Andrew Porter has always loved cooking. So much so, in fact, that when it came time to choose between pursuing culinary school or a degree in engineering, Porter leaned heavily toward culinary school. “But my dad said, ‘You can always cook,’” says Porter. “So I went with the engineering degree.”
Fast forward to 2015, and Porter had an epiphany: He could combine his background in chemical engineering with his love for food and drink by delving into the process of distilling craft spirits that are truly locally made. Porter and his wife, Liz, saw a void in Charlotte’s locally made spirits scene, and late last fall, the pair opened Doc Porter’s in South End. The distillery’s signature vodka is made using only the finest local ingredients, including a base of North Carolina wheat from a farmer in Mooresville. This grain-to-glass trend that took the brewing industry by storm over the last decade has now spilled over into liquor. And like the farm-to-table movement, wine, beer, and spirits began utilizing local ingredients to create small-batch, craft-made blends that everyone, from mixologists to bartenders to the average foodie, is taking advantage of in their cocktails.
Because the Porters are able to craft distill their vodka on a much smaller scale than large-batch, brand-name vodka companies, they can focus on quality control, which results in a vodka with more apparent flavors than you would find in other well-known spirits. “When we distill our vodka, a lot of the wheat character remains,” says Porter of their version, which is used in cocktails at Heirloom restaurant and available at Reid’s Fine Foods as well as local ABC stores. “It has a nice creaminess and a subtle wheat flavor to it mixed with a slight touch of butterscotch and vanilla.”
Even more interesting flavors can be attributed to the vapor infusions Porter likes to incorporate into the creation of Doc Porter’s gin, the latest spirit from the local distillery. Using Doc Porter’s vodka as its base, Porter utilizes the vapor infusion technique by adding herbs, spices, and botanicals (such as chamomile) into the vapor pass during the distilling process. “It creates a much smoother, delicate taste,” he says of the notes of cucumber and grapefruit—just two of the dozens of flavors Porter adds during distillation.
Doc Porter’s gin, which will debut later this spring or early summer, is different in that gin’s signature juniper flavor is much less apparent in Porter’s version of the popular spirit. “It is still a predominant part of our gin, but it’s not overwhelming,” he says. “We turn down the juniper a notch and amplify the other herbs and spices, such as grapefruit and cardamom, in the mixture.”
That’s one reason Doc Porter’s’ spirits are ideal for just about every palate: they’re never overwhelming. “People who aren’t even vodka drinkers say that this is the smoothest vodka they’ve ever tried,” says Porter. “They don’t even want to add anything to it—they just want to drink it straight up because they like the flavor so much.”
That, of course, is a huge compliment to the couple, whose goal is to create a 100 percent locally made spirit but to also distill one that their customers truly love. Next up: handcrafted high-wheat bourbon and a jalapeno-infused vodka debuting later this year. “We’re just getting started,” says Porter.
Photography by Justin Driscoll.