restaurant guide

Cheers! Raise a Glass, its Time to Drink Local!


Cheers to North Carolina’s Thriving Community of Distillers and Legal Moonshine 

Raise your glasses and say, “Cheers!”

Some 84 years ago today Prohibition in the United States was appealed. Statewide prohibition was made law in North Carolina in 1908. For most of the country, the repeal took place on this day in 1933.

In North Carolina, the process for legal liquor took a bit longer and  the tides in the Old North State actually parted in 1935, although many counties and municipalities elected to continue to remain dry.

When the law changed, only beer and wine could be sold by the bottle or by the drink,  distilled spirits could be sold only by the bottle and only in county-run stores ( aka ABC stores) in counties where the sale of liquor was legal. Although anyone of age could by spirituous liquor by the bottle, and then bring it to a restaurant, order set ups ( the mixers, glasses, ice and garnishes) for a DIY start to the evening, it wasn’t until 1978, that it became lawful to order a ready made cocktail in a North Carolina restaurant.  

The first legal North Carolina distillery in North Carolina opened in 2005 and the concept and the industry began growing from there. Moonshine, made legally and illegally  in our state, is the simple white distilled liquor that started it all.

Before  it was legal,  and before all the wonderful locally made aged liquor we now enjoy, bootleggers would run moonshine all across the state.  The faster they could drive, the less chance they had of running into the law – an activity that became the early roots of NASCAR, but that’s a story for another day.

Back in the day it was all about the “Shine” which was quickly made to be quickly consumed. Now that things are legal, most distilleries still make some sort of white liquor but the focus is on quality, flavor and finesse. For today’s craft distillers, its all about how the final product tastes before it goes in the bottle and much of todays North Carolina spirits are aged before bottling to create more smoother warmer notes of flavor. 

With the birth of legal distilleries, the concept of the craft of blending and aging distilled spirits became an art and today there are nearly 70 legal distilleries in the state of North Carolina and the number keeps growing.

Crafting the Perfect Cocktail

With the culinary spotlight on craft cocktails at local bars and restaurants, it nice to know that it’s really not hard to craft your own cocktail creations at home and still  keep it local.

All it takes is the right glass, the right ice,  the right ingredients and a little bit of know how.  In late November, it was my pleasure to do a guest segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today program where I shared, as I often do, my love for all things local. I usually set up segments with info on how viewers and you my readers can Eat Local, but this month, my focus is on how you might Drink Local.

In case you missed it – here is the video from that late November 2017 segment.With so many choices,  alcoholic and not, it wasn’t easy to narrow the field for six of my favorite ways to Drink Local this holiday season, but these are definitely my top picks for this first installment of my Drink Local series!  This concept has been so well received ( the video itself has already enjoy over 3000 views) that, I’m delighted to say, stay tuned for more Eat and Drink Local posts and televised segments to come.

As you have just seen, this first installment of my Drink Local series begins  with the goods from four different North Carolina Distillers. I have for you a delicious line up of four rums from Muddy River Distillery in Belmont, NC – the Carolina’s first Rum;  a smooth and satisfying, rich almond-based liqueur  that is Oak City Amaretto in Raleigh NC; Damn Fine Liqueurs from Durham Distillery in Durham, NC – also the makers of the very popular Conniption Gin and the Eight Oak Aged Whiskey from TOPO Distillery, North Carolina’s first LEED green and totally organic grain to glass distillery in Chapel Hill.

Crude Bitters Raleigh NCCheers to Crude Bitters from Raleigh NC

Because a craft cocktail is not made with liquor alone, I am also featuring Crude Bitters from Raleigh, North Carolina in this Drink Local post.

Crude Bitters & Sodas is North Carolina’s first cocktail bitters company and was founded in 2012 by owner and cocktail enthusiast, Craig Rudewicz. Think of bitters as that little something extra that peaks the flavor of a cocktail – the same way that vanilla or almond extra peaks the flavor of your favorite baked goods or a shake of salt peaks the flavor of a steak. Bitters do the same thing for the taste of a cocktail and unlike the industry standard, these local bitters come in a variety of creative flavors using local and organic ingredients.

Flavors and varieties change with the season, but year round offerings include one of my favorite Crude Bitters – “Sycophant” with notes of Orange & Fig. Other flavor combinations to consider are the  Rizzo, a piquant blend of rosemary, peppercorns and grapefruit and a blend affectionately called “Pooter” that brings notes of smoke and salt . Read on and you’ll see me mention a different type of Crude Bitters in almost every recipe in this post. Buy a sampler set and mix and match your own to find your favorites – or gift as an inspiration for your favorite budding mixologist,

These local bitters are based in GMO-free and organic alcohols and while they are not for drinking on their own, they certainly pack a concentrated punch when added to any drink from a cocktails to coffee or club soda and I love to cook with them as well.

