“Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have,” wrote Rabbi Hyman Schachte in 1954. Jeremy Norris, DeWayne and Tina Lee, Lane and Teresa Gregory, Cheryl and Larry Lane may never have read the Rabbi’s quote but they’re all happy with what they have. These and many more Johnston County, North Carolina residents are making their happiness from the rich soil and advantageous geographic position of their own homeland.
Straddling I-95 east of Raleigh, Johnston County has endured and thrived since the mid-1700s despite the insecurities of agriculture and a changing economic landscape. Although still important, the era of king cotton and tobacco has transitioned to grapes and barley, among other crops. International corporations such as Novo Nordisk are investing billions in facilities drawing on the county’s location, skilled workforce and the beauty that attracts dynamic new residents worldwide.
Yet it’s the stories of Johnston County families that have been residents for many generations that prove happiness lies in wanting what you have. The Johnston County Visitors Bureau has put together the easy and delicious self-guided Beer, Wine & Shine Trail. From moonshine to muscadine, these ten Johnston County businesses are generating happiness.
Broadslab Distillery, Benson, NC
Jeremy Norris’ grandfather started teaching him the art of distilling moonshine when he was a boy. Moonshine was made ever since the first settlers introduced the tradition in the mid-1700s, especially from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Despite its image as cheap poison, the quality of home-distilled whiskey, like anything, depended entirely on both the skill of the maker and the quality of ingredients. Some of today’s most famous brands started in a backyard. The decline in tobacco demand starting in the 1980s caused many farmers to diversify into other lines of production. Jeremy utilized the family skill, North Carolina’s decision to grant licenses to small distillers and the nearly 200-year-old family farm’s own crops into creating Broadslab Distillery. The results are the remarkably smooth traditional white corn whiskey Legacy Shine, the rich flavor of Legacy Reserve aged in charred oak barrels and the lightly spiced and juice infused Apple Shine. An equally smooth Carolina Coast Silver Rum is also the result of Jeremy’s skill. Visitors are given a wagon tour of the family farm on the way to the attractive tasting room housed in a restored farm building. On this particular evening Broadslab Distillery hosted our small group of travel writers with a catered southern barbecue and drinks by mixologist Jordon from the Chef & the Farmer restaurant.
Hinnant Family Vineyards and Winery, Pine Level, NC
Prior to the ill-conceived era of Prohibition, many southern states, including North Carolina, were major produces of wine. In North Carolina the native thick-skinned muscadine grape ruled. Although grape, as fruit, production remained part of North Carolina agriculture, it was not until the later decades of the 20th century that many restrictions on wineries were loosened. In 1971 the Hinnant family created a grape vineyard selling to markets and wineries. By 2000 it was the state’s largest vineyard, but the second generation had a different idea. Bob Hinnant opened the winery in 2000 bottling the Hinnant label of muscadine wines. He soon added norton grapes from Virginia and blanc du bois grapes from Texas to an extensive list of offerings. Southerners and southern grapes tend toward fruity and sweet flavor notes and Hinnant wines don’t disappoint. Three in particular illustrate a classic range of southern wines and are homage to the great Johnston County native and Hollywood legend Ava Gardner. White Barefoof Beauty with the blanc du bois grape has a pleasant nose of grapefruit peel and a semi dry mouth feel with hints of peach and grapefruit. Red oak aged Ava’s Allure with norton grapes has a nose of currents and a rich dry mouth feel with a faint hint of green apples. Santa’s Baby with 100% muscadine grapes is a classic sweet wine favored in the South. With a mouth full of rich fruit it would be terrific with chocolate cake.
Johnston County Hams, Smithfield, NC
Aged cured hams are as southern as moonshine and sweet tea. Of course necessity was the genesis of today’s delectable cured hams – lack of refrigeration for most of human history. Naturally farmers had been curing their own hams for centuries. But Richard Edmonson decided to take his recipe and techniques commercial in 1946, establishing Johnston County Hams in the county seat of Smithfield – not to be confused with Smithfield, Virginia. His cure master, Jesse Brown, developed the secret process of dry salt rubs and climate controlled curing that produce such stellar hams as Lady Edison Extra Fancy Ham with a rich lightly salted and smoked flavor that ranks with the best from Europe. His son Rufus Brown continues as cure master. Based on the two massive and still curing 45-year-old hams hanging in the shop window, Johnston County Hams takes aging to perfection seriously.
