‘From Molasses to Glasses’: Alumni Start Rum Distillery

Matt Newsome ’00 and Kelly Bray ’02 are two of four owners of Outer Banks Distilling. These Pirates are distilling Kill Devil Rum, which will hit North Carolina ABC store shelves starting this week.

IMG_2139(L) Kelly Bray and (R) Matt Newsome

“Our slogan for Kill Devil Rum is ‘from molasses to glasses’ because we do everything from start to finish in house,” says Newsome.

“Kill Devil Rum is the first craft distillery on the Outer Banks of North Carolina,” says Bray. “It had long been a goal of ours to start a brewery, but the recent growth in craft distilling and the history of the Outer Banks led us to decide that rum was a great alternative.”

Newsome was an art major at ECU but he switched his major to hospitality management with a business minor because of his experience working in restaurants. Bray obtained a degree in economics. Both of these alumni feel as though their majors prepared them for their roles at Outer Banks Distilling.

“My job is head of marketing and sales,” Newsome says. “Kelly and I are our art department as well. I get to use my art skills and my degree in hospitality management with this business by helping develop the logo and labels and I also help distill, label bottles, package, clean tanks, and hand brand our wooden cork closures.”

“After exploring other options, I settled on economics and enjoyed the broad view of markets and businesses that I still use today,” Bray says.  “My main job in our business is a distiller. I brewed beer professionally at local breweries for many years. I have also worked in web hosting and SEO with a local company, Outer Banks Media, which has given me the experience to manage our website.”

Outer Banks Distilling is utilizing social media and guerrilla marketing tactics to spread the word about Kill Devil Rum.

“Outer Banks Distilling currently sponsors local surfers and fisherman,” says Newsome. “We give the surfers stickers for their boards and we give the fisherman hats. If there is a cool photo of the surfer and you can see our logo on the board then we post it on our Facebook page! Every fisherman that catches a fish and takes a selfie holding the fish and wearing our hat gets a shout out on Facebook as well. We are selling not only rum but a lifestyle!”

Newsome and Bray decided to attend ECU for similar reasons. They wanted to stay relatively close to home and near the beach. Newsome’s sister attended ECU and Bray visited friends at ECU that showed him first hand what it was like to be a Pirate.

While at ECU, Newsome was involved in the Hospitality Management Association and Bray was a member of Sigma Pi fraternity and the Economics Club.

Newsome and Bray are still involved with ECU today. Newsome is a member of the OBX Pirate Club and Bray is a member of the East Carolina Alumni Association and tries to attend football games whenever he can.

“I always thought East Carolina University had something the other North Carolina schools didn’t; maybe we are just a little more down to earth,” says Bray. “And of course we are very proud to be able to say we are Pirates distilling rum!”


By Sara Strickroot

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