In Charlotte the entire line of Crude Bitters products are always available at the Assorted Table Wine Shop at 7th Street Station in Uptown Charlotte and at Savory Spice Shop in Southend, You may also order online directly from the Crude Bitters website!

Cheers to Pure Intentions Coffee Beans & Cold Brew, Charlotte NC


If you are to be the host and hostess with the mostess then you also need to offer non alcoholic varieties of your favorite craft cocktails. I am happy to say that I’m not talking Shirley Temples here.  Did you know that fresh ground fresh brewed or cold brewed coffee makes an exceptional non alcoholic substitute for the spirits in your glass?

Enter Charlotte’s own Pure Intentions Coffee. Pure Intentions started in the Queen City in 2011 and is Charlotte’s first roaster to be both USDA organic certified and Fair Trade Certified sourcing a variety of beans from all over the world. Pure Intentions distinctively different coffee blends  each evoke different flavor profiles and so each may easily be used in place of your favorite liquor or liqueur in most any cocktail recipe.

If you are an iced coffee lover, then you will definitely want to know more about Pure Intentions new canned cold brews. Available on tap in many bars and coffee shops, as well as in the can – there is a regular variety and now a new Nitro canned version which foams when you pour ( as it does when it is served on tap) and offers drinkers a richer “creamier”  ( without any added cream) coffee drinking experience.

The Pure Intentions roastery is in Charlotte at 2215 Tryon Street.  As a special bonus to go with the Drink Local post, Pure Intentions is offering a discount to all of my readers… go to the roastery during business hour and you may purchase a 6-pack of the original cold brew for just $15 until mid December or as long as supplies last!

Untitled design (4)You’ll want to keep these cans refrigerated, but there are the absolute perfect way to have delicious iced coffee at the ready. Use this perfectly roasted and brewed blend for ice for any coffee drink or cocktail where a coffee liqueur plays a roll. If you have guest who are designated drivers or who simply choose not to imbibe, know that Pure Intentions coffee is so smooth, it may actually be used in place of the alcohol in most any cocktail recipe calling for whiskey or bourbon.

For the perfect iced coffee, I take my lead from my friends Jon and Amy Fortes of The Flipside restaurant chain. At their Pineville location – the Corner Grind in Pineville, they serve an iced coffee with coffee ice cubes and scoops of coffee ice cream in the place of the standard dairy options. Just two cans of Pure Intentions cold brew and a cool ice cube tray like this one I love to use for cocktails and you can do the same thing at home!

To read more about Pure Intentions Coffee or to order special blends like the  bourbon barrel series where coffee beans are rested in spent barrels from area distilleries before the roasting begins; or the must-have for the season Holiday Blend, visit the Pure Intentions website and then go to the roastery or order online and have them ship directly to you so you can taste for yourself!

Cheers to Durham Distillery, Durham NC

Durham Distillery Durham NC

I started my Drink Local video on a  slightly sweeter note with Damn Fine Liqueurs- mocha and coffee liqueurs by Durham Distillery makers of the award winning Conniption Gin from Durham, North Carolina.

At holiday time we tend to turn to liqueurs in holiday cocktails and as an after dinner libation as well. These tall skinny bottles are indeed “Damn Fine” and make for great mixers , too! Use the Coffee Liqueur in your next White Russian – simply one part Durham Distillery’s Damn Fine Coffee Liqueur, one part Conniption Gin ( usually the recipe calls for Vodka, but the Conniption takes it up a notch) and one part local or organic heavy cream.

Durham Distillery’s Damn Fine Chocolate Liqueur  has many possibilities as well. Use it to add a kick to any chocolate truffle or rum ball recipe – see my favorite at the end of this post – or mix it with Muddy River Distillery’s Coconut Rum ( you’ll read more about it in just a few) for a cocktail that tastes just like a Mounds bar! For a chocolate latte sort of cocktail, serve the Damn Fine Chocolate Liqueur in  a glass over a Pure Intentions Coffee ice ball and add a dash or two of Crude Bitters coffee and cocoa bitters – delish!

And, either of the Durham Distillery’s Damn Fine Liqueurs are a delicious way to spike my homemade eggnog ( recipe below) made with local eggs and local milk, organic sugar and  vanilla – oh my, the drink local possibilities are endless!

cheersDurham Distillery is owned by husband and wife team Melissa and Lee Katrincic  and is  located in Durham NC at 711 Washington Street. Hour long tours of the distillery require an online reservations and are offered on Saturdays and most Thursday & Friday evenings. You may choose from an the hour long behind the scenes  tour ( which includes a tasting and a souvenir shot glass) or a a more abbreviated tour and tasting on Thursday and Friday evening and during business hours on Saturday during the day. For more information and to make a reservation, visit the Durham Distillery website.

