NoDa ‘Shine

In the basement of the burgeoning Area 15 (a business incubator located at 15th and North Davidson Streets) you’ll find Dragon Moonshine, a small unassuming distillery, offering tours and tastes of their smooth-drinking, high-proof, “moonshine.” Technically speaking, Dragon Moonshine’s products are not moonshine, but they are certainly made in that spirit: distilled by two irreverent guys, channeling bootleggers’ moxie, and determined to leave the corporate world behind to chase a dream, consequences be damned.

Rick Lavin and Chris Wagner are the irreverent guys in this story and their Rum, Apple Cider, and Amaretto flavored spirits are the “moonshine” distilled under their Dragon Moonshine label. Rick had some experience distilling spirits during his time in the military, and when he and Chris began discussing how to get out of the corporate rat race a few years back, moonshine seemed promising.

Almost four years after they set out to get their distillery going, I took a tour of their facility, sampled the goods, and got the backstory on this little distillery that could. 

First, let’s get back to the technicalities of moonshine. Moonshine is a term generally used for illegally-distilled spirits, and there is nothing illegal about Dragon Moonshine. Just ask Rick and Chris about the two years it took them to get through the bureaucratic red tape before they could distill or sell a drop. Moonshine is typically made with corn mash and, well, let’s just say it burns quite sufficiently going down the gullet. (You may have sampled a bit of “Carolina white lightning” and are familiar with the burn I’m talking about.) Dragon Moonshine’s spirits are made in more of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” fashion, using pure cane sugar (think Jamaican rum), and resulting in smooth, sippable ‘shine.

Rick and Chris distill their spirits using reflux fractionating column stills (say that five times fast) instead of the traditional pot still designs used in the woods. This, they explain, allows for more control and consistency of the final product, and is partly how Dragon Moonshine gets such an easy-drinking product. The other part? Math. “Yeah, we math-ed it,” says Chris. Take the tour and you’ll find math in every drop of the distillation process. Who knew bootleggers were math geniuses? Your reward for paying attention to the math section is a delicious taste of all three Dragon Moonshine products at the end of the tour.

First of the tasting is the Silver Rum, Dragon Moonshine’s first product released. This definitely has a Caribbean feel and would make a smashing mojito or any other tiki drink you can think of. It is free of the typical high-proof liquor burn when sipped straight up.

Next, is the Apple Pie Moonshine. This is like sipping an apple-flavored fireball, as the cinnamon adds a spicy heat on top the warmth of the alcohol. Mix this with a little hot apple cider on a cold winter day and forget all your troubles.

Finally, the Amaretto Moonshine, another imminently sip-able spirit. No mixers are needed as the almond, cherry, and vanilla make this dangerously delicious. True story: I put a healthy pour of this into a vanilla milkshake. Moonshine mic drop.

Heist Brewery and Billy Jacks Shack have both featured drinks on the menu using Dragon Moonshine spirits. This is important because a successful business model for Dragon Moonshine all depends on consumers requesting their spirits at bars and, more importantly, at liquor stores. (You can buy bottles of all three flavors at the end of your tour and taste, but the state limits you to five bottles per year if you buy it direct from the distillery.)

Hit ’em up for a tour and taste at 516 E. 15th Street, Suite 14, or If you like what you taste, be sure to let your local liquor store manager know.