Raising Spirits in Winston-Salem

by Kristi Maier

The following is a two-part series on the growth of distilleries in the Piedmont Triad


Talk about raising spirits…Scot Sanborn has laid claim to Winston-Salem to bring the city its first legal distillery, presumably since Prohibition. Sutler’s Spirit Company is a small batch distiller with a focus on gin and rum. The gin is now available at local ABC stores has already gained such a following that Sanborn is doing his darndest to keep it on the shelves. The rum”¦well, you’ll just have to be patient. It’s currently aging to perfection.

It’s been a few weeks since Sutler’s Spirits officially opened but it’s been more than a year in the making. And Sanborn has experienced support of heroic measure in the Twin City. Much like Sutlers themselves, heroes to heroes on the battle lines. You see, Sutlers were men (and sometimes women) in the Revolutionary, Civil and Mexican-American Wars, who provided everything to our troops in times of war that the military did not provide. And sometimes, that meant spirits, as in alcohol. And if you look closely on the Sutler’s Spirits website, you’ll see Sanborn’s hat tip to the Sutler’s tent and how he outgrew his.

If you’ve been fortunate enough, you’ve been able to get your hands on that cool, black ceramic bottle of Sutler’s gin. It’s been no easy task. Not only do you have to get your formulation and distillation right, then you have to meet all the requirements that get you legit “¦ as in get in the good graces of the feds then the state ABC Board. Sanborn says, the state level has been nothing but supportive. “They support local distilleries. They’re all about getting more of our local distilleries on the shelves of the local ABC store.” Of course, after the state gives their okay, now you have the local boards, of which there are many. So far, Sutler’s is still small batch and Sanborn says as of right now he’s sticking with the Triad area before branching out. “Support has far exceeded my expectations. And I want to keep growing, but I don’t want to outgrow our abilities right now.” Little things like making sure you have your bottles on site matter just as much as if you have gin to put in them.

There’s definitely more momentum headed in the direction of statewide support. Just two weeks ago, North Carolina passed legislation that allows distilleries to sell a bottle to people who are touring their facility. It’s kind of a one-per-customer-per-year kind of deal, but it’s a start.

Sanborn, a former model, learned the distilling process as he apprenticed during those traveling years. But it wasn’t until he found his space in the West End Millworks area next door to Hoots Roller Bar, that he was able to truly hone his processes. CHOW could seriously write a story about Sanborn’s co-distiller, Tim Nolan, who is basically self-taught by reading books, some that go back to the 1700’s. He can talk to you about phenols and esters until the cows stumble home.

He says he and Sanborn achieved the flavor profile of Sutler’s gin after 11 months of practicing and tasting, both the good and the bad. It’s equal part science and art, “the art is having a decent palate and the science is learning how to achieve it,” he says. “I read about 20 books and did a lot of research and I’ve still got a lot to learn. It’s a very secretive business here in America. I can’t apprentice from some guy in Europe who’s been distilling for 50 years. So I learned from these books that are 400 years old and applied that to modern science.” As a mixologist, Nolan says he wanted the gin’s flavor profile to work in many applications, whether it’s enjoyed straight, on the rocks, in tonic or as the popular Gimlet. “I tried to focus on the taste of the gin being a trip””that it starts one way and finishes another and I wanted different aspects of the gin to reveal themselves in different cocktails.”

As for the rum, there are eight barrels aging away.

Sanborn says, “Every barrel has almost every combination of rum, but it will help me perfect the formula. All barrels age differently because of their different properties, imparting different nuances of flavor. It may be ready later this year or I might just keep aging it.”

Next week’s CHOW: Spirit of the Triad”¦a look at distilleries that call and will call the Triad “home.” !


Wanna raise a glass? Sutler’s Gin is available at most ABC stores in Forsyth County and should be available this week in Guilford County. For more information visit To get a peak at the distillery, call 33.294.7944.