Southern Grace Distilleries Tour Review

Southern Grace Distilleries, in Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina, is no ordinary distillery - it’s in an old prison! Spirits are distilled in the former cell blocks, and their sonic aging process is unique. Visitors can sample a range of spirits, including their signature bourbon, Conviction. Learn all about Southern Grace Distilleries in our tour review!
Southern Grace Distilleries, Inc
AKA: “Whiskey Prison”
130 Dutch Road
Mt Pleasant, NC 28124
(704) 622-6413
Distillery Tour / Review

Watch our Southern Grace Distilleries video tour

Please enjoy our Southern Grace Distilleries Tour Review!

A Distillery in a Prison?

I have seen distilleries and breweries in repurposed banks, tobacco barns and even churches. However, I had never seen an entire prison converted into a distillery until our visit to Southern Grace Distilleries, Inc.  And it was very cool indeed.

Guard Tower
The Cabarrus Correctional Center Closed in 2011

The Cabarrus Correctional Center (aka Mt. Pleasant Prison) was originally opened in 1929. It housed its last inmates in 2011 leaving its namesake, the town of Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina, short on jobs and revenue as the facility provided significant economic stimulation for the area.  While the site was briefly used as a weapons training center for Fort Bragg personal, in 2016, Southern Grace Distilleries, Inc relocated to the former prison site and made it home.

Chapel - Southern Grace Distilleries Tour Review - Whiskey Prison
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Little Has Changed

Upon arrival at Southern Grace Distilleries, Inc, AKA “Whiskey Prison”, we found that parking was right outside the original prison fence. Walking through the main gate towards the gift shop/visitor center certainly offers a bit of a prison feel.  Little has changed here over the years.  The original cell block, solitary confinement, the “Hot House”, the chapel and the guard tower are all just as they were left.  Most of the buildings have been repurposed inside to serve as functional components of the distillery, however on the outside they remain eerily the same.

Frootbat - Making hard to find liquor easy to buy

We Start In The Visitor Center

The visitor center was just inside the main gate, and where we purchased tickets for our tour. It houses a gift shop, cocktail bar and the tasting bar, and serves as the starting and ending point for the tours. Since our original visit in October 2020, the gift shop has undergone a renovation, so it will likely look different when you visit.

Our guide, Emily, who is also the Director of Operations and Tourism, began our experience with the history of Southern Grace Distilleries and how they ultimately relocated to the former Cabarrus Correctional Center. We then proceeded to the production area of the distillery, which is housed in former cell blocks. The cell blocks are arranged in a pinwheel type fashion. The fermentation area, the stills, the barreling area and the bottling line are all in separate wings, with the mashing area in the center.

Frootbat - Making hard to find liquor easy to buy

Mashing Like a Moonshiner
Combination Mash Tun - Fermenter
Combination Mash Tun – Fermenter – Southern Grace Distillery Tour Review

Emily began by explaining the mashing process. It is pretty “old school”. For starters, the bourbon mashbill is a bit unconventional, consisting of 88% corn and 12% malted barley. No secondary grains, such as wheat or rye, are added. There are no large cookers here, either. The whole process takes place in 55 gallon drums. The grains and hot water are added, and the mash begins. When the time is right, backset (Southern Grace uses the sour mash process) and yeast are added, and those same drums serve as fermenters. This is a technique more common in the moonshining world, but it works just fine for bourbon as well.  Fermentation generally takes about 8-9 days. The grains are locally sourced; the corn is from Barrier Farms, about 4 miles away, and the malted barley from the Carolina Malt House, in Cleveland, NC.

Fermentation Room - Southern Grace Distilleries Tour Review - Whiskey Prison
Fermentation Room – Whiskey Prison
The Southern Grace Distilleries Stills
Still Area - Whiskey Prison
Still Area – Whiskey Prison

Next it was on to the stills, nicknamed collectively as “The Torn and Frayed”.  Southern Grace has two pot stills, individually named Keith Richards and Fats Domino. Each is connected to two doublers. The average proof of the bourbon distillate is in the 140’s coming off the stills. The distillate then gets proofed down to 105 for barreling.

Barrel Aging

At the time of our visit in October 2020, the bourbon was aged for two years prior to bottling. However, according to their website, their Conviction Bourbon is now aged a minimum of four years. Nonetheless, aging at Southern Grace isn’t just a bunch of barrels quietly tucked away. Oh, no. At Southern Grace, aging is a “blast”, quite literally. That’s because they employ a process called “Sonic Aging” to help mature their whiskey. There are a few distilleries practicing this method. Probably the most well known whiskey aged with this technique, but not necessarily the first, is the band Metallica’s Blackened Whiskey.

Sonic Aging

What is sonic aging? It is using sound to enhance or accelerate the maturation of whiskey or other spirit, wine or even beer. In a nutshell, the theory behind this process is that the vibrations (or pulsations, according to Copper & Kings, who also use this process to mature their brandies) induced by loudly playing music will cause the whiskey to have more interactions with the wood than if it was left in a quiet environment. This constant movement will theoretically result in the extraction of more barrel flavors and accelerate the whiskey maturation to some degree. Some believe that it is the bass notes that are most responsible, and distillers will create a curated sound track to elicit a specific response from the aging whiskey.

The East & West Cell Blocks

The sonic barrel aging takes place in the original cell blocks, East and West. Also within these cell blocks is a small tasting area where barrel picks, as well as “Barrel House Tastings” take place. After aging, bottling is done by hand. A four bottle filler is used to fill the bottles, labels are printed and attached by hand, and the bottles are sealed. The bourbon is bottled at barrel proof, which is close to 100 proof, and lower than it began.

Bottling Area - Southern Grace Distilleries Tour Review - Whiskey Prison
Bottling Area – Southern Grace Distilleries Tour Review – Whiskey Prison
Back To The Visitor Center For a Tasting

Our tour finished back in the visitor center with a spirit sampling. Southern Grace makes other spirits in addition to bourbon, and we had the opportunity to taste many of them. We sampled Sun Dog 130, a 130 proof corn whiskey; Zero Dark 130, a 100 proof version of the Sun Dog; Sun Dog Pink Lemonade & Sun Dog Apple Dumplin’, 45 proof corn whiskeys blended with fruit juice; and my favorite, Conviction, their bourbon. There are also special releases, such as a Double Barreled Bourbon as well as some interesting forthcoming wine, sherry and cognac cask finished bourbons.

Conclusion – Southern Grace Distilleries Tour Review

Whiskey Prison is a unique place to visit, and they are producing some tasty whiskey. Be sure to visit when you are in the Charlotte, NC area. The history and the whiskey making are worth the price of admission, and you certainly don’t want to miss the opportunity to drink behind bars!

We hope you have enjoyed our Southern Grace Distilleries Tour Review! If you would like to see more of this distillery, check out our Southern Grace Distilleries Video Tour! Or, learn about another North Carolina distillery in our Virtual Video Tour of Southern Distilling Company.

Date of Original Visit: October 2020. Updated June 2024

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