WILMINGTON — No distilleries operated in New Hanover County before this time last year. Now there are three.
With plans to hit ABC shelves sometime in March, Mason Inlet Distillery joins Blue Shark Vodka and End of Days Distillery in Wilmington’s emerging craft liquor market.
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Hot rod car mechanic Tom Curran has spent the past two years in a warehouse unit in King’s Grant setting up the distillery and fine-tuning what he calls his ‘hot rod beach liquor.’
This is no Cognac one sips while digesting a nice dinner, as traditional brandy drinks are often consumed. And it’s a clear liquor, like gin or vodka, unlike the caramel brown most expect from brandy, which is made by aging distilled wine.
Curran uses the same brandy distilling method, but instead of grapes he infuses the liquor with lemons, bananas, cucumbers, or pineapples. He and his marketing manager, Kevin Stauss, call it ‘contemporary brandy.’
“We have to call it a brandy, just the way it’s made,” Stauss said. “But everything from our labels to the way the liquor looks — they stand out from everything else on a brandy shelf for sure. The biggest thing was calling it ‘contemporary brandy,’ separating ourselves from everyone else, because we’re not the same as everyone else. It’s not going to taste like you’d expect a brandy to taste, it’s just a brandy by formula.”
For Curran, who once owned a custom car shop in the Scotts Hill area, the idea to make untraditional brandy didn’t come from a lifelong passion, but from a challenge from his wife’s father.
“I was never a fan of liquor,” Curran said. “I just wanted to prove to my father-in-law that I could make better liquor than what was on the shelves. It was just a test, a bucket list deal.”
He says he’s the sort of guy “who will take a 2000 Corvette, rip the body off, and put a ’69 Camero on it — stuff that’s not supposed to be the norm.” He also wanted to create a liquor that could be enjoyed by a beach town that is thirsty, but active; something that wouldn’t prevent a surfer from catching some morning waves after a night of drinking.
“That was my intention — clean liquor, no burn, no aftereffects the next day, with a full flavor and aroma,” Curran said.
About 350 gallons of the distillery’s first four products — Lemon Waves, Coolcumbers, Go Bananas, Pineapple Express — are bottled and ready to go. Curran wants to reach roughly 600 gallons produced before he begins distributing to ABC stores, enough supply to distribute beyond the Wilmington market.
A big part of his marketing strategy is to educate potential customers on the differences of his product from traditional brandy, and liquors like flavored vodka, which he said are distilled first and then government-approved flavors are added to the batch.
“Where mine is actually made with real fresh fruit, made into a juice or a smoothie-type texture, and that flavor and aroma is infused into the liquor, and you don’t lose it,” Curran said. “Each will have its own flavor and aroma, as if you were chewing the fruit up. That’s what I was shooting for. Like the Lemon Waves, if you hold it in your mouth long enough, you can feel it infused in your cheeks; you can taste it.”
Once production is stable, Curran said he’ll open a small tasting bar next to the distillery on select dates, which will be posted on the distillery’s website.
Ultimately, Curran said it’s a family business and he hopes it stays that way. Jonathan Volkman, his wife’s brother, is learning the ins-and-outs of the production process, and he hopes his three sons carry on the business in the years to come. But without the encouragement of his wife, he said he wouldn’t have made the jump into the distilling business in the first place.
“It’s been a two year-struggle, with no income, to build this. If it wasn’t for my wife, this wouldn’t be happening,” Curran said.
Mason Inlet Distillery is located in Kings Grant at 6420 Amsterdam Way, near Broomtail Craft Brewery.
View pictures of the distillery below.
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