Taking an uncharted craft booze tour in Myrtle Beach

For Weekly SurgeNovember 4, 2013 

What a person drinks reveals much about their character, style, confidence and, I’ll say it, sexual prowess. Ladies, a guy pulling back Budweiser and taking shots with names that take a jab at sexual endeavors will, more than likely, disappoint you in bed.

Distilling spirits is a craft. One that takes the skill of a carpenter, the precision of a scientist and the taste buds of a master chef. All rolled into one. Who is better? The person that produces 10,000 cases of bourbon in a week to only marginally satisfy those that are seeking something remotely resembling bourbon. Or the person that produces one toe-curling bottle that makes you want to sit with it and savor every last little nuance, every drop of goodness and leaves you longing for the next taste?

This brings me back to the signals that you send when you are in a public place having a cocktail.

We are in an time of sophistication. A period of returning to the root of all things. Discovering that modern technology and liquor do not, always, make a great combination. Some traditionalists believe that the history of distilling spirits should also be the future of the industry.

David Newbold, from Aleph Wine, is helping to put some small craft distillers on the shelves of Myrtle Beach area restaurants and bars. Aleph has opted to distribute some of the best-crafted spirits in the world. Valuing quality over marketing dollars is something we should all get behind. When Newbold calls me, my calendar will, miraculously, open up for a tasting with anything he believes I should drink.

He started our conversation with a little vodka producer out of Virginia Beach, Va. The Chesapeake Bay Distillery makes Blue Ridge Vodka. The recipe uses regional corn and local spring water to distill and produce a very clean, hometown vodka. The company also gives $1 to the Navy Seal Foundation for every bottle sold. This is a new practice that is taking off in the spirits world. As they say, “you can never keep a good thing a secret,” which holds true with this regional distiller. Blue Ridge Vodka has an attractive price point (approximately $30 per bottle), which means that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying it.

The next stop on our craft distillery tour was a small tequila distiller that makes, possibly, some of the best reposado on the planet.

Blue Head Tequila from, where else, Mexico, has the liquid and the hardware to back up these claims. Once you win multiple Double Gold Medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, you have the attention of the industry folks in the know.

Do not confuse this brand with the stuff that is slopped into those frozen margarita machines. That stuff needs to stay there. This is a gentleman’s tequila. A sipper. A long dancer. You do not waste this caliber of distilling with sugar and citrus. One ice cube is acceptable, however. If you are a fan of quality, Blue Head Tequila really backs up your passion and image. In fact, in a blind tasting that Newbold conducted, five out of six people preferred Blue Head Reposado Tequila over Jose Cuervo 1800.

Finally, Newbold got to the stuff that I have lost sleep over. Germain-Robin produces the finest brandy in the world. In fact, G-R’s brandy is about all you will find in the White House. Which may be the only good decision made in Washington in a long time.

Craft Distillers, a masterful marketing and production house of these fine spirits, has taken Germain-Robin brandy and combined it with premium Sweet Vermouth. Getting on the aged cocktail bandwagon was my first thought as the mix is aged in oak barrels. However, when you produce one of the best aged cocktails and bottle it, you can not really call it “jumping on the bandwagon.” You become an innovator of a category. Craft Distillers is just that.

When you talk about spirits on the Grand Strand, there is no doubt that David Owen’s name will come up. He is one of the pioneers of the industry on the beach and owner of Owen’s Liquors (8000 N. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach). His affinity for good booze transcends the fact that he sells the stuff. He says “I have the best staff in the country.” This is because Owen’s values service, knowledge and loyalty over anything else in his business. So do his employees. The only thing that is added to these principles is quality. They know a good bottle and will guide you to things that will change your life if you let them. Please, let them.

I asked Owens to tell me the best kept secret on the beach when it comes to spirits. It took him a little less than half a second to blurt out “Elmer T. Lee Bourbon.” He promptly compared his recommendation as superior to Pappy Van Winkle, the most sought after bourbon in the world for one reason or another. The fact that they are both Buffalo Trace Distillery bottles makes perfect sense. Being the quintessential expert on the stuff and having tried them both side by side, Owen’s assured me that it would not disappoint. There are very few people that I trust when it comes to bourbon, but Owens is decidedly one of them.

It is long overdue for us to abandon the “fast and cheap” mentality at the beach. It is time for us to drink well. Don’t be a lazy lover. Of anything. If you enjoy something, do it the best you can. Be open to suggestion and try new things. It is the way to a happy life and these bottles could be the key.


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