In the quaint little college town that is known as Chapel Hill, North Carolina sits one of America’s best distilleries.TOPO Distillery is on the far end of West Franklin St. , roughly half a mile from the restaurant Top of the Hill, which UNC students and alumni affectionally call TOPO. A place to gather whether you are celebrating a Carolina sports win or showing your significant other your former stomping ground,TOPO is a staple in Chapel Hill. TOPO Distillery is North Carolina’s only locally sourced and organic distillery and the country’s only Green Plus Certified distillery. As I’ve mentioned my love of wine and whiskey numerous times, I was more than thrilled to go on this tour.
Guided by founder and UNC alum, Scott Maitland, our little group was lucky enough to go on a two-hour private distillery tour. It was one of the best bonding experiences I had with my fellow senior marshals before graduation. I loved every minute of it. Before walking us through the facility, Scott gave us a history lesson on North Carolina’s Scottish and Irish roots and the influence that ancestry had in the whiskey making stateside. As we all know, any mention of Scotland has me sitting at attention as the model student eager to gobble up new insight.
I was surprised to learn during the Great Depression era a law was passed stating whiskey could only be aged in a new white oak barrel. It was put into practice because makers were trying to cut costs but it wound up distorting the taste bourbon. Today the law is not an issue for bourbon production where it is a common practice but for Scotch ,where reusing oak barrels or using those that are a darker oak, it takes away from the smoothness you might find in a Scottish or Irish liquor. One way Maitland and the rest of the TOPO Spirits team have worked around this law was by using wood chips to age the whiskey. Let me tell you, Maker’s Mark and Jack Daniels aren’t even in the same lane as this brand.
On top of the smoothness that you don’t often find with American produced spirits, what impressed was Scott’s love and passion for the craft. Once the facility tour began, explained the technology behind the machinery, the usage of public water, repurposing of wheats and grains for the farm animals that are used at the restaurant. How the company is truly living up to its locally sourced and organic mission. It was nice to hear about the relationships cultivated with local farmers because too often the story goes back to losing business to larger corporations. Throughout this entire process, Scott was telling stories and making us laugh. The way he wove the history and facts into his presentation was a true art and kept me entertained.
Once we finished up with the educational portion the real fun began. All the liquors had a smoothness to them. We tried all four TOPO original spirits along with other mainstream brands for comparison. My favourite was the Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey. If you don’t plan to stay in Chapel Hill after the tour, be sure to arrange a designated driver. After the vodka, gin, and whiskey ya girl was definitely a little buzzed.
Thankfully, you have the option of making a purchase after your tour and tasting is over. So those of you who are not NC residents can enjoy TOPO Spirits in the comfort of your home. For those who are huge whiskey fans or just enjoy DIY projects,you can purchase a kit ot age your own whiskey at home. Isn’t that neat. Even if you aren’t a drinker but love to know how things work, this would be a fun and lively experience to share with friends.
If you’re visited TOPO Distillery in Chapel Hill or another American distillery, I’d love to hear about your experience? If you’re a fan of whiskey drop me a line too. I’d want to know your poison.
Until Next Time,