As I embark on this project and begin to dive into North Carolina culture, spirits, I feel, will be an integral part to explore. North Carolina is a state steeped deep in the tradition of making liquor and I am sure everyone from the state has tried a local’s homemade “shine” more than just a few times. I can remember paddling along the shoreline of Western NC lakes and rivers, and seeing remnants of stills long abandoned.
I am a fan of good libations, whether it be an artisan cocktail or a liquor itself, and this summer, I was introduced to Sutler’s Gin, made in Winston-Salem. My other half, a spirit connoisseur and excellent mixologist himself, bought a bottle for late summer gin and tonics, and I was impressed. Here was a gin that wasn’t overly infused with juniper. I love gin, but I don’t love drinking what basically tastes like a Christmas tree.
My grandfather used to eat raisins he soaked in gin, claiming that they helped his arthritis. I remember the smell of the raisins when he opened the jar up to pop a few in his mouth, and thinking who would ever want to drink or eat something that smelled like a Christmas tree.
So, in planning the start to my “Carolina spirits education”, I looked towards Sutler’s to get my bearings, and emailed the distillery asking if I could make an appointment to stop by in January. To my great surprise, I got a quick response from the owner, Scot Sanborn, and he informed me that in fact he would be teaching a “Gin Workshop” at a local Wilmington bar, Dram + Morsel, and if I could swing by that evening, he would be happy to chat with me.
One thing you’ll notice, when you find a bottle of Sutler’s at the store, is its unique ceramic bottle. The black coloring with the gold font gives a nostalgic feel from the get-go, and I found out at the event that the retro design was intentional. Often Sutler’s, people who followed armies around and sold provisions to soldiers, sold alcohol and other liquid goods, in ceramic bottles. It’s a nice throwback to NC history, and the Sutler’s name is a nice way to tie in our state’s military culture and past.
Sulter’s Spirit Co. was the 12th distillery to open in North Carolina, and the first to do so in Winston-Salem. Sanborn was the 4thth distillery to make gin in the state, but he divulged he has also been making a rum since day one at his facility (the rum should hit markets in 2018… fingers crossed!). The process behind opening up a distillery is intense, and looking at all the red tape and hoops he had to jump through sure gives a drinker a better appreciation for what went into starting up such a venture.
Gin, as opposed to whiskey or other aged spirits, doesn’t take long to make. In fact, Sanborn explains that the botanicals (plants and herbs) that go into the gin are only infused for about 5 hours. Anymore, and it’s not the desired taste. “Anyone can make gin really. Just get some really good vodka, and experiment with adding botanicals for a few hours at a time, but don’t leave it in too long. It’s not something you leave overnight.”
“We started with three different versions of the gin when we were trying to find out signature flavor,” Sanborn explains about the process behind cultivating his signature flavor. “One version was heavy on the juniper, one had a strong floral taste, and the last one, the one we went with, has a citrus flavor.” Working their way down from 28 botanicals to 8, they zoned in and settled on the liquor’s distinct flavor palate. Although it does have a slight juniper flavor (gin MUST have juniper in the botanical mix in order to be considered gin) elements such as lemon, lavender, coriander, bitter orange, and even dill shine through.
“We had an event on a golf course recently, and instead of the traditional gin and tonic garnish of a lime, I encouraged the bartenders to use lemon and a spring of dill to bring out different elements of the gin,” said Sanborn, when asked about what cocktails he prefers to make with Sutler’s.
Overall, Sanborn and his team are making a really wonderful gin, and working within the distilling community to continue to refine something that has been a part of North Carolina culture for years.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Sutler’s Gin, you can visit their distillery in Winston-Salem, or find them online at: http://www.sutlersspiritco.com. Look for their gin in ABC stores across North Carolina, and if you’re looking for a cocktail that really celebrates the flavors in Sutler’s, the Dram + Morsel serves a wonderful cocktail called the Green Lipstick, consisting of Sutler’s Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, fresh cucumber, and a hint of basil.
Sutler’s Spirit Co.
West End Mill Works
840 Mill Works Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Dram + Morsel
33 S. Front Street – 3rd Floor
Wilmington, North Carolina 28401