Raising the Bar

Charlotte’s drinks scene is awash with exciting changes. From innovative cocktail bars to cool coffeehouses, the city is soaked in a creative culture for imbibing. We’ve found 10 people who are stirring up the scene with new spirits, unexpected brews, and the sips you can’t wait to sample. These are the people shaping the way Charlotte drinks.

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Colleen Hughes, Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub

 

DSC_8389Colleen Hughes, left, is one of the few females in Charlotte recognized in the art of cocktailing. Between manning the bar at Crepe Cellar and designing cocktails for Growlers Pourhouse, Sea Level, and Haberdish (a cocktail bar/restaurant slated to open around Thanksgiving), it’s safe to say she’s a force to be reckoned with. “In Charlotte, there’s not a lot of women doing what I do, so I’ve always kind of felt very much in a boys’ club,” says Hughes. “I felt like I had to stand up and force to be noticed, like ‘Hey, I’m a lady. I’m not young. I’m not this little hot thing. I’m a woman who’s trying to make really good drinks for the people.’” Whether she’s turning her own visions into recipes or taking classes from master mixologists at Tales of the Cocktail, Hughes is constantly trying to raise the bar for herself and for the surrounding cocktail community in Charlotte. But mostly, it’s her passion for spirits and her drive to succeed in a male-dominated industry that gives her the momentum to push the boundaries and create a sophisticated and recognized cocktail experience for local imbibers.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Brian Lorusso, Dogwood Southern Table & Bar

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Brian Lorusso, below, is the epitome of a Southern gentleman: soft-spoken, unassuming, and humble. Though he’s definitely churning out some of the best cocktails in town—using ultra-local ingredients and classic recipes—he’s not focused on the pomp and circumstance. Between his bar’s endless bourbon selection, his 30-plus homemade syrups, and his thoughtful accoutrements like house-cured cherries and candied orange bitters, Lorusso’s drinks leave quite the impression. But, for him, it’s not all about the drinks. His focus is simple. It all comes to back to hospitality, which from the age of 16 is the only thing he’s known. It’s also what keeps him coming back to work every day. “It’s definitely the hospitality—the drinks just come along with it,” he says. “You’re a guest in my house when you come here. When you come to the bar, it’s like we’re having dinner together for the next two to three hours…It’s my job to make sure that you leave here and say ‘That was an awesome experience.’ If I happen to have great drinks, too, that’s just icing on the cake.”

 

Andrew and Liz Porter, Doc Porter’s Distillery

Doc PortersThis husband-and-wife team, above, say that when it comes to the spirits at their lower South End distillery, vodka and gin are just the beginning. “Since we opened in November 2015, we have been producing bourbon and tucking it away in new charred white American oak barrels,” says Liz. And it’s not just bourbon. They’re also aging Rye whiskey and have plans for absinthe, an amaro liqueur, and a barrel-aged gin. Their distillery, which is named after Andrew’s grandfather, is the city’s first grain-to-glass distillery, using grains from a local farmer. Those interested can tour the distillery, sample its current gin and vodka offerings, and learn more about its work with farmers. “The fact that our process supports the growth of local farmers is resonating with people and is a sign of a bigger drink-local revolution that’s happening,” says Liz. “It’s clear there is huge momentum for Charlotte to be one of the great cocktail cities.”

 

Tabu Terrell, Three Spirits Brewery

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During his medical residency, Tabu Terrell, above was told to pick a hobby; something he could rely on to get him through the stresses of practicing medicine. It happened to be beer. After spending years as an emergency-room physician, Terrell quit his day job for his hobby. The high-stress late nights and missed holidays just weren’t working for a family man with a wife and two kids. To make the switch from beer as a pastime to a profession, he enrolled at Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology, the country’s oldest brewing school. In 2015, after years of physical and mental labor, Terrell opened Three Spirits Brewery. This year, the brewery won three silver medals at the 2016 U.S. Open Beer Championship. Terrell, a self-proclaimed introvert who’s certainly not your stereotypical head brewer, says his early adulthood was spent drinking “bad” beer. Now, he’s showing others that you don’t always have to stick with a chosen career and there’s always time for personal reinvention. His advice: “If you’re in a situation that’s not great for you, you have options and you can always change if you’re courageous enough to do it…You can use your brain for something else.”

