Savvy Traveling with Penny Zibula: Graybeard Distillery in Durham

Graybeard Distillery in Durham
Photo by: Simon Lock, My Eclectic Images

When it comes to vodka, a little Bedlam goes a long way

In June 2017, Graybeard Distillery debuted Bedlam, a new vodka that would forever change the way the spirit is perceived. The key ingredient? If you’re thinking wheat or potato, you’re barking up the wrong plant. What makes Bedlam Vodka so unique and unexpectedly delicious is long grain rice.

My husband and I had the privilege of touring Graybeard Distillery and sampling Bedlam Vodka. When it was over, we had gained a deep appreciation of what can be accomplished when smart people think outside the bottle.

The Distillery

Upon entering the area where Bedlam is made, the first thing I noticed was the sweetish smell of cooking rice. That was hardly surprising since Graybeard goes through a ton of the stuff daily. The smell came from a stainless-steel mash tub that acted like a pressure cooker for rice that is heated to a temperature of over 200 degrees. This process breaks down the rice until it looks like milk which is then cooled and fermented with the addition of yeast for approximately 10 days.

CEO, Brandon Evans, who took the time to show us around the facility, explained that the rice used to make Bedlam comes from farms in Arkansas and Louisiana. It’s as edible as the packaged rice we buy, but not as pretty. The farmers are more than glad to get rid of it at a low price.

The stills where the true magic takes place were as unusual as the vodka itself. They came from the Netherlands and were square in shape. Unlike whisky or bourbon, which need six distillations, rice vodka is ready in only one. Once distilled the 80 proof Bedlam rests for 15 days before bottling. Graybeard Distillery produces 100,000cases of Bedlam per year

The Story

The tale of Bedlam Vodka began in 19th century Ireland during the potato famine. With no potatoes to make liquor, the population turned to rice. A recipe made its way through the generations and ended up in the possession of Scott Russ, Brandon’s law school buddy. Scott’s ancestors lived in County. Donegal in Northwest Ireland. There, a cul-de-sac acquired the name Bedlam after a group of residents successfully fought off British thugs who were trying to evict them from their land.

Scot’s family moved to the U.S. during prohibition, bringing their recipe with them. They became moonshiners and bootleggers, and Scott grew up listening to stories of his relatives’ exploits.

Scott was making the family vodka in his garage for his own use. When Brandon tasted it, he was blown away.

Brandon has a saying, “Go big or go home.” So he, Scott and three other partners did their research and formed the company in 2017. “It took a long time to figure out the chemistry,” Brandon recalled. “We had no manual to work with.” But his research convinced him that people were ready for something different, and that was what Graybeard delivered with Bedlam.

The Vodka

Our samples were already poured and waiting for us when we entered the tasting room. Taking a sniff, I was greeted with a sweet scent with notes of vanilla. This was a far cry from the medicinal smell to which I had grown accustomed. The flavor was mellow with a touch of citrus added to the subtle vanilla taste. The vodka went down as smooth as silk with no burn. I knew that this was one vodka I could drink straight with a single ice cube.

Award-Winning Bedlam Vodka is available throughout North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and New Jersey, as well as Ontario, Canada.

If You Go

Graybeard is the largest grain-to-glass distillery in North Carolina. You can take a 60-minute tour of the facility and tasting room for $15 per person. Find more information, or make tour reservations, at

Graybeard Distillery
4625 Industry Lane
Durham, NC 27713

Disclaimer: Our tour and tasting at Graybeard Distillery were courtesy of the generosity of CEO, Brandon Evans. However, all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

Penny Zibula is a freelance travel writer and blogger based in New Bern. Visit her blog at SixLegsWillTravel.

By Contributing Author, Penny Zibula