Double Barley Brewing, Smithfield, NC
Larry Lane liked good beer so his wife, Cheryl bought him a beer making kit eight years ago. Johnston County folk must be fast learners. From their first kit beers to the opening of Double Barley Brewing and pub two years ago, their enthusiasm for their new career is palpable once you sit down with the affable Cheryl Lane. She is in love with their work from creating the rustic looking interior with reclaimed wood, to the quality of their pub food and especially with the flavors of their extensive beer selection. Using locally grown barley, five yeast strains and ten Pacific Northwest hops, the selection covers a broad range of flavors. Touche IPA has smooth full flavored hops and a nice bitter after taste. Thrilla in Vanilla ¬¬– real vanilla beans used in the infusion – is their most popular with caramel tones and a definite vanilla after taste. And Wilma’s Wandering Eye PA packs full hoppy flavor with a 12.8% alcohol kick. What adds to the convivial atmosphere is the absence of TVs. Double Barley Brewing is the place for good beer and convivial fellowship.
DeWayne’s, Selma, NC
DeWayne and Tina Lee’s answer was “Go with our gut,” when asked how they plan their business, DeWayne’s – now 30,000 square feet of retail space and expanding. DeWayne’s started as a roadside produce stand out of a trailer in 1991 after a disappointing pumpkin harvest on the Lee family farm. Going with their gut and using what was already available has paid off. After expanding for ten years into Christmas trees and garden plants the trailer was no longer viable. Using 40 acres of family commercial land situated conveniently along I-95 the first permanent building was constructed in 2001. Known simply as DeWayne’s, the retail complex is an area magnet for everything to do with gardening and garden decoration to men’s and women’s ware, fine jewelry, housewares, North Carolina souvenirs and even Lilly Pulitzer pink flamingo throw pillows. Yet there’s a certain family farm sensibility about DeWayne and Tina Lee. The employees are a workforce capable of doing everything from commercial construction and design to selling that souvenir. Everything is done in house including original murals in the new rest rooms. Just like in any family business, the personal touch often leads to success.
Deep River Brewing Co., Clayton, NC
Lynn and Paul Auclair aren’t native from Johnston County (upstate New York) and they’re both engineers. So why in 2013 they opened the first legal brewery in Johnston County partly illustrates current economic dynamics. Having moved to Raleigh for ten-year careers in their chosen engineering paths, both Lynn and Paul chose to use their skills for a new path to happiness. It didn’t hurt that they were both craft beer enthusiasts and, just like their friends at Double Barley Brewing, judged that the county was attracting young professionals thirsty for craft beer. With locally farmed grains, accessibility to the finest hops and local produce such as sweet potatoes as an infusion, it takes skill, patience, talent and lots of taste testing to create an ever-changing menu of quality brews. The simple industrial space is decorated with wood from an old tobacco barn and the long bar always has 12 on tap. Long wooden tables promote camaraderie and a sizable outdoor area is ideal for families to picnic – and there are no TVs. Deep River Brewing is strictly a brewpub and does not serve food but have food trucks on rotating schedule in the parking lot when open Thursday through Sunday. Note: local Raleigh PhoNominal Dumplings food truck, which recently won the Great Food Truck Race, used to be a regular but now has difficulty getting them back in the schedule. As for beers we tasted, Cottontown Lager is a light seasonal spring brew, classic pale ale. JoCo White Winter is infused with local white sweet potatoes, toasted marshmellows and spices to create deep complex flavors well balanced by the hops. Mango Tango Foxtrot – has no mango. The hint of fruit flavor comes from Australian hops. Imperial Milk Stout aged in Jack Daniels barrels was a personal favorite with rich deep malts and a hint of smoky whiskey.
