is what we use to make our distinct herbal spirits,” Bower says. Eda Rhyne sources many ingredients from Aardvark Farms in Burnsville. Aardvark Farms is owned by Rett Murphy, who is also Bower’s partner at Eda Rhyne.
Along with botanicals, sourcing high-quality grains and barrels is also a priority for the distillers. “When producing our rye whiskey, we use very rare, heirloom grains that can only be found in our region,” says Bower. “Our corn variety is single source and we are the only ones that have it. This imbues a very specific flavor profile that captures our local terroir. We will be the first distillery to commercially use our rye variety in 125 years, and maybe the first to ever use it.”
Eda Rhyne’s current line-up includes Appalachian Fernet and Amaro Flora, but three more products will be available this year. The first will be Black Rye, the whiskey being made with heirloom grains. “This is an amazingly distinct-tasting rye whiskey,” says Bower. “Rich and nutty, with a complex shadow from being finished in our Appalachian Fernet barrels. It is also high proof, so I think whiskey lovers will have fun with this one.” Another new release will be a Rabarbaro called Amaro Oscura. It’s a rhubarb-based Amaro made with Chinese rhubarb and regional autumnal plants. The Rustic Nocino, an Italian black walnut liqueur, will also be making its annual comeback.
Eda Rhyne is located at 101 Fairview Road, Suite A, in Biltmore Village. They are open Wednesday through Saturday from 3-8 p.m. Christopher Heagney is the owner of Daidala Ciders, located in Asheville at the Historic Cotton Mill Studios at 122 Riverside Drive, Unit G.