I learned several things at the Asheville Food and Wine Festival, an ongoing extravaganza of booze and food happening this weekend in downtown Asheville. First, I learned that my facial hair isn’t nearly interesting enough. I went to the cocktail competition (imagine an Iron Chef-style challenge but with bartenders whipping up the drink of their choice using a handful of ingredients from local distillers), and they awarded a duo of bartenders from a local bar with the Greatest Mustache Award. Their mustaches truly were incredible. Swooping, shiny, delicate but manly. A legitimate accomplishment in facial hair.
But I digress. I was actually there to sample local hooch. And sample I did. Half a dozen relatively new distillers from across the region showed up to introduce their booze to a thirsty Asheville public. Here’s what I found.
There’s a distiller out of Snow Hill, N.C. that makes vodka out of yams. It takes 20 pounds of yams to make a 750 ml bottle of vodka (covingtonvodka.com). That’s a lot of yams. And it’s gluten free, if you’re into that sort of thing. And it’s good. I also learned that while locally produced corn whiskey has become ubiquitous in Carolina, a fine single malt made here in the Tarheel state is much harder to find. Tennessee and Kentucky practically have a monopoly. Enter Defiant, a hand-crafted single malt made in the Blue Ridge foothills that gives brown liquor coming out of Tennessee and Kentucky a run for its money. I had it neat and I loved it (blueridgedistilling.com). Topo Distillery, out of Chapel Hill has this cool kit where you can age your own whiskey. Pour a bottle of their corn whiskey into one of their little barrels, wait a month or so, and shazaam, you’ve got a batch of smoky whiskey that you aged yourself (topodistillery.com).
I learned a lot of other boozy life lessons, too. Like, no matter how much pineapple juice you put in the glass, my wife still hates whiskey. And no matter how much whiskey you put in pineapple juice, I still won’t like pineapple juice. Ditto anything with watermelon in it. Jello shots, on the other hand, can seem downright sophisticated if they’re presented on a fancy spoon and have ginger in them.
The nut takeaway from the evening is craft spirits is alive and well in the fine state of North Carolina. The state may be known for its beer, but the hard stuff is coming along just fine, thank you.
I also learned that ascots are back in style. This could be the most shocking revelation of the night. I saw three of them, of varying degrees of awesomeness. Keep that in mind, the next time you’re planning your outfit for an evening of cocktails and revelry.
Check out the Asheville Wine and Food Festival here. The Grand Tasting is this Saturday, which will give you another chance to sample some of the local hooch being produced in North Cackalacky.
Follow Graham Averill’s adventures in drinking and Dad-hood at daddydrinks.com