Morning Glory Inn, Clayton, NC
The 1907 Victorian mansion sprawls majestically on its elevated lot in Clayton, North Carolina. It’s easy to imagine a lazy afternoon on the porch being served sweet tea while the quiet sounds of Clayton hummed. Clayton’s still a quiet town but with Wine on Main, Clayton Steak House and a Comedy Zone nearby it’s a different type of quiet. It attracts people whose work lives often involve too much noise. That’s what Michael and Betsy Grannis were looking for a decade ago relocating from a busy life in California. Having experience in the hospitality field for some years, they purchased the Morning Glory Inn as both their home and first business in Clayton. The beautifully maintained mansion has large windows allowing light to illuminate the intricate woodwork, art and wallpapers. The comfortable parlor furniture and free wi-fi invite relaxation. There are five large en-suite individually decorated bedrooms with premium mattresses and wi-fi access. A unique Guest Kitchen off the breakfast room provides self-serve complimentary hot and cold beverages and snacks to guests at any hour. Betsy Grannis is the breakfast chef serving a rotating menu that may include local ham and eggs, fresh fruit salad, cheese biscuits, or cream cheese stuffed french toast with berry compote. A stay at The Morning Glory Inn does feel like a Victorian weekend in the country.
Clayton Steak House, Clayton, NC
The Morning Glory Inn was the first business the Grannis’ opened – after all, they needed a home. But soon pastry chef Betsy and restaurant manager Michael Grannis saw the opportunities with an expanding Johnston County population to go back into the business. The Clayton Steak House opened eight-years ago and maintains a tight focus on premium steaks, a classic salad bar and Betsy Grannis’ desserts including shortbread like southern buttermilk pie or light yet rich blueberry cream pie. For non-beef eaters the menu has selections that include Norwegian salmon and airline chicken. The Clayton Steak House is a convenient 10 minute stroll from the Morning Glory Inn and after dinner, why not stop on the way back at Wine on Main for an after dinner glass in the relaxed atmosphere of a craftsmen cottage.
Gregory Vineyards and Lane’s Seafood & Steakhouse, Angier, NC
Lane Gregory is classic Johnston County. As an 18-year-old working with his dad on the family farm he co-patented a convenient Soda Flo device to deliver sodium nitrate in correct amounts to the cornfields. After marrying Teresa, Lane evolved from farmer, builder, auctioneer to earning a Ph.D. in agricultural vocational education. Then came Lane’s Seafood & Steakhouse in 1987 in which they devoted much energy, before leasing it to plant vineyards in 2009 on their land with the plan to create a wedding venue. When the restaurant’s leaseholder didn’t work out, they took back the management and decided to start making wine. Lane and Teresa won major awards the first year they produced wine and opened the tasting room in 2011. Local artists design the labels, a common practice among Johnston County wineries, breweries and distilleries. The winery concentrates on North Carolina’s native muscadine grape, and this being the land of moonshine, Lane Gregory distills muscadine brandy – 160 proof raw cut to 80 for drinking and fortifying wine. Red Apple Shine, 40 proof, a fortified wine and Col. Adams aged in brandy barrels, 48 proof, will be released next year. Tasha Derleth, Gregory Winery’s sommelier, gave our travel writers group a tasting that ranged from a pleasant dry white muscadine, Sly Fox, to dessert sweet Stella Mae Reserve. Sunset with strong tones of peaches “makes a good sangria,” according to Tasha and the fortified dessert wines like Lady Grits (18%) would pair well with soft cheeses and biscuits. Among the wine tastings seven days week, the wedding business and the restaurant open Wednesday through Saturday, Lane and Teresa Gregory are in their element.
Simple Twist, Garner, NC
Nat and Colleen Roby are part of that migration of young professionals seeking warmer climate and opportunity. Nat’s a self-taught chef who started cooking as a teenager in an Italian restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. Their concept is now, fortunately, the accepted norm among relaxed, upscale eateries. Everything fresh, never frozen; brunch every weekend, outdoor pet-friendly seating, local craft beers and well executed dishes steeped in tradition yet refreshed by modern imagination. Among the dishes brought out for us to sample, fork tender short ribs in a Double Barley Brewing’s Thrilla in Vanilla beer sauce was outstanding. Thin sliced pan fried green tomatoes topped with bacon and goat cheese were an imaginative variant on the often over breaded original and guacamole with bacon and blue cheese proves even a classic can be improved. Nat and Colleen opened the Garner location in 2014 and recently inaugurated another in Smithfield. A third Simple Twist is in the works for Clayton.
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