The first time you visit the Merrimon Avenue ABC store, it’s easy to be surprised. This is not the spartan spirits shop of yesteryear: There are ornate displays and a considerable selection of liquor of all sorts.
This year, state Alcohol Beverage Control officials put more than 50 new products on the potential list for stores (which ones get ordered is determined at the local level)—and Asheville-area stores have taken advantage.
“Asheville has one of the largest boards in the state,” ABC Senior Operations manager David Ledford says. “We’ve also moved a lot of things that we used to keep behind the counter up onto the shelves.”
Here are some of the ABC store’s best-kept secrets, old and new. All prices are for a fifth.
• Luksusowa Vodka: $12.95 It’s an oft-forgotten fact that Russia doesn’t claim the undisputed crown for homeland of vodka. The liquor’s origins are murky, but it probably had its start in the breadbasket region that includes Russia, Poland and the Ukraine. Luksusowa shows why the Poles have a perfectly good claim to the title. A true potato vodka, Luksusowa is smoother than and beats out many higher-priced, better-known options.
• Cruzan Estate Light, Dark and Black Strap Rum: $11.95 If you’re looking for a good rum that adds considerable flavor to a cocktail, Cruzan is a good bet. Their light, dark and especially Black Strap rums are all unbeatable for the price. Black Strap, made from the molasses of the same name, is a more traditional, richer rum than many of today’s drinkers are accustomed to. But mix with some ginger beer and a lime for a Dark & Stormy (a classic popularized in these parts by the much-missed Joli Rouge) and you won’t regret it.
• Jefferson’s Bourbon: $29.95 A very-small-batch Kentucky bourbon, Jefferson’s is strong but extremely smooth. This is one bourbon where every sip deserves to be savored. It’s the most pricey item on this list, but worth every cent: Think of it as a $90 bourbon for a third of the cost.
• Barton’s London Dry Gin: $5.45 To be honest, the flavor of Barton’s is only average, but most booze at that price level produces a certain unique scrunching of the face when consumed. Barton’s, on the other hand, makes a solid, acceptable gin and tonic.
• Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Navy Rum: $15.95 Named after legendary tattoo artist Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, Sailor Jerry’s has a distinctive design, strength (92 proof) and flavor. Good with anything, but it would be a crime to cover this flavor up with Coke.