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Heritage Heroes: A community unites around a cherished Rocky Mount distillery in its time of need

By March 1, 2024No Comments
WORDS | Layla Khoury-Hanold   PHOTOS | Michael Lawson

It’s 10 a.m. on a Thursday, and Anna Prillaman usually has the day off. But working for Twin Creeks Distillery, her family’s third-generation moonshine business, there’s always something to tend to. As Prillaman unlocks the doors to the tasting room in downtown Rocky Mount, she tells me that she’s just come from Ferrum, where scores of volunteers are still cleaning up and sifting through the devastation several weeks after a fire broke out at the distillery. This outpouring of community support underscores the depth of Twin Creeks Distillery’s influence, and how much the family has done to preserve Franklin County’s moonshine history.

“That building has been there 20-plus years,” Prillaman says of the Ferrum distillery. “It’s been a place of gathering for the community for years — shindigs, turtle fries, music playing — we’ve had thousands of people at that garage throughout the years. Dad, when he opened the distillery, he built it off the side of that building.”

The damage to the distillery could have been much worse, but because local firefighters and 40-plus volunteers arrived on the scene within 10 minutes or less (thanks to widespread police scanner use), the fire was contained to the main building. Although the boiler, overstock, bulk materials, storage tanks and the last of the pandemic-era hand sanitizer all burned, much of the distilling equipment and inventory were safe.

“All I was thinking about were all those barrels, all that liquor, all those labels, everything we’ve worked for 10-plus years for,” Prillaman says. “I dropped to my knees when I got up there because smoke was coming out of the front of the garage too, so I automatically thought it had already made it to this part.”

Twin Creeks has enough inventory to last them until Christmas, but the boiler and roof will be expensive to replace and the extensive cleanup is ongoing. Local businesses and community members have rallied, calling or showing up daily to help clean and perform services such as plumbing, electrical, pressure washing and soda blasting to remove soot and ash.

“There’s a connection there between our community,” Prillaman says. “There’s a connection there between not just our family and the people, but a connection between us and the business. The connection was just so circular.”

Anna’s father, Chris Prillaman, founded Twin Creeks Distillery in 2014, making it the first distillery to operate in Franklin County since Prohibition. But the family’s roots run deep. Moonshine was a means of survival for many families, and Chris’ great-grandfather, James Walter Hatcher (alias Peg), was involved in The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935. (It was one of the largest trials in the country and served as inspiration for the movie Lawless.) When Chris was 14 years old, his father passed away and his grandparents took him in. He absorbed the moonshine way of life, including learning how to play the fiddle, the very same one that’s been passed down through three generations and is depicted on the Twin Creeks Distillery logo.

Tradition is an ethos that extends to the distilling operations, which employ time-tested methods and family recipes. All the equipment has been refurbished or built according to the types of pot stills, thumper barrels, caps and worms “that you’d see in the woods,” as Anna puts it. Some artifacts are on display at the Twin Creeks Distillery tasting room, which serves not only as a place for consumers to try products, but also creates a community gathering space for educating and storytelling.

“People who work there appreciate and understand the culture. It’s a very authentic, genuine experience for anyone who walks in the door,” Anna says. Music is a vital component of the tasting room experience. There’s a television screen playing historical footage and digital photos on loop set to string music and they host Wednesday old-time jam nights. Visitors can buy a bottle to go, order cocktails or opt for a shot or cocktail flight served on Virginia-shaped wooden boards.

Twin Creeks makes pure grain liquors, including corn whiskey and rye, but is perhaps best known for First Sugar, a neutral spirit made by adding sugar to the spent mash bill and re-distilling it. It’s a method that harkens back to when people used to . First Sugar’s neutral profile makes it an excellent base for the tasting room’s seasonal cocktails, such as Apple Shine, punched up with apple pie spice and cinnamon, or Cranberry Kick, where it mingles with cranberry juice, cranberry simple syrup and apple cider.

Twin Creeks also makes fruit brandies, including apple, peach and blackberry, by naturally fermenting fruit and distilling it. “Most people have turned to flavoring the alcohol after it’s been distilled,” Anna says. “They don’t define their product by the mash bill process, they define it after it hits the spout.”

Celebrating the fact that their liquor is an agricultural product, Twin Creeks defines their mash with locally sourced ingredients. Overripe peaches are sourced from the nonagenarian couple who run Shirley’s Orchard near Philpott Lake, apples are picked from an orchard in Woolwine, and corn is grown in nearby Callaway. “It’s very earthy,” Anna says of the corn whiskey. “People either love this or hate it because it’s very grainy. You can tell it’s corn.”

In years past, the Prillamans kept hogs and fed them leftover slop from the mash. Come winter, they slaughtered the hogs to share with the community. “You’re feeding the pigs, and the pigs are feeding you,” Anna says. “It’s very full circle, it’s all just so raw. That’s how every product is.”

In 2016, Twin Creeks started working on Peg Hatcher’s, an aged whiskey named after great-grandpa Peg. First Sugar is aged for two years in locally sourced Virginia white oak barrels with a medium char, which imparts subtle butterscotch flavors. Thankfully, the 100 cases of Peg Hatcher’s awaiting labeling were not affected in the fire.

“The fire has helped us step back and really recognize why we started and where we are and where we want to go,” Anna says. First, they’ll host a potluck dinner and raise a glass of moonshine to the firefighters and everyday heroes who helped them in their time of need.

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a James Beard Award nominated journalist who has written for Food52, Food Network, Refinery29, The Chicago Tribune, Vine Pair and Mother Untitled, among others. She is also working on her debut memoir. Follow her dining and travel adventures on Instagram @words_with_layla or visit for more information

Twin Creeks Distillery

140 Franklin St, Rocky Mount, VA

Note: This article originally appeared in our 2023 Winter Issue

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