- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

CONOVER, N.C. (AP) - Plenty of college students drink alcohol. Rarely does one graduate and make it.

Zackary Cranford, 23, isn’t looking to make cheap beer, however. Since graduating from N.C. State, he’s spent the last few months preparing to make moonshine. Legally. He’s the face behind Foothills Distillery, located on Thornburg Drive SE in Conover.

Now that he has a federal permit, Cranford said he’s hoping to start in the spring. It’s a unique industry because there’s a lot of waiting involved.

“We cannot start production until we get our state permit,” Cranford said. “That is a big no-no. As soon as we get that, we can begin the process.”

When the distillery is allowed to produce, it won’t be able to sell anything out of its facility. Rather, it would be available in ABC stores and local bars. So, while the distillery will do tours, it can’t do tastings on-site.

The grains they’ll use are a corn, malted barley and rye combination.

“We’re looking for a smooth product without a strong corn liquor taste,” Cranford said.

The distillery will produce a 100 proof white whiskey and an 80 proof aged whiskey packaged under the Copperhead Craft Spirits brand as white and gold venom.

Cranford originally honed the idea as his capstone project at N.C. State. He said he helped out at a brewery before then.

“I knew going into that final semester that I’d have to write a business plan, and I wanted to make it valuable,” Cranford said. “Entrepreneurship’s really in my blood.”

His professor was no Ben Stein. He was on board with the idea and aided the business plan.

“He was very helpful in that process, (and) put me in place with the right people at the right time,” Cranford said.

Cranford grew up in Burke County. He said the roots of moonshining could be credited to this very county, where roads were used to transport tax-free alcohol. He said he’s visited legal and illegal moonshiners to learn recipes and formulas.

“We’re not just trying to make white whiskey and have a cool product,” Cranford said. “What we’re trying to do is revitalize the moonshining heritage that started here.”

Cranford said whenever he mentions the still to someone, they often know someone who has one out in the woods.

“You start talking about this to people, and that’s when you really feel how relevant it really is,” he said.

Once the distillery is up and running, Cranford said he’s going to be on the road pitching the product to stores and bars.

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To keep up with the distillery, follow the distillery on Facebook and Twitter or visit copperheadspirits.com.

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Information from: The Hickory Daily Record, http://www.hickoryrecord.com

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