The who behind the what of holiday gift giving looms larger this year than ever.
We want to give good gifts, but we don’t want to give our money to corporate interests counter to our own. And the complicated web of the modern economy makes it hard to know where your money winds up once you spend it.
Shop local, we all agree, but not everyone on your list will be delighted with handmade earrings or pottery tossed from North Carolina clay. Fortunately, if you’re interested in giving your money to the state’s craft distillers, there’s never been a better time to do your local shopping at the ABC store.
A boom in the state’s distillery industry has led to great variety on the liquor store shelves. Gone are the days of just a few years ago when a mason jar of moonshine was the best representative of the North Carolina craft spirits scene. Distillers here are making everything from rare Lithuanian liqueur to gin and vodka, so if filling stockings with potent potables is on your to-do list, you’re in luck.
There’s just one speed bump: None of these N.C. spirits are yet available in mini-bottles. This can pose a challenge for those like me who consider the prototype for the perfect gift for almost any co-worker to be a small serving of alcohol paired with a festive mixer – a mini-bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream and a smattering of gourmet hot chocolate mix in a mug, for example.
To offer N.C.-made spirits you’ll either need to commit to giving a whole bottle, which might be a budget buster, or figure on splitting a big bottle up into smaller, decorative bottles such as those available at craft stores. Add a handwritten recipe card if you think the recipient of your gift might need instructions.
Here are just a couple of ways you can share North Carolina spirits this season:
For the adventurous palate: I can always count on my sister-in-law to bring a bottle of something merry and bright on Christmas Day. A couple of years ago, she arrived bearing Krupnikas. Made in Durham by The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Co., Krupnikas is a traditional Lithuanian spiced honey liqueur. It’s sturdy, smooth and aromatic and wonderful added to cup of hot tea or poured over ice with soda water. All the spices in the blend come together to conjure thoughts of distant lands and mysterious adventures. This year, I discovered a new batch of Brother Vilgalys treats near the Krupnikas – four kinds of sugar-cane-sweetened liqueurs infused with different arrays of herbs and spices. My two favorites are Zaphod, which contains starfruit, guava, mint, sage lemongrass and peppercorns; and Beebop, a tangy blend of rhubarb, hibiscus, allspice, rosemary chamomile and coriander. These are magical elixirs that offer as much for the nose as for the taste buds. The spices jump out at first sniff, but calm down once poured in a glass. The Zaphod is full of earthy notes with a peppery finish while the Beebop is sweet and tart like your granny’s rhubarb pie. Either one would be a great gift for those who relish the unusual. Also be on the lookout for a new Winter Cranberry flavor from the Durham liqueur maker. The Krupnikas sells for around $32. Beebop and Zaphod, which come in smaller bottles, about the size of old-fashioned Coca-Colas, sell for about $18.
For the traditionalist: Some people like what they like and they don’t care to try anything fancy and new, thanks very much. At first glance, it would seem like anyone who falls into this category would be exempted from receiving N.C. spirits. They are new, no getting around that. But Cardinal Gin, created by Southern Artisan Spirits in Kings Mountain, is the sort of instant classic that even those resistant to change can embrace. Gin lovers are particular, and rightly so. It’s a spirit best enjoyed in an unadorned manner, either as a martini with little embellishment or with a true and honest tonic. Cardinal Gin bridges the gap between stalwart incarnations such as Tanqueray and the more modern, hyper botanical versions such as Hendrick’s. It tastes like gin, with the traditional dominance of juniper berries, but finishes with hints of spices and herbs, with a mintiness that provides a lift at the end. Give the gin lovers on your list a taste of Cardinal, for about $30 per bottle, and see if it doesn’t become a welcome addition to the their bar line-up.
These are just two of my favorites. Because there are so many new N.C. spirits on shelves this year, you may need help discovering them all. Again, you’re in luck. The N.C. Department of Agriculture has a great app – N.C. Spirits – that you can use to explore all your options. It provides descriptions of two dozen distilleries based in the state and their products. It’s a great way to see what’s on the shelves before you head out to shop.
Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.