TOPO brews local, organic spirits in Chapel Hill
Posted September 18, 2013
Updated September 19, 2013
Chapel Hill, N.C. — When I hear the word "whiskey," I'll admit it - I wince a little bit. But whiskey can be smooth and organically made, as evidenced by a local distillery located in Chapel Hill.
TOPO is the only distillery in the South handcrafting and bottling its spirits from scratch using local and organic ingredients. I recently took a tour to see how they are making these high-end spirits.
Open for more than a year, TOPO is a venture by Top of the Hill's founder and owner Scott Maitland. Top of the Hill earned more than 50 national awards for its microbrewing, but Maitland wanted to make a 100 percent local beer, containing all locally produced ingredients. While he couldn't find all of the ingredients for beer locally, he could obtain the 100 percent organic soft red winter wheat from a farmer in Scotland Neck to produce wheat whiskey and vodka. So, he embarked on opening a distillery.
TOPO, tucked in a warehouse behind the Chapel Hills News building on Franklin Street, produces produces Carolina Whiskey, TOPO Vodka and Piedmont Gin. All are made organically and use local ingredients. While the whiskey and vodka are 100 percent local, the gin is about 99.8 percent because they haven't been able to find juniper berries from a local farmer yet.
The distillery's process is similar to a brewery. There are machines that filter the product to various stations. They use a continuous column and pot still to help make low wines, the first step to making whiskey or vodka. The use distilling plates after that.
About 4,000 pounds of wheat can create 500 liters of vodka and 700 liters of whiskey.
The result is a smooth vodka that has a slightly sweet taste, making it drinkable by itself or mixed. The whiskey is also more drinkable with its vanilla tones.The natural flavors of the ingredients also come out in the gin.
Don't expect TOPO to start offering "flavored" spirits like marshmallow or peanut butter and jelly, Maitland said. They'd rather stick to offering a tasty product that isn't masked by anything.
On the horizon, Maitland hopes to produce local and organic sorghum rum and whiskey cream.
TOPO offers tours and tastings so you can compare the spirits. Find out more on the TOPO website.
Their spirits are available at ABC Stores and in cocktails around the Triangle including Jimmy V's Osteria and Bar.