Cheers to Muddy River Rum, Belmont, NC

My next selection for todays cocktail menu is Muddy River Distillery in Belmont, NC, Muddy River was the fifth North Carolina distillery and  is the Carolina’s First Rum. Its distilled and bottled in Belmont, NC and is owned by another husband and wife team – Robbie and Caroline Delaney.

Muddy River Distillery Belmont, NC

Okay, time for a bit of true confessions here. When I was in college I had what I will kindly refer to as a “bad experience” with rum and Coke. That was, well just say for this story telling purpose, “several years ago”  and the honest truth is I haven’t drunk (probably a poor choice of words here) rum much since.

That is, until I tasted Muddy River. This is rum they way this classic Caribbean spirit is supposed to taste and Muddy River’s aged Queen Charlotte rum has been touted to be among the finest rums in the country! Only available in North and South Carolina, the Muddy River line also includes their Silver white rum, a snappy spice dark rum and a coconut rum that is becoming the talk of the town. 

Think rum balls and rich rum cake if you are baking for the holidays or use Muddy Rivers Queen Charlotte aged rum in my homemade eggnog recipe below. Use the Muddy River Spiced Rum to take your next batch of hot apple cider up a notch. The spiced rum is also a delicious way to spike a flute of sparkling cider for all of your holiday toasts.

The coconut rum really does taste like coconut, not like your favorite brand of suntan lotion ( as Colleen Odegaard mentioned in the Charlotte Today video I shared at the top of this post.) It’s delicious mixed with other spirits like Durham Distillery’s Damn Fine chocolate liqueur for a after dinner treat or  poured into your favorite Pina Colada recipe made with your own better-for-you organic sugar and organic coconut milk instead of reaching for the popular already mixed and  sweetened  cocktail coconut milks on the market.

cheersOn the horizon look for more aged pours ahead with possible releases for a 4-5 year old aged blend and eventually a 10 or 20 year old blend. The Delaney’s age Muddy River rum in locally cooped oak barrels. And talk about a small world, one of the batches of Pure Intentions “Bourbon Barrel” series of coffee blends was held in a spent Muddy River barrel before roasting.

The doors at Muddy River are open for tastings and tours whenever the distillery is open. Check the Muddy River  website to be sure of hours and tour details, but  know that the drive from Charlotte is a short one. Muddy River is located at 1500 River Dr in Belmont, NC.

Cheers to Oak City Amaretto, Raleigh NC

Oak CityAmarettoRaleigh, NC

 Lots of liquors and liqueurs started as homemade family recipes –  and  Raleigh, NC based Oak City Amaretto  is no different.  It’s a family recipe with roots in Italy and today the Scalabrino family shares the family secret for all to enjoy – filling your glass with the smooth taste of rich roasted almonds.  Also good to give a nutty kick to my homemade eggnog base, this pour is best I think over a the same large single ice cube “>the same large single ice cube I love, served for after dinner sipping instead of dessert. To my mind it doesn’t need more than that, but for fun you could roast some fresh whole almonds and put them in the water before freezing the cubes to give your glass of Oak City Amaretto a nutty little garnish.

Mixologists use the large ice cubes as they don’t dilute drinks so much – if you are serving your home made cocktails over large ice cubes –you are definitely  on the cutting edge.

If you are cooking, amaretto is delicious when incorporated with peaches, mangoes and other stone fruit. For the holidays use it in my “rum” ball recipe below or pour a splash in your after dinner cup of Pure Intentions Coffee.

You can keep it all local by making the Oak City Cheer Up cocktail posted on the Oak City website– it calls for equal parts of Oak City Amaretto and whiskey  ( I would suggest using the TOPO Distillery Eight Oak Aged Whiskey you will read about in just a bit) add ice and then top the glass off with Cheerwine… just a note here, I would suggest using regular Cheerwine from a bottle, not the diet variety or Cheerwine from a can. The bottled original is made with cane sugar and simply tastes and blends better in a cocktail.

Oak City is not a distillery. Owner Anthony Scalabrino makes his family recipe and then has it added to clear distilled spirits at Raleigh Rum Company. Like all the spirits I’ve showcase here, Oak City Amaretto is distributed at statewide ABC stores, If you don’t see it ask – they will be happy to place an order and get it in stock.

Cheers to TOPO Organic Spirits, Chapel Hill, NC

TOPO Organic Spirits Chapel Hill, NC

There is lots of whiskey in the Tarheel state and we are seeing more and more of it than when the distillery craze first started as whiskey has now had time to age; and is no longer the strong and stringent moonshine that started the industry. This is one of my favorites from TOPO Distillery in Chapel Hill,  the Carolinas only organic  and LEED certified distillery.

cheersTOPO produces a delicious vodka and gin, both made with botanicals wonderful for drinking and baking too!

