If you saw my recent review of a distillery tour at TOPO (Top of the Hill) in Chapel Hill, then you know I promised to review the six spirits TOPO has released. It took me a month, but those reviews and some cocktail recommendations are now listed below!
Carolina Moonshine: Moonshine is an interesting product rooted in North Carolina history and the team at TOPO acknowledges this fact, while making some adjustments of their own. Traditional shine is typical distilled from a corn mash, but TOPO uses wheat as the sole base grain in their moonshine. Compared to similar whiskey products I’ve had this moonshine is far more palatable. I’m sure it makes a killer cocktail, and I’m sure I’ll find out soon, because white whiskey straight still isn’t my cup of tea.
My recommendation: Intrigue guests at brunch with Moonshine Mimosas, or during colder months use it to spike hot fruit ciders.
Vodka*: Disclaimer: I generally hate vodka. Several years ago I visited Russia and Poland and got the chance to taste some vodkas that were actually enjoyable but this is the only vodka I’ve found stateside that seems distilled for actual drinking rather than sterilizing surgical instruments. I’ve found myself drawn to this bottle in my home bar more often than any other clear spirits that have occupied the same space. In my opinion this is probably TOPO’s most remarkable product out of the line up. While the other spirits on this list are certainly tasty and unique, I would put this vodka in a blind taste-test against anything you could find in your local store and I am positive I know what the outcome would be. With that said – I should address stereotypical vodka behavior: This is a great vodka for people who just like quality drinks, but it is a bad vodka for people who just like to drink.
My recommendation: Make yourself a Grenadine Martini, or sip it straight, chilled (not iced).
Piedmont Gin: While some people might like a drier, simpler gin, this pour also has rich notes of coriander and star anise, though not at the expense of the classic crisp juniper we all expect from our gin. At a reasonable price and richer flavor than your typical London dry gin this product makes a solid bid for some real estate in my home bar.
My recommendation: Mix it up in a refreshing Tom Collins (a summertime classic), or make the old reliable G&T.
Spiced Rum: Another disclaimer: I haven’t been using much rum lately so I’m not particularly ‘tuned’ into the rum flavors. I’ll need to try it side-by-side with some of my favorites when warmer weather arrives. With that said this rum has more bark than bite, in a good way. The nose felt stark and bold, but it is followed by a sweeter, softer flavor on the tongue.
My recommendation: On the rocks, or in a Dark & Stormy, or for a unique dessert- make a Bushwacker.
Reserve Carolina Straight Wheat Whiskey: The older of TOPO’s two aged whiskeys, the Reserve seemed less straightforward than the Eight Oak to me. The sweetness of the wheat mash bill comes through but so does more of the oaky char than I’d prefer. The dryness of the finish stands in stark contrast to the opening notes in a way that I found a little off-putting personally, but as always, whiskey is about personal preference and taste.
My recommendation: Stir up an Old Fashioned (TOPO also makes several quality bitters with flavors I’ve not encountered before, including Jasmine or Black Pepper)
Eight Oak Wheat Whiskey*: This spirit goes through a unique aging process at the distillery that provides it with its color and flavor. Instead of storing the unaged product in barrels, the TOPO team adds plenty oak staves to a vat and then adds in the green whiskey straight off of the still. The distilling team run the process with a lot of different strains and shades of oak, finally settling on eight kinds of oak they felt made the best flavor. Enough about the process though – let’s talk about the taste. This whiskey is strong and bold, and in the time I’ve spent sipping it I’ve become more and more convinced that it is a campfire s’more in a glass. The nose is full of earthy aromas on the nose that bring to mind some of my favorite Irish whiskeys. On my first sip I noted some charred sugary notes right on the tail approaching the finish, and I’ve since coaxed out a few notes of of cocoa and baking spice. Don’t approach this expecting sweet bourbon, come at is as you would a richer, deeper, darker whiskey.
My recommendation: Poured neat this can easily replace a glass of red wine at the dinner table it also really shines is as a cooled nightcap (maybe I’m leaning into the campfire vibe to hard).
There you have it! Six ways you can add a little North Carolina flavor into your next mixing adventure. I’ll make an write up some of the lesser-known recipes I recommended above and when I do I’ll link them back here. As always, enjoy responsibly, and let me know what you think! Cheers!