I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the TOPO (Top of the Hill) distillery in Chapel Hill and I thought I’d publish a quick write-up.
TOPO Spirits is owned by the same folks who own the Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery just a few blocks away from the distillery. After years of brewing beer the TOPO team has turned their attention to micro-distilled spirits and they’ve become one of very few distilleries that uses all organic ingredients to create their line of six spirits.
I booked a tour for a Friday evening through the TOPO website, and redeemed a Groupon for half-off in the process (for what it’s worth- the tour was interesting enough that I would have paid full price but the Groupon just sweetened the deal).
Upon arriving at TOPO we were greeted by proprietor Scott Maitland who quickly handed us a beer and struck up a conversation in the laid back warehouse bar space. Once everyone arrived we had a seat around the bar as Scott started a meandering lesson on the distillery’s background. The discussion ranged from science lessons on specific spirits to the way that local history influenced the approach TOPO takes to their own products. It was ‘neat’ to hear from Scott just how much thought goes into each step of the process, and it is clear that he is incredibly invested in his craft. A lot of work goes into each of the spirits that sport a TOPO label.
Five of TOPO’s six spirits start out as a wheat mash and then undergo varying treatments before arriving at a final product. It is evident that Scott and his team take great pride in the fact that their products come from organic, locally sourced soft winter wheat grown less than 100 miles from the distillery. The one exception to this is TOPO’s Spiced Rum, which is created using cane sourced from the nation’s only organic cane field in West Palm Beach, Florida.
After Scott’s informative session/history lesson we proceeded to tour the distilling facility and got a chance to see fermenting tanks, the custom-built still, and racks of aging whiskey barrels. The distilling space also includes a 70 year-old dairy bottling machine that TOPO has repurposed to bottle their batches of spirits.
After a few notes about specific filtering processes the group moved back to the bar for a tasting of all six of the products that are created at the distillery. During the tasting Scott continued discussing the steps he and his team take to ensure they are created the best possible products.
This was a really enjoyable experience, and whether you want to check it out to learn history, support small businesses, taste booze, or just try something new, I would definitely recommend booking a tour.
I plan to write a quick rundown of each of TOPO’s six spirits, and a more in-depth tasting and review of the two bottles I brought home from the tour. Stay tuned!