Simply substitute either the TOPO gin or vodka for the ice water called for in your favorite pie crust recipe for  incredible tender and, oh so, flaky results. And to make your own homemade vanilla use a pint of TOPO vodka and 2 split vanilla beans. Place the beans in the vodka in a decorative jar or bottle and all it to sit for 2 weeks. As you use your hand crafted vanilla, add more vodka to top off the bottle. As the color begins to lighten, add another split bean.

Baking aside,  for this feature and for cold weather sipping, my focus is on the TOPO Eight Oak Aged Whisky. Perfect neat ( that is without ice), or on the rocks or use it to make my Winter Warmer, a cocktail I enjoy  mixed with orange,  Crude Bitters orange & fig bitters, a honey simple syrup and top off with South Carolina’s own Blenheim’s ginger ale. Yes, please! 

For information about touring the TOPO Organic Spirits Distillery, visit the website to get all the details and to make your reservation.

Shopping for Local Spirits?

All of the liquors and liqueurs I’ve shown a spotlight on today are available in the NC Local Spirits section and in other appropriate sections of any North Carolina ABC store. In addition, you make make purchases while you are touring any NC Distillery. Guests on tour at North Carolina distilleries are allowed to purchase 5 bottles, per person, per year after a tour.  Be prepared to show an ID and be sure to check distillery website info about cost and making a reservation.

Use all or any of the featured spirits, bitters and coffee in today’s post interchangeably in the following holiday recipes… make several batches of each and enjoy the local spirit of the season.

Heidi’s Chocolate Coconut Rum Balls

1 cup vanilla wafers

1 cup ground nuts

1 cup mini chocolate chips

1 cup powdered sugar

2 Tbsp. cocoa

1/3 cup Muddy River Coconut Rum ( or Pure Intentions Coffee, or TOPO Eight Oak Aged Whiskey, Or either of the Damn Fine Liqueurs, or Oak City Amaretto)

Add a dash or two of your favorite Crude Bitters to enhance the flavor.

Mix and shape into small balls and roll in powdered sugar before serving

Heidi’s Holiday Eggnog

4 cups local or organic whole milk

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract ( make your own following the recipe in the section on TOPO Vodka)

3-4 dashes of Crude Bitters Big Bear ( Coffee & Cocoa) bitters

2 sticks of cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom

12  local or organic egg yolks

1 1/2 cups organic sugar

2 1/2 cups Muddy River Queen Charlotte Rum or TOPO Whiskey or Oak City Amaretto, or Damn Fine Liqueurs Chocolate Liqueur; or for a non alcoholic version of the same use an equal amount of Pure Intentions Cold Brew, or brew your favorite Pure Intentions Coffee blend of beans, chill and then add to the eggnog

2 cups organic heavy cream

Combine milk, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon in a saucepan, and heat over lowest setting for 5 minutes and heat just until warm.  In a large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar. Whisk together until fluffy. Whisk hot milk mixture slowly into the eggs to temper the eggs ( that is to slowly bring them up to the temperature of the milk).  Pour the mixture back into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thick. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve. The recipe may be done up to this point up to a couple of days in advance. Stir in your local spirit of choice ( or coffee) and heavy cream.  Garnish with a grind of fresh nutmeg.

 Heidi’s Winter Warmer

For two cocktails:

3 oz. TOPO Eight Oak Aged Whiskey, 

2-3 dashes Crude Bitters Sycophant ( orange & Fig) bitters

½ cup Dancing Bees Honey sourwood honey orange simple syrup*

Blenheim’s Hot Gingerale

1 large round cube of ice

slice of orange to garnish

Make the sourwood honey orange simple syrup but combining 1 cup of Dancing Bees Sourwood honey ( available in Charlotte on Saturdays at the Matthews or Charlotte Regional Farmers’ markets) and 1 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice. Bring to a slow boil. Turn off heat and allow the syrup to cool.  Combine your favorite NC spirit or an equally amount of strongly brewed and then cooled Pure Intentions coffee with the Crude Bitters Orange & Fig bitters and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Shake gently to combine. Pour between two rocks glasses over ice and top off with ginger ale. Garnish each glass with a slice of orange.

2017-heidibillottofood-partnered-post-logoMany thanks go out to each of these featured distilleries and to Crude Bitters and Pure Intentions coffee for partnering with me on this post, so that I might better spread the word of Drinking Local. You can easily Shop Local by buying and supporting these brands all of whom I asked to be a part of this post. They are all Brands I believe in and I am delighted to tell their story.

Go and visit the distilleries and learn more about how North Carolina is taking the craft cocktail industry by storm and then ask for these same pours at your favorite bar or restaurant. Always easy to Drink Local #TellThemHeidiSentYou


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