Indie Distilling in North Carolina
Has anyone else noticed the amount of North Carolina liquor available at your local independent bar or restaurant these days?
As the general manager of a popular restaurant and bar in Boone, I should be ashamed of myself for not having tried ANY of the wonderful spirits handcrafted right here in the tarheel state! My apologies.
I am a huge fan of craft beer. This is no secret. I am proud that North Carolina is home to some of the best craft brewers in the nation. It seems that craft distillers are following in the foot steps of their brewing predecessors.
Now that the disclaimer of my late adoption is out of the way, I’d like to state that I’ve heard plenty about these local distellers from customers and my contemporaries in the biz. So I sat down with state issued NC Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission Spirituous Liquor Pricebook.
For those not in the biz, this is the book that contains all liquor available to bar and restaurant owners in this state. All of the prices are set by the ABC board and each establishment pays an additional tax per bottle on anything purchased for resale.
This past quarter had a highlighted section featuring North Carolina spirits. I decided that I would add a few of them to the order for the week and try them out. I’ve never complained about the research required for my job! As I picked up the order later that day, I eagerly grabbed the three new bottles I picked from the liquor catalog. I chose two bottles from Chapel Hill Distiller, Top of the Hill Distillery, or TOPO for short. I chose the Gin and the Vodka, both of which came in nice packaging similar to high end product like Grey Goose. In addition to the two bottles from TOPO, I picked up an American Single Malt Whisky called “Defiant,” from Blue Ridge Distilling Co. The science behind my choices was [price + pretty bottle + cool name = my choice. ]
With a couple of regular patrons, we had the bar tender pour us a few trial sized portions to see what this craft booze craze is all about! To compare, we had some higher end vodka, whiskey, gin available.
The first standout was the TOPO Gin. Wow. This is some pretty incredible stuff. I’m not much of an expert on spirits but I can say that this gin is special. The first sensation is major spice and citrus. I really got a lot of black pepper with juniper and citrus. After that initial hit, it all faded away to a mellow finish that left you just wanting another sip.
TOPO Piedmont Gin is a superb example of the new category of American Dry gins in which we enhance the natural smoothness of the spirit with only a judicious addition of juniper. This allows our other botanicals — cardamom, coriander, star anise, and even local organic cucumber — to tantalize your mouth with the verdant exuberance of the Carolina Piedmont region.
The nose is comprised of evergreen with citrus highlights. Upon tasting, the subtle vanilla of the base spirit gives way to hints of black pepper that quickly finishes in a balanced, earthy spiciness with a touch of hazelnut.
My tasting partners and I exchanged an intrigued glance and immediately reached for the next one down the line. Defiant and TOPO Vodka were winners as well! The Defiant whisky is super interesting. It’s only aged two months, yet it has a beautiful dark caramel color. The nose is pure moonshine. Both of us were taken back by the smell that brought us immediately to a campfire with a quart jar and good friends. Then you sip. It drinks like a mature, well rounded, top-shelf whisky, with notes of berry and vanilla with a mild, warm finish.
Water is the largest ingredient of whisky. Ours is drawn from deep under the distillery. Our water is so pure and perfect for whisky making we do nothing to it whatsoever.
Barley is the most expensive grain to distill with, and we use only the finest, freshly ground for each and every batch in house on our custom roller mill. Now the fermentation begins. This step is arguably the most crucial point in the creation of a world-class single malt whisky. After fermentation is complete, the spirit hides, mingled with the mash, waiting for the still to capture and purify it.
Our custom-made German hybrid still is operated by hand. Each still run is negotiated to collect only the heart of the hearts cut. Now this potent new make whisky begins to show its character.
American white oak, air-dried, well seasoned, and toasted to perfection, matures and softens the spirit. This marriage of fine oak and whisky imparts a palate to the whisky bringing out vanilla, caramel honey… You are certain to find even more.
This Defiant young single malt already stands strong!
Time will make it even better.
-Tim Ferris (Founder Blue Ridge Distilling Co.)
Find TOPO and other North Carolina spirits at many of BIR’s member establishments. Check the Dining Guide for your favorite bar today!