Michael Sinclair and Jonathan Blitz bought about 22.5 acres, a farm, just outside downtown Durham, North Carolina.
Didn’t matter, really. It’s gorgeous. A perfect spot for their distillery. A perfect setting to sip fine whiskey.
Sinclair is a tech whiz, Blitz an attorney — farmers and distillers who first produced their signature Mystic Bourbon Liqueur through a contract with another Durham distiller, Rim Vilgalys.
I met Sinclair at the distillery on a rainy weekend afternoon. He stood on a covered porch that looked out onto the bucolic farm. In his left arm he held his son, closing in on full toddler status.
Proud father. Proud distiller. Proud farmer.
“Before we bought the farm we were already farming,” says Sinclair, at the same time pointing out a cluster of blueberry plants.
Mystic Farm & Distillery is off North Mineral Springs Road, an obvious indication of the distillery’s superior water source, naturally filtered through pre-historic sandstone and limestone.
“Ground to bottles,” Sinclair calls the process, which includes local grains and other ingredients, such as those used to make Mystic’s Navy-strength gin, which brings a piney freshness that, given the surroundings, seems more than appropriate.
“The water is perfect, and it’s unique,” he says. “It doesn’t need anything.”
A barrel house is in the works on the farm and distillery, which hosts local foragers and remains committed to promoting a natural diet, including the liquor.
Mystic is a bourbon-flavored spirit made with honey and nine spices. It’s nicely sweet and exceedingly drinkable, coming in at 60 proof.
“It just tasted right,” Sinclair says of the proof. He has stepped into a warm and comfortable tasting room, now pouring from behind a sleek and expertly crafted bar made from magnolia wood.
Heart of Mystic is a big, bold and buttery bourbon, aged more than four years and bottled straight from the cask, around 118 proof. Soul of Mystic, also straight off the still to the barrel, is a smooth, heavily wheated bourbon, including 45 percent of that soft grain.
It’s a Saturday afternoon, and a large tour group listens and watches as Blitz takes them through the arduous yet rewarding and delicious process. They take turns tasting the white liquor as it runs clean from the still, just on the other side of a taste room, separating by a wall and large windows.
“Doing bourbon like we’re doing bourbon is really difficult,” Sinclair says.
Yet well worth it.
Tours of the distillery are typically offered at 2 and 4 each Saturday afternoon. Check the website for details.