Pittsboro, N.C. — Beverages, thankfully, are going the way of food in our area. Now that we have amazing ingredients, restaurants and artisan food products, our options are growing by the day when it comes to craft beers, sodas, ciders, meads, spirits and even bitters.
Pittsboro is reaping the benefits of this – a pretty fast progression considering voters passed liquor by the drink in Chatham County in May 2009. Here, a new business is worth raising your glass to.
With grapes from the Haw River Valley, apples from Henderson, peaches from the Sandhills, sorghum from Silk Hope and Denton, and sugar cane from South Carolina, Fair Game Beverage Company – our state’s 13th distillery – takes drinking local very seriously.
Fair Game’s first four fortified wines were released in June 2014. An unfortified wine was released in January, and, in late March, you may have noticed the appearance of the company’s apple brandy and No’Lasses sorghum spirit in ABC stores. (Made from a combination of both molasses-style sorghum syrup and fresh-pressed sorghum juice created from Carolina- and Tennessee-grown sorghum, the latter is aged for six months in a combination of new toasted and used bourbon American oak barrels. Only about 12 distilleries in the country are making sorghum cane liquor.)
Both spirits sell for $32.95 for a 750-milliliter bottle. Fair Game produced less than 500 cases last year.
“I’m trying to build up inventory,” says Chris Jude, head distiller. “Everything we release is aged.”
Fair Game fans can expect the release of a sugar cane rum in late summer. They’re also planning a malt whiskey, a collaboration with Fullsteam, and a giniver-style gin, which would be the first of its kind in North Carolina.
At about 17 percent alcohol, the fortified wines – including the Tipper Apple Wine, the Two Step White and the Tipper Scuppernong – comprise about two-thirds of Fair Game’s sales. “It’s both easier and more direct to sell them in North Carolina,” Chris says.
You can find them at Carrboro Beverage Company, Glasshalfull, Bull Craft Bottle Shop, Sam’s Bottle Shop, Sam’s Quik Shop, Hope Valley Bottle Shop, all three Triangle Wine Company locations and all five Total Wine shops.
Fair Game is housed in an “eco-industrial park” off U.S. 64 Business East. Other endeavors on the 15-acre property, which feels very rural despite its close proximity to Pittsboro’s regal courthouse, include Piedmont Biofuels, nonprofit The Abundance Foundation, Piedmont Biofarm and a solar farm.
Lyle Estill owns the property and is a Fair Game partner. He coordinates a group of investors, all interested in local food, agriculture and business. Among them? Andy Zeman, who owns Benjamin Vineyards in Saxapahaw, a provider of Fair Game grapes.
Chris has been working at Fair Game for two years. He studied renewable energy and biofuels at Appalachian State, so he had a familiarity with liquids and pumping. He was a longtime home brewer and had been growing sweet sorghum and making syrup (similar to molasses) when Lyle asked him to come on board.
Chris wants consumers to enjoy the spirits exactly as they wish. Making a mixed drink is one option, but he thinks they go down smoothly when sipped.
“We’ve been getting some pretty great feedback,” says Chris.
One week after the release date, the Pittsboro ABC store reported that most of 12 delivered cases of Fair Game’s spirits had been sold. Pretty great feedback, indeed.
Editor’s Note: On April 21, Fair Game Beverage will be featured at TASTE 2016, presented by Johnson Lexus. This is your chance to taste their delicious concoctions for yourself! The Grand TASTE Experience will be held at the Durham Armory, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The evening will feature 30 local chefs and a dozen beverage purveyors – not to mention a live jazz band! Buy tickets at tastetheevent.com.