The surge of interest in spirits and cocktails means that there is more than one local event in April exploring the world of alcoholic beverages. While Asheville Cocktail Week (see separate story) is an eight-day happening dividing its focus between those within the food and beverage industry and the general public, the inaugural Find Your Spirit Fest is a single-day event connecting drinks enthusiasts with distillers from across North Carolina.
Find Your Spirit Fest takes place Saturday, April 27, at the Crowne Plaza Expo Center. Lucy Murphy, event guide for the festival, says the event is the brainchild of several of those distillers, including Leah Howard of H&H Distillery in Asheville and Scott Sanborn of Sutler’s Spirit Co. in Winston-Salem.
It’s designed, in part, to highlight regional distillers, many of whom source their ingredients locally. Organizers expect more than 1,000 attendees at the Saturday afternoon event, and more than 20 distilleries will be represented.
At press time, vendors were still being added, but in addition to H&H and Sutler’s, the confirmed list of Asheville-based vendors includes Cultivated Cocktails, makers of the new Asheville Coffee Liqueur; The Chemist bar; plēb Urban Winery; Urban Orchard Cider Co.; and Sovereign Remedies.
Vendors from beyond Asheville include Black Mountain-based Oak and Grist Distilling Co., distillers of gin and malted whiskey (a rye is coming soon); Raleigh-based bourbon distiller Lonerider Spirits; Key City Spirits, a marketer from Wilkesboro representing a half-dozen smaller North Carolina spirits makers; Newton-based Warehouse Distillery, makers of rye, bourbon and maple spirits; Southern Distilling Co. from Statesville, makers of five varieties of North Carolina bourbon; Madison’s GIA Distillery, makers of bourbon and grappa (a grape-based spirit not often made outside Italy); and Horbell’s Drinking Vinegars, a Raleigh-based maker of craft shrubs for cocktails.
“Of course, we’ll offer tasting of spirits,” Murphy says. “We’ll also have some craft cocktail samples.” And the Urban Gastronome — also known as Jeremy Hood — who describes himself as a “self-appointed connoisseur for Asheville’s food-spirits lifestyle” will put on a cocktail demo, again with samples for attendees.
The six-hour event will feature more than just spirituous beverages. Live music is scheduled, Pong AVL will host a pingpong tournament, and the Adventure Center of Asheville will host a relay. Local food will also be a part of the program; food sponsors include Hickory Nut Gap Farm, Asheville Burger & Mug Shakes, 12 Bones, DoughP Doughnuts, Blue Dream Curry House, Kafe Neo, Asheville Almond Co. and more.
Additional sponsors for the Find Your Spirit Fest include Fun Depot, Underground Fitness, Asheville Plays, Dig Local, Franny’s Farmacy and event host Crowne Plaza. General admission is $50; attendees purchasing a $100 VIP ticket will “get in an hour earlier than the masses,” Murphy says. Extra VIP perquisites will include a goody bag and access to “premium parking.”
The nonprofit partner for the event is a relatively new venture, the N.C. Craft Beverage Museum. Launched in 2017, the museum is currently a traveling display, but organizers plan to eventually establish a permanent home in Asheville. “Their focus is education,” Murphy says. “History, current methods of production and where we’re headed.” She notes that proceeds from the festival will go toward helping produce an even larger traveling display.
The Asheville fest isn’t intended as a one-off; in fact, it’s the inaugural event in what’s planned as a regular and ongoing series. While details have yet to be announced, organizers are planning similarly branded events in Greensboro and Charlotte. “We’ve got our collaborators and locations lined up,” Murphy says. They’re working to schedule one event in late summer and another this coming winter.
The overall goal of the Find Your Spirit Fest is to put some muscle behind North Carolina distillers’ efforts to market themselves in a competitive environment. “They can have a hard time spreading the word,” Murphy acknowledges. “So this is going to be a great opportunity to give them a voice, to give them a space to showcase, and to do it in a really fun and festive way.”
WHAT: Find Your Spirit Fest
WHERE: Crowne Plaza Expo Center, 1 Resort Drive, findyourspiritfest.com
WHEN: Noon-6 p.m. Saturday, April 27; general admission tickets are $50 and include tastings, demos and entertainment; VIP access is $100 and includes access to an exclusive tasting area, premium parking and souvenirs.