The counties along the Dan River in North Carolina and Virginia were historically known for their whiskey-making abilities.
Caswell County, North Carolina, was the site of John W. Sowers Distilling Company in the 1800s, well before Prohibition. Patrick County, Virginia, was home to the multi-generational distilling DeHarts from the late 19th century well into the 20th century.
The Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935
Franklin County, Virginia, has its own storied heritage, home to Richard Rakes, who distilled whiskey at the turn of the 20th century. The county later became known as the “Moonshine Capital of the World” with the moonshine conspiracy trial of 1935, in which 80 people were indicted in a production, distribution and protection scheme. Of those, 30 were found guilty, while Commonwealth Attorney Carter Lee—the grand-nephew of Civil War General Robert E. Lee—and two others were acquitted. The trail, however, attracted the attention of novelist Sherwood Anderson, who covered it, and has fired the imagination of historians, novelists, screenwriters and audiences ever since.
Fans of that history will get the opportunity for an event that combines history, film, and moonshine in one event on December 6, when the Rives Theatre in Martinsville will host Twin Creeks Distillery for a showing of “Lawless,” a film adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s novel “The Wettest County In The World,” which itself was based on events surrounding the moonshine conspiracy.
Twin Creeks Distillery is participating in the event. Owner and Master Distiller Chris Prillaman will share stories with the audience before the film. Tasting or a signature cocktail made with Twin Creeks Distillery‘s finest 1st Sugar Moonshine and Copper Corn Whiskey will also be available. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the movie will be shown at 8 p.m.
The moonshine tradition also created the first stock-car racers. Men like Junior Johnson, Curtis Turner, and Danville’s Wendell Scott got their start in auto racing by running moonshine.
The legacy continues
And the tradition has continued on. In the late ’90s, three men were arrested in Caswell County for moonshining. Another operation in Person County was shut down just earlier this year as part of a statewide sweep in North Carolina.
Fortunately, you don’t have to break the law to get a taste of Dan River liquor, as the region has become home to a number of legal distilleries in recent years. Here are seven to check out. Remember to find a designated driver and to drink responsibly.
1) Twin Creeks Distillery, Franklin County, VA
In 2015, Twin Creeks produced and sold the first legal liquor in Franklin County since Prohibition. The great-grandfather of owner and master distiller Chris Prillaman was one of the men indicted in the 1935 conspiracy trial. Twin Creeks is located in Henry, Virginia, but is moving to a new location in 2019.
2) Piedmont Distillers, Rockingham County, NC
Piedmont Distillers opened in 2005, brewing the first legal liquor in North Carolina since Prohibition. It operates in a former train station, and two years after opening acquired Junior Johnson’s heirloom recipe for Midnight Moon. It also makes vodka.
3) Springfield Distillery, Halifax County, VA
Springfield Distillery makes whiskey, rum and bourbon in a house that dates back to the mid-1800s. It uses locally sourced grain and corn for an authentic product made in a historic location.
4) Franklin County Distilleries, Franklin County, VA
Franklin County Distilleries taps into regional moonshine history with a location in Boones Mill, a small town midway between Roanoke and Rocky Mount. It makes 100 proof corn whiskey that can be infused with fruit or transformed into delicious cocktails.
5) Dry Fork Fruit Distillery, Danville, VA
Dry Fork Fruit Distillery first opened and operated in Patrick County’s Meadows of Dan, but recently relocated to Danville, where it operates a retail store in the River District. It incorporates locally grown corn, barley, and fruits into its whiskey and brandy.
6) GIA Distillery Inc., Rockingham County, NC
GIA Distillery utilizes a copper-plated column still to make bourbon and grappa, an Italian brandy. One of its bourbons is named for a cabin next door that was built in 1799 and sits on the original plot of land that formed the town of Madison, NC.
7) Law’s Choice Distillery, Franklin County, VA
Law’s Choice was founded by a third-generation moonshiner from rural Franklin County, Virginia. The Law family name is synonymous with (and notorious for) good liquor, and Law’s Choice uses only the best ingredients and time-honored techniques at the hands of an experienced distiller to produce artisanal, high quality liquors.
More history and related things to do
Looking for more to do in the Dan River Basin? Check out these past trip ideas.