By John Trump
John Fragakis, an owner of Broad Branch Distillery in Winston-Salem, talks a lot about Frank Williams.
He owes much to Williams, now in his late 70s. Williams started making liquor when he was a boy. Initially, family, friends, and acquaintances brought together Williams, Fragakis, and business partner Nick Doumas, who has since passed. Whiskey solidified the relationship. “We’re the closest thing he has to relatives,” Fragakis says of Williams.
The distillery is on Trade Street on the northern edge of downtown Winston-Salem, in a former tobacco warehouse, once part of an industry and a company, R. J. Reynolds, that still define this town, once nicknamed “Camel City.”
The distillery shipped its first product, the 91-proof unaged Nightlab, in the summer of 2015. Broad Branch mills its grains at the distillery in a sophisticated rolling mill that can grind nearly five thousand pounds in an hour.
“The first time we ground here, we knew we had the right thing because we had an explosion of aroma,” Fragakis told me as I was researching my book.
The distillery has also released Smashing Violet, its base spirit infused with blueberries that’s more fruity than sweet with just enough heat to hold your interest.
It’s latest product, Nobilium, is “a direct descendant of the Preston Williams family’s 120-year distilling legacy,” says the distillery’s website. “In this three barrel blended composition, hints of maple, dried apple, and vanilla converge with delicious results”
Nobilium is made using heirloom corn, rye and malted barley mash, hops, Louisiana cane sugar, and artesian well water. It’s placed in a barrel and aged for two years in European Oak. Broad Branch spirits are neither chilled nor filtered. The bottle I bought, from the first batch, clocks in at nearly 102 proof. It’s got a sweet burn and opens to a smell of cane sugar, which evens out with a clean, oaky yet distinctive finish.
It’s one of the latest entries into the North Carolina aged-spirits market, which is gaining some delicious momentum.
Distiller Joe Tappe told me, “You can do documentaries, you can do audiobooks. Ken Burns can do all his best,” referring to the documentary “Prohibition.”
“But under the tutelage of a guy who has been doing this since he was 7 years old, there’s no way to really experience history except by tasting what he’s made.”