Season 2, Episode 1
On this episode of the Life in the Carolinas podcast, Carl is joined by George Smith, co-founder of the Copper Barrel moonshine distillery in downtown North Wilkesboro. Several years ago, George was a member of the Charlotte Bourbon Club and he became aware that the popularity of craft spirits was on the rise. From his previous work experience with IBM and Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market, he knew that retail growth is cyclical, and he would be wise to make the leap into a business venture early. He knew that he wanted to venture into the craft spirits realm because of his passion for the history, culture, and community surrounding moonshine, as well as his personal affinity for it.
He began actively looking for a location for his distillery, and after doing site surveys in 12 towns, he was left convinced that Wilkes County was the perfect place. It had the rich history and the natural resources that he needed to be successful, and during a tour of the town with the mayor, he was informed that Wilkes County was also to the home to a resource he didn’t know he needed: Buck Nance. Buck may or may not have been making his own moonshine for the past 50 years and been an active participant in NASCAR during the 1970s and 1980s to that end. Regardless, after meeting Buck, George realized that he would need Buck’s knowledge and experience in order to create a superior and unique product.
The main obstacle that George and Buck continue to face is the perception of moonshine among the general public. They are working to overcome this obstacle by providing samples at festivals, encouraging people to tour the distillery, and by partnering with restaurants for Shine and Dine events that feature their moonshine. George views the entire Copper Barrel company as an ambassador for Wilkes County and the history it fosters, and they are able to make a positive impact on the community by supporting charities such as The Fallen Outdoors. George also sees the value of giving the platform to Buck’s hard work and heritage that he never had before, and he is glad for the opportunity to help the community celebrate him as well.
Looking toward the future, George is excited for the new products and new locations that may be on the horizon, and he is committed to changing people’s perceptions of moonshine until it is a point of unparalleled pride and connection.
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