whiskey glass

GREENSBORO - A new distillery could soon open in Greensboro.

It would be the city’s first distillery since prohibition. Well, the first legal distillery.

Greensboro Distilling Company plans to be selling craft rye whiskey within the next two years and bourbon within the next four.

The distillery is being opened by Bill Norman.

Norman is the owner of Kneaded Energy, a Greensboro massage therapy practice he opened with his wife Shelley Johnson 15 years ago.

How does one go from operating a massage therapy practice to running a distillery?

“The dream started about six years ago, after a Seattle tour of distilleries,” says Norman.

Norman knew the day would come when he would turn Kneaded Energy over to his daughter, Lesley Hobbs.

Hobbs now manages the business.

He wanted to establish a legacy for his son, Andrew, as well.

That’s where spirits come in.

Andrew Norman, who lives in Charlotte and is currently in banking, has a degree in business. He is also a connoisseur of craft bourbon and whiskey. Through distillery tours and his son’s knowledge of top shelf spirits, Norman became intrigued by the idea of a craft distillery in Greensboro. He realized a distillery could be a big tourist’s draw.

Bill Norman, a native of Texas, has a background in the food industry. He was a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park in New York and an executive chef for 20 years with Aramark before going into massage therapy.

To Norman, distilling spirits doesn’t seem like a stretch from being in a commercial kitchen.

“With the background of a chef, this process of a recipe that will be the same every time is something we were drawn to,” he says.

Like Kneaded Energy, the distillery will be a family operation. Son Andrew will move from Charlotte to manage it.

“My son Andrew will be in charge. He is very confident in his knowledge in spirits,” says Norman. “He has been the guide in the tasting in what we want our products to be. As the son of a chef, he has developed a sense of good taste and an appreciation of quality product.”

Norman, his son and his wife have trained at Moonshine University in Louisville, Kentucky. They have attended a workshop at Muddy River Distillery in Belmont. And they have certifications from a former craft distilling institution in Denver.

Norman says it will be at least eight months before the distillery begins production. With the distillery being a first for Guilford County, uncharted territory is ahead with antiquated laws being the biggest hurdle.

“The laws are kind of restrictive. There are a lot of things that have to be in place before our application process can begin.”

Current zoning does not allow for the distillation of spirits in downtown Greensboro, which is where Norman would ultimately like to locate the distillery. He says N.C. House Bill 842, which is currently under consideration, would give distilleries the same privileges as breweries and wineries. If it passes, it could pave the way for a distillery to be built in downtown Greensboro.

Two other distilleries operate in the Triad area. Piedmont Distillers in Madison produces Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine and Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon. Broad Branch Distillery in Winston-Salem produces small batch whiskey.

For now, Norman is looking at locations outside of the downtown district, including the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship.

Once Greensboro Distilling Company is into production, it will initially sell only clear spirits such as vodka and gin. The bourbon and whiskey will be bottled after aging in charred White Oak barrels.

Tiny Cat is the name being considered for the vodka. Names for the gin, bourbon and whiskey products have not been decided.

“What is most important for us is we want to make sure this product is a Greensboro product,” Norman says.

A farm in Alamance County may provide the grains necessary for the distillation process.

“Greensboro has such a rich history,” Norman says. “This can be a very helpful thing for the economy.”

Developer Andy Zimmerman said Monday that a company called Wise Man Brewing is interested in opening in the Gate City Lincoln Mercury dealership property at 300 N. Church St.

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Contact Carl Wilson at (336) 373-7145, and follow @short_ordersNR on Twitter.