Now It's My Turn: Breaking into the Moonshine Business

Troylyn Ball went from isolated mother caring for two special-needs kids to the maker of moonshine sold at a Disney resort. How did that happen?

by Leah Koenig
troylyn ball image
Photograph: Peter Frank Edwards

But by early 2010 she felt confident enough to share her drink with two friends: Frank Moretz, a local anesthesiologist, and Oscar Wong, a fellow special-needs parent and owner of the successful Asheville-based Highland Brewing Company. After tasting the moonshine, they both decided to invest in the enterprise. Their backing persuaded the bank to lend Ball $500,000, despite the unsold real estate holdings. Wong also leased Ball an unused section of his brewery, giving the company the home base it needed and built-in foot traffic from the brewery’s popular tours and music events. Along with $20,000 of what Ball calls her “meager personal savings,” she was finally able to turn her vision into a business.

Almost immediately, Ball was hit with a new round of setbacks. On her first day of production, she realized her $8,000 bottle-labeling machine wasn’t calibrated correctly for the shape of the bottle she had designed. On top of that, none of the 6,000 corks fit. The bottles cost $2.43 each, so she couldn’t dump them; even the corks cost 50 cents apiece. “We spent years trying to get to this point, and we couldn’t even ship the bottles,” Ball says. So she hand-labeled each bottle—a tedious job—and persuaded the cork supplier to mail her the correct size for free. After a several-week delay, her first shipment went to distributors.

With the bottling logistics sorted out (Troy & Sons continues to label its small-batch moonshine bottles manually), the company turned to its most pressing struggle: figuring out how to get its product from the distillery to people’s glasses. Right now the company relies on legwork and word of mouth more than traditional advertising. “I have spent much of the past six months traveling to Miami and Nashville and Atlanta, creating personal relationships and bringing our spirits to the distributors, chefs, bartenders and restaurant managers who can introduce it to customers,” Ball says.

Those logged hours were exhausting, but they paid off. In 2011, the company’s first full year, Troy & Sons produced 5,000 six-bottle cases of moonshine. The product grossed $900,000 in sales (of which Troy & Sons netted about half), allowing Ball to begin paying back her investors. She estimates that the company is on track to double production in 2013, at which point, she says, it should begin to turn a profit.

Troy & Sons also expanded distribution to Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, and it is aiming to be available in stores in California and New York by the end of 2013. James Beard Award–winning chef Sean Brock has started using the moonshine in a cocktail at his Charleston, South Carolina, restaurant, Husk. And celebrity chef Todd English told Ball he now buys as much Troy & Sons moonshine as he does Jack Daniel’s for his Orlando, Florida, seafood restaurant, Bluezoo.

Most significantly, Troy & Sons recently made its way onto the radar of Disney World. Before approaching Disney, a major, influential liquor buyer because of its large network of resorts and restaurants, Ball had been warned about the difficulty of breaking in. But she believed her product could speak for itself. After several calls to Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge, Ball finally managed to book an in-person tasting meeting. “We hit it out of the park,” she says. The resort was impressed with the taste and now serves a specialty cocktail crafted with Troy & Sons’ moonshine. “Companies spend years trying to get on Disney’s menu,” Ball says. “So this felt incredibly validating.”

Today, Ball’s husband works full time as the company’s master distiller while maintaining Ball Properties’ developments. (High-end real estate remains largely static, but Ball said the business closes enough property sales to “keep things floating.”) Luke, a college sophomore, helps out when he is home. The company also employs three distillery workers; three to five part-time bottlers, depending on the season; and a handful of independent sales contractors. This year Ball was able to begin paying herself a salary.

First published in the September 2013 issue

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