 

Bob Peters, The Punch Room

Bob PetersIt’s impossible to talk about Charlotte’s creative cocktail scene and not mention Bob Peters, right. The mixologist extraodinaire—and famed Instagrammer—has been crafting beautiful and boozy concoctions around Charlotte for years. These days you can find him behind the bar at the glamorous The Punch Room on the Ritz-Carlton’s 15th floor, seemingly always creating something new. “I’m loving all the cocktails that I can make with all the wonderful North Carolina gin that is being made right now,” says Peters, who likes to source locally when possible and even grows ingredients in the hotel’s rooftop garden. “I’m not sure everyone is aware that NC is starting to emerge as one of the leaders in this country for craft gin.” And Peters would know. In addition to crafting tasty drinks, Peters is invested in enhancing the entire Charlotte scene. “One of the big movements right now is local bartenders starting a Charlotte chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild,” he says. “Once our Charlotte chapter gets up and running we should see a boom in… the overall quality of cocktails. It’s a very exciting time to be in Charlotte.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Matt Yarmey, Pure Intentions Coffee

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In 2010, Matt Yarmey knew he was meant to do more than sit behind a desk. He was drawn to coffee and, as a side project to his corporate gig, he started roasting beans out of his apartment. Now, Yarmey and his business partner/dad work full time behind one of Charlotte’s most notable coffee roasters. Specializing in fair trade and organic coffee, Pure Intentions brings beans from around the world to local restaurants, markets, and grocery shops, as well as a slew of wholesale accounts. But for Yarmey, it’s more than just the product. “Our mission and our statement are very, very craft-local focused,” he says. “It’s not that we want to roast the most coffee in Charlotte or in the Southeast. We want to provide a product that speaks to the innovation of coffee over the last decade. We want to provide a product that is participating in the craft revolution that’s happening in our city and in our state…We want to provide a service, an education, that’s bigger than just a product.” Currently, Pure Intentions provides its wholesale customers with full training programs on different brewing styles and also teaches SkillPop classes, which are open to the public and cost about $30 per class.

 

Brian Beauchemin, GoodRoad Ciderworks

DSC_7946This fall will see the opening of the city’s second cidery, GoodRoad Ciderworks in lower South End. “We were fortunate to find a building that is within shouting distance of some pretty cool neighbors,” says Beauchemin, listing off Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, Sugar Creek Brewing, Great Wagon Road Distilling, and Doc Porter’s Distillery. But the 8,000-square-foot cidery, which includes a taproom and patio, brings something new to the neighborhood—and to Charlotte. In addition to offering drier ciders and creative blends, GoodRoad’s head mead maker Kevin Martin is also creating several meads. “Similar to cider, mead is seeing a resurgence across the country,” says Beauchemin of the drink that is made from fermenting honey. “Although it’s a few years behind cider, mead is ripe to be introduced to the artisan beverage market in Charlotte.”

 

Townes Mozer, Lenny Boy Brewing Co.

DSC_8090Just four and a half years ago, Townes Mozer was standing behind the bar at Lenny Boy—a 5,000-square-foot grassroots kombucha brewery with just three tap handles. It was, and still is, just one of two kombucha breweries in the state. Now, Lenny Boy occupies 31,000 square feet and pours everything from kombuchas, wild ales, and beers to sake, wine, and cold brew coffee. A Charlotte native who returned home in his early 20s, Mozer surprised even himself with the way his small, quirky pastime of fermenting evolved into a community hub—a cultural center for not just drinks but also music, art, fundraising, yoga classes, and a run club. The brewery now employs 10 full-time staff, a handful of part-timers, and has a slew of big-name accounts like Whole Foods Market and Harris Teeter. Mozer says he never envisioned this sort of growth. “Not to this degree,” he says. “And really, when we first opened up, we really weren’t geared toward beer. Now, the way it’s evolved is that we’re really just geared toward fermentation. We just like fermenting stuff. Taking basic good ingredients, putting them together and then adding a yeast or an organism to it…Fermentation, it’s just one of those things, I just love it.”

 

 
 
 
 
 

Josh Villapando, Assorted Table Wine Shoppe

For almost 20 years, Josh Villapando, left, has been a mainstay in Charlotte’s food and wine industry—with past titles including wine buyer for Common Market and general manager for Pasta & Provisions. When 7th Street Public Market opened in 2011, he made the transition from running mom-and-pop shops to owning one. Since then, Assorted Table evolved from two 8-feet-by-8-feet cubes in the market to more than double that. Villapando calls the quirky space the “Sanford & Son” of wine shops. Antique bikes hang from the rafters. Glass displays overflow with tiny R2-D2 figurines and Hot Wheel Matchbox cars. The wine selection is even unusual: bottles range in price from $6 to $1,100 and come from all over, including unsuspecting places like Macedonia, Lebanon, New Mexico, and Idaho. “Whatever it is that’s in Assorted Table Wine Shoppe, we’re an authority on that subject,” says Villapando. “If we’re not, then we’re not going to have it here.” Villapando has traveled to wine regions all over the world and puts serious importance on tasting products with the source, be it the winemaker or owner. At the end of the day, it’s his vast wine knowledge, packaged in an unpretentious way, that gives the Charlotte community a hub for impeccable product and approachable education.

 

Written by Sarah Crosland and Lauren Blake. Photography by Justin Driscoll