MOUNT PLEASANT, N.C. — Anyone who's lived in Charlotte for any period of time knows there are plenty of craft breweries cranking out some of the state's most popular beers.
But a short drive northeast of the Queen City, to Mount Pleasant, paves the way to perhaps the most unique distillery in the country. Southern Grace Distilleries is a former minimum security prison that was functional in the height of prohibition.
Now, instead of prisoners, the Cabarrus Correction Center is home to award-winning bourbon. The prison, which closed in 2011, locked up moonshine runners in the 1970s. These days, they produce 600 barrels of bourbon, all totally legal.
Tours are available on Fridays and Saturdays for $14 and much of the prison's original cells, bars and signage are intact.
"You were put in there for three days," said one Southern Grace employee. "If they couldn't get you under control in three days, then you were actually shipped to medium security."
Speaking of the prison's original accommodations, a place for some of the most dangerous prisoners on site holds the secret to Southern Grace's smooth bourbon. A building called the hotbox used to house two cells, reserved for the meanest men in prison. The non-climate controlled building helps the barrels of bourbon age slowly, giving it the smooth finish bourbon lovers enjoy.
Southern Grace's first bourbon, Conviction, was awarded the double gold medal at the Fifty Best Bourbon competition in New York City in 2017. It was awarded the "best bourbon under 4 years" at the New Orleans Bourbon Festival in March.