Durham Distillery is opening a cocktail bar, now that North Carolina says it can

An expected expansion of North Carolina’s ABC laws is already having a quick effect.

Durham Distillery, maker of the award-winning Conniption Gin, is opening a bar, the company’s owners announced Wednesday.

The bar will be called Corpse Reviver, named for a classic gin cocktail and playing on a legend that pine coffins were made in the distillery building’s basement on Washington Street. The logo marries the two, looking like a shaker and a coffin.

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Senate passed SB 290, allowing distilleries in the state to sell mixed drinks. The bill also lifts a cap that had limited annual sales to five bottles per person. The bill still requires the signature of Gov. Roy Cooper.

Durham Distillery opened in 2015 and is owned by couple Melissa and Lee Katrincic. The company is best known for its line of Conniption gins, but also makes a cucumber vodka and recently started canning cocktails. Naturally there’s a gin and tonic, but also a vodka and soda, and a new rose spritz.

While the distillery and others could offer tours and limited tastings, Melissa Katrincic said they couldn’t let visitors sample the canned drinks prior to the legislation.

“Because they’re cocktails,” she said. “We make these here, but you can’t taste them.”

DurhamDistillery_Co-Owners Melissa and Lee Katrincic.jpg
Lee and Melissa Katrincic Durham Distillery

Even before North Carolina expanded its liquor laws, Katrincic said Durham Distillery was moving forward with a bar, it was just trickier. State law required a separate corporation and owner, because the owner of a distillery couldn’t own a bar. Melissa’s name is on Durham Distillery’s filings, so they were going to put Lee’s on the bar.

She said they looked to examples like Great Wagon Road Distillery in Charlotte, which has the Broken Spoke bar, and The Chemist distillery in Asheville, which has the Antidote bar.

Now those distinctions are largely moot.

“This is why we chose to be downtown in the first place,” Katrincic said. “We want this to be a place where people can meet friends for a drink. Not just have a tour two days a week.”

North Carolina’s beer scene is one of the state’s hallmarks, with nationally influential breweries drawing tourists and drinkers to cities such as Asheville, Charlotte, Wilmington and the Triangle.

Katrincic said distillers are hopeful they’ll see the same impact from this legislation, feeling the ceiling is being broken.

“We’ve thrown around the term game-changer, which can be over-used, or feel too strong, but we’ve clawed our way to get recognized for what we’re doing,” Katrincic said. “We’re lucky to be in nine states in four years. But this is a win for burgeoning distillers who are struggling, who didn’t get shelf space at the ABC store. This for them means they can turn their business into a taproom-model cocktail bar and not have to worry about distributing as much.”

As for Corpse Reviver, it will be built under Durham Distillery at 711 Washington St., with a patio. Katrincic said it should open early next year.

In picking one of the historic weeks in the history of the state’s distilling industry to announce their bar, Katrincic said the timing felt natural.

“We’ve had to stay so quiet for over a year,” Katrincic said. “As soon as it’s signed by the governor, we thought we should let everyone know. So much work as gone into this. It’s the perfect time to announce.”

In addition to being a big boost for craft distilleries, SB 290 limits the creation of new ABC boards, allows customers to order two drinks at a time at a bar, allows limited liquor tastings in ABC stores and allows beer tastings at farmers markets.

As the bill moved through the legislative process, legislators poured out some of its most controversial provisions. It no longer would allow ABC stores to open on Sundays, and it wouldn’t allow alcohol on state passenger ferries.

Colin Campbell of The NC Insider contributed to this report.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.