North Carolina moonshine conjures images of backyard festivities, cheap -- or shall we say “rustic” -- mixed drinks, and just a little bit of Appalachian rebellion. Look no further than the story of Madison, NC-based Junior Johnson to understand how our state and bathtub hooch are intrinsically linked. Today, the Queen City has rapidly adopted the legal spirit for cocktails that are sophisticated albeit, extremely potent. Here are 10 spots to get your moonshine fix near Charlotte.
The cozy interior and rich Southern flavors (oh, the lobster nachos) are reason enough to visit The Summit Room -- and then we get to the cocktail list. Beyond a compelling specialty cocktail menu brimming with house-made sours and fresh juices, it presents The Seven Summits, signature elixirs each named for, you guessed it, the Seven Summits! North America’s Mount McKinley is aptly represented by Midnight Moon, Midnight Moon Apple Pie, house-made honey lemon syrup, apple juice, and finished with a touch of maple syrup sweetness.
It must be something about the magic of a Carolina July (or maybe the magic is just mild heatstroke) that makes the moonshine + blackberry combination so appealing. Dogwood’s take on the pair features Troy & Sons, blackberry shrub (fresh juice plus Champagne vinegar), its lemon and Key lime house sour, house-made blackberry jam, and lemon bitters. There’s a lot of “homemade” going into that one drink, and it tastes as such.
We love seeing quick growth from a distillery a stone’s throw from Charlotte, especially one that just launched in 2014. Tours are available by appointment and also during historic Concord’s Union Street Live events, the third Thursday of the month from 5-8pm. For now you can’t go wrong purchasing a bottle of its Sun Dog 130 and whipping up a suggested cocktail (Carolina Peach or, dare we say, the Hot Buttered Popcorn with Fireball and butterscotch schnapps), but keep it on your radar for the release of new flavors like pineapple, honey apple dumpling, and pink lemonade.
It’s a moonshine bar! Oh, and there’s bowling and some of the city’s best barbecue. Ten Park Lanes offers a menu with both breadth and depth, serving up varying flavors of moonshine on tap. Though the Blueberry Infused Moonshine Lemonade is a great place to start, we’re siding with the bartender on giving the strawberry moonshine “margarita” a try.
Nan & Byron’s is a Charlotte staple for good food that’s creative, but doesn’t overthink it. It only fits, then, that it presents moonshine refined with its G’Night Moon cocktail. Smooth and just sweet enough, the combination of Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon, soda water, Sprite, mint, lime, and simple syrup makes for a refreshing libation that goes down easy.
This Asheville-bred spot is already known for serving a mean brunch, but The Queen Mary takes your lazy Sunday (after noon of course) to the next level. When you pair this decked-out Bloody Mary variation -- pimento cheese-stuffed olives, grilled shrimp, maple pepper bacon -- with the choice of “vodka or jalapeño-infused moonshine,” we say, the choice is obvious. Order it alongside the Super Southern Breakfast Bowl with black-eyed peas, goat cheese grits, and farm-fresh eggs for a truly Appalachian experience.
Sometimes a little summer refreshment is all you need. Among the rest of The Cowfish’s complex menu -- hello, Burgushi -- the cocktail list keeps it relatively simple. The Moscow Muleshine is the perfect sip for the season with Junior Johnson Midnight Moon, ginger beer, fresh lime, and shiso.
We appreciate the solemnity with which Midwood Smokehouse presents its “Southern Tradition”: a shot of moonshine with a pickle juice chaser. That is respect for the craft. We’re also excited to learn, though, that the team is working on a few new concoctions for later this summer, likely featuring Ole Smoky Tennessee blackberry moonshine as the centerpiece. We will happily shoot the pickle juice while we wait. And hey, can we crash those tasting sessions?
There are several spots that serve up the ‘shine without a designated cocktail listing, so just look at that as an opportunity to be creative. The Asbury is worth a visit for Chris Coleman’s decadent take on farm-to-table Southern cuisine, especially when bar manager Pete Ladino is ready to whip up custom cocktails on command. And speaking of those Troy & Sons libations...
If there’s one moonshine brand you are likely to see again and again in Charlotte, it’s Troy & Sons, helmed by the Carolinas’ matriarch of moonshine, Troy Ball. If you’ve tasted all (or even one) of its Platinum-based drinks, it might be time for a day trip to the mothership. It offers free tours and tastings at 5pm and 6pm Fridays and Saturdays.
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1. The Summit Room1531 East Blvd, Charlotte
2. Dogwood Southern Table and Bar4905 Ashley Park Ln, Charlotte
3. Ten Park Lanes1700 Montford Dr, Charlotte
4. Nan and Byron's1714 South Blvd, Charlotte
5. Tupelo Honey Cafe1820 South Blvd, Charlotte
6. The Cowfish4310 Sharon Rd, Charlotte
7. Midwood Smokehouse1401 Central Ave, Charlotte
8. The Asbury235 North Tryon St, Charlotte
Sidle up to the bar for an expertly made cocktail named after one of the seven summits, or warm yourself by the fire with a selection of small plates including poutine made with North Carolina cheese curds.
Dogwood may be trendy but its food is certainly familiar, serving what they call "Elevated southern cuisine." Make sure to start off the evening with a Carolina July, a moonshine and blackberry combo concocted with house-made blackberry jam.
It's a moonshine bar and a bowling alley and a BBQ joint and... do you really need there to be more?
Bring the whole family to this South End destination and grab a sunny spot on the patio or sit at a table inside to catch the game on one of the bar’s four televisions.
This Asheville-proud spot serves a mean brunch. Order the Super Southern Breakfast Bowl with black eyed peas, goat cheese grits, and farm-fresh eggs alongside The Queen Mary--it's a Bloody Mary variation made with your choice of vodka oooor jalapeño-infused moonshine. We think the correct option is pretty obvious. Lines can be long for brunch here, so arrive early.
As you may have suspected from the name, The Cowfish is indeed a burger-sushi bar. Part of the menu has got burgers, part has got sushi, and then there's the burgushi, but we won't get into that here. If unsure what to get, or just overwhelmed with the entire concept of the place, try the Texas Longhorn burger, you won't be disappointed.
With pit masters working 24 hours a day, an impressive selection of house-made BBQ sauces, and plenty of moonshine, Midwood Smokehouse is certainly worth the hype. The all-wood smoker is hand crafted with hickory logs, leaving the restaurant's hunks of fresh, local meat with a perfect, smoky finish. The slow-smoked barbecue favorites range from smoked wings to brisket and salmon steaks, all drenched in the famous house sauce, and all of which can be served atop salads or slices of thick-cut Texas toast. When you've mostly removed the rib-residue from your face, following your sizable carnivorous entrée, try a pickle-back shot of moonshine to perk you back up.
The Asbury is a modern southern restaurant, resting inside the historic Dunhill Hotel. Here, Executive Chef Chris Coleman gives Carolina favorites a modern twist, like his Cast Iron Biscuits served with bacon jam made using his grandmother’s recipe, or shrimp and grits with miso. The menu also features true southern staples like a fresh NC seafood boil and fried green tomatoes. The antique beauty of this restaurant is not to be understated, and you have the choice of either sitting inside or out on the stunning patio.