Johnston County, or JoCo to locals, is conveniently located along I-95 and I-40, just 6 hours northeast of the Atlanta area. Visitors will find a variety of attractions, local festivals, unique craft beverages, boutique shops, and even better BBQ. With a growing culinary and craft beverage scene and revitalized downtowns, we invite you to explore and enjoy our relaxed small-town way of life.
In the southern part of the county, just off I-95, is Benson-based Broadslab Distillery; which has been offering ‘shine products, tours, and tastings since 2015. Master Distillery Jeremy Norris is what you’d call the “real deal”, with moonshining in his roots and a recipe that goes back five generations. But he recently debuted his first new product in many years: flue-cured bourbon. The product has been in pre-production since 2021.
Jeremy and his wife Shelly started the distillery producing a true, handcrafted, dirt-to-bottle, authentic moonshine using his Grandfather’s recipe to diversify and produce a value-added product utilizing the grains Jeremy grew. As the years have passed, they continue the tradition of producing authentic moonshine but have also grown into producing some very fine bourbons and rye whiskeys. All of their whiskeys are handcrafted and produced in small batches in a time-honored tradition using non-GMO grains.
Jeremy currently has a patent pending on a one-of-a-kind process for aging their whiskeys. He fills and stores the whiskey in new American white oak barrels that are then moved to a neighboring tobacco farm during the tobacco harvest and curing season. The whiskey barrels are rested in the tobacco barn with the tobacco during the leaf drying stage of the curing process. The intense heat and presence of tobacco that the barrels of whiskey encounter during the curing process creates a distinct aging process that makes the whiskeys truly unique, like no other.
In addition to a new product, Jeremy also now has AirBnB stay options at Broadslab near the distillery. Happy’s House, which has 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths, and the Baccer Barn (an actual, historic, restored tobacco barn), with 1 bedroom and 1 bath, can be booked via AirBnB’s website. Broadslab is part of the JoCo Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail, a self-guided craft beverage trail covering eight locations in the county. Also along the trail, and in the Benson area, are regionally celebrated craft brewery Fainting Goat as well as award-winning Gregory Vineyards.
Explore Downtown Benson as you travel along the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail; it will take you right down Main Street. Find locally-owned shops and boutiques with a variety of products and friendly staff. Stop in at JP’s Pastry, a certified gluten-free bakery making safe and delicious treats. Enjoy a meal at Cornerstone Cafe and try to pick just one option off their extensive waffle menu – each one is made to order and the menu is offered all day long.
Speaking of trails – this year North Carolina is celebrating the Year of the Trail, a campaign inviting residents and visitors to get outside onto trails, greenways, and blueways that stretch across the state. JoCo has tons of physical trails for biking and hiking, but also many themed, self-guided trails as well including for local culinary delights like BBQ, red hot dogs, and more.
Visitors to JoCo will find restaurants serving what we call Eastern-style barbecue; choose from several well-known and award-winning BBQ restaurants serving up chopped pork with a vinegar-based sauce like White Swan and Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q. Also, discover some unique and expansive takes on BBQ from Smithfield-based Low and Slow Smokehouse and SoDoSoPa to Benson-based Redneck BBQ Lab where you can try award-winning competition ‘que prepared by Food Network Chopped competitor Jerry Stephenson. To help you explore we have a BBQ Trail Map complete with driving directions for all 18 and counting BBQ joints across Johnston County.
Looking for a delicious way to remember your tasty trip when you get back home? Take a little of JoCo with you when you leave. From a bottle of Jeremy’s new bourbon to Jerry’s line of Redneck BBQ Lab rubs and sauces. Not to mention the beer, wine, honey, grits, and other products you can find for sale from local makers and on local farms as you travel around Johnston County.
In Benson and beyond, if you’re craving a weekend escape or just passing through Johnston County, our unique food and craft beverage scene is not to be missed. Across our charming towns, you’ll discover the stories behind our food and beverages, which pay homage to North Carolina’s rich culinary tradition. Come experience the flavors of JoCo, from bourbon to BBQ, you won’t be disappointed!