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Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got… Olde Raleigh Distillery’s Brandon McCraney is growing the Triangle’s whiskey footprint through small-batch blended bourbons and one-off limited releases
Raleigh’s whiskey scene is on the up-and-up, thanks in part to self-described whiskey nerd Brandon McCraney and his family-owned Olde Raleigh Distillery situated in the heart of downtown Zebulon.
Since opening Olde Raleigh Distillery in January, proprietor, master blender and distiller McCraney has already introduced the greater Raleigh area to two batches of artisanal blended bourbon whiskeys—and he’s just getting started, with limited releases slated to occur every other month beginning this fall.
The first batch of Olde Raleigh Whiskey Society was released in April and sold out at the distillery with no need for outside distribution (so it’s apparent that Triangle residents are eager to get their hands on a bottle), while the second batch was released on June 5; and the third, in August.
Now, McCraney has a 21-year rye whiskey, 17-year single barrel bourbon, double-oaked blend, and barrel-finished honey cask limited release that includes a collaboration with Zebulon beekeeper Baxter’s Bees in the works, with the honey cask release slated for fall. And vodka lovers can get in the spirit with a smooth, crisp small-batch vodka that’s on the horizon for fall as well.
By focusing on small-batch blended bourbons and one-off limited releases, McCraney feels he can introduce the greater Raleigh area to both unique and rare spirits that may not be readily accessible. He can also take the time to hone his craft.
“A 17-year-old bourbon is in our blended small batch,” says McCraney. “We could have created a young, less complex blend, but that is not the standard we are aiming for.”
Ultimately, McCraney’s goal is to continuously produce solid spirits and offer unique products and experiences at the distillery. “What I’d like to see in the future of craft spirits is that North Carolina and maybe the greater Raleigh area are known for a vibrant distillation scene,” he says. “Or maybe when you think of Raleigh, it becomes synonymous with our brand over time.
McCraney stumbled upon Old Raleigh Distillery’s current 10,000-square-foot building on Zebulon’s main street and has been a leading part of the downtown revitalization effort. While he originally intended the distillery to reside in Raleigh, the real estate market, size of the distillery equipment and mass barrel storage needs pushed the business into buildings confined in cold industrial parks—something McCraney did not want.
“We wanted to be around a community and help grow an area, and also be around a lot of foot traffic,” says McCraney. “Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out around the Raleigh area, so I started looking around the suburbs.”
Uniquely, when you walk into the distillery, you are not just meeting the owner, but also the person who is hands-on in creating the spirits and crafting what you are consuming. And McCraney’s love and craftsmanship can be seen throughout the distillery—from the bottles to the blend. He samples each barrel about once every two months to check on its development, and each limited-release cask-finished about every two to three days.
“The first thing I tell folks is that I fell in love with bourbon before I fell in love with distilling and whiskey-blending,” says McCraney. “I truly love blending and creating unique expressions.”He also loves sharing the handcrafted bourbon love… so whether you’re a newbie or an aficionado, you can join the distillery’s Old Raleigh Whiskey Society membership program for behind-the-scenes experiences into how the bourbon is produced—think barrel sampling, hands-on batching of bourbon, hand-bottling, cocktail workshops and whiskey education classes.
“When we set up the brand and our signature bourbon and our blended line, it sounded like something you could join,” says McCraney. “When we go to dump our barrels, we’ll invite some of our members to do things they’ve never done before or seen before.
”As of right now, McCraney is hyperfocused on making the Zebulon operation a success and hopes to continue to develop the Olde Raleigh Distillery brand, create new blends and help the Triangle become a destination for best-in-class locally owned and operated distilleries.
“I’d love to create a destination brand where we’re known for making high-quality premium small-batch bourbon and whiskey,” says McCraney. “We’re family-owned and -operated—and that was on purpose. We want to enjoy what we’re doing and create a special brand in the heart of North Carolina.”
Ultimately, McCraney wants to be part of a community, experience foot traffic and build a client base, as well as have a destination people want to visit. He has no real desire for growth or expansion, except to continue to develop his brand, and create new and unique blends. He would like Raleigh to be known for a vibrant distillation scene in the future—his brand obviously an integral part of that. olderaleighdistillery.com
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