The TOPO distillery is conveniently located at 505, West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. The building is easy to find, with plenty of parking available on site.
When I walked in, all I could see was the giant logo painted on the wall, TOPO, short version for Top Of the Hill, to keep the restaurant and the distillery tied in, yet being two separate businesses.
Esteban, one of the partners in the company, was there to welcome me as he was finishing a tour, which gave me time to take photos and enjoy the grand, two story tall tasting room.
TOPO is a beautifully decorated tasting room and distillery, exactly how I like it: simple, yet a very elegant set up.
The space is very open and clean. There is a big glass wall for you to see the distillery equipment on the other side.
The private tour started with Esteban sharing the concept behind the company. We sat and talked a lot about how the distillery started and is 100% organic.
They sold over 2,800 hundred cases, last year. Distribution has expanded to several states, the most recent being Pennsylvania. In the next 6 months, TOPO will start to make Rum. 100% organic botanical.
The most interesting thing to me is the process to age the whisky or the rum. Instead of putting the spirit in the barrel, they add the barrel to the spirit! French and American Oak chips are used to age it. In fact, they sell this very impressive kit that allows you to age your own whiskey. The kit contains a small barrel and whiskey!
We toured the distillery after Estefan’s wife, Dana, came to join us. The state of the art German equipment, CARL, a company that is a leader in the fine art of distilling.
The wheat gets ground and then goes directly to a cooker through a tube. In the cooker, the wheat is then mixed with water and heated with steam. From there the précised equipment heats and cools at very specified temperatures. This is the part that Carbs are turned into the sugar.
The TOPO distillery is extremely focused to be energy efficient and green. For example, they have a closed system of water, so they do not have to discard it, which very few distilleries do.
The next step is fermentation; it is such a crucial part of the process. It takes precision and knowledge. The yeast is what will make the sugar turn into alcohol, and for about 4-5 days it will again, with state of the art equipment, be able to reach the degree wanted! When the wheat is cooked at the desired temperature, it’s name changes to “mash” and it goes from the cooker to the fermentation tank.
The “mash” then is moved to one of a long cylinder column that makes it to the desired percentage. This is how you obtain “Low Wine”
Low wine is then moved to a boiling section where the vapors are then going to a rectification column. The process varies here if whiskey is made versus vodka.
The bottling process is hand made from the label, to the filling, to the cork.
All alcohol comes out clear and transparent. So for whisky they age it with chips of barrels. This is a new concept and a very sophisticated one.
After the distillery, we sat down and had tasting, comparing, smelling and degusted the different spirits.
It was an interesting lesson on history and art of spirits. I have learned from an experiment that Esteban did in fron of us, that quality does matter when you order a mixed drink. Take for example the drink “White Russian” and use vodka of pour quality versus TOPO vodka. You will see after a little while that one does separate and coagulate, versus the other.
Did you know that The American Distilling Institute announced the TOPO as top 10 distilleries?
Did you know that TOPO Whiskey is one out of four whiskies made out of wheat in the USA?
Did you know that TOPO distillery is 100% Organic?
Did you know that the focus of the company is to make world-class spirits?
We are lucky to have this kind of commitment from a local business.
I think what was the best part of the private tour that started at 7pm was that the questions and passion took over and before we knew it was 9:45 before we headed to the Top of the Hill to enjoy a dinner. You can tell this is a very committed artisanal company that prides themselves in local, organic, passion, and world class spirit making!
Schedule a tour at http://www.topodistillery.com