What’s new in food: Local beverage leaders form new distillery

SOUTH SLOPE SPIRITS: Asheville beverage entrepreneurs Chall Gray and Mike Rangel debut new distillery, retail spirits and ready-to-drink cocktails. Photo courtesy Ninja Spirits

Asheville Brewing Co.’s Mike Rangel and Little Jumbo’s Chall Gray have joined forces to form Ninja Spirits, a new distillery of craft spirits, as well as a line of ready-to-drink bottled and canned cocktails: The Buckminster Cocktail Co.

Both brands from the beverage entrepreneurs will be available for retail sale in the distillery’s South Slope tasting room and cocktail bar (opening this summer). The products will also be available at Asheville Brewing Co. on Coxe Avenue and in North Carolina ABC stores.

“Ninja Spirits will focus on traditional spirits, with our first release being a wheat-based vodka. Future lineup additions will include a gin, and we have several other ideas in development,” says Allison BrownRangel, co-owner of Asheville Brewing Co. and public relations representative for the new retail spirit brand.

The team responsible for Ninja Spirits’ distillation will comprise Asheville Brewing Co. head brewer Pete Langheinrich and a team of graduates from A-B Tech’s Brewing, Distillation and Fermentation program.

“We want to create craft liquors and cocktails made locally that are affordable, delicious and better than what you can get from the big guys,” says Brown-Rangel. “What made us want to create great beer is now what makes us want to create great spirits. Maybe it’s in our own DNA.”

Gray’s idea for The Buckminster Cocktail Co. ready-to-drink cocktail line has been several years in the making. Inspired by R. Buckminster Fuller, an innovative academic who served at Black Mountain College, Gray seeks to capture the spirit of creativity and invention with prepackaged cocktails that can rival the quality of those crafted behind the bar. The first Buckminster release will be a bottled Old-Fashioned blend made with bourbon, bitters and cherries. Later this summer, a canned version of Little Jumbo’s Hello Friday cocktail, made with bonded bourbon, angostura bitters and Blenheim ginger ale, will be released.

“I’ve spent more than a decade in the cocktail industry, mainly on the bar side of things, and ready-to-drink cocktails are the most exciting sector in alcohol these days,” explains Gray. “I just went on a camping trip, and we were able to open a bottle of our Old Fashioned and enjoy it on ice around a campfire. That’s a new frontier beyond just bringing some beer or a bottle of wine.”

Adds Brown-Rangel: “Ninja Spirits will set itself apart from other distilleries by using the best resources available, creating small batches and using tricks of the trade learned from 25 years in the brewing world. Combine that with Chall’s experience creating world-class cocktails, and Asheville will soon see we have amazing things to offer.”

The Ninja Spirits tasting room and cocktail bar will be at 66 Asheland Ave. Follow Ninja Spirits at avl.mx/cr9 and The Buckminster Cocktail Co. at avl.mx/cra for updates.

Spinning records and small plates

Psychic Hotline, an artist-run recording company based in Durham and founded by Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso, has announced a two-day retail pop-up event at Citizen Vinyl on Wednesday, June 14, and Thursday, June 15, noon-6 p.m.

A tapas food pop-up from chef Paul Cressend will be present on Wednesday, and chef Yunanda Wilson’s aThoke Lay Burmese cuisine pop-up will be serving on Thursday. On both days, Pink Moon Bar will be pouring glasses of natural wine, and Citizen Vinyl’s Session Cafe & Bar will offer a special Psychic Hotline-inspired menu of craft cocktails.

The pop-ups will coincide with Sylvan Esso’s kickoff shows at Rabbit Rabbit and will also serve as a celebration of independent North Carolina-based music companies. Citizen Vinyl has maintained an ongoing partnership with Psychic Hotline since its inception, pressing the majority of the label’s vinyl releases.

A factory retail outlet will offer Psychic Hotline’s record catalog, including early access to new releases from Four Tet, William Tyler and local band The Dead Tongues, for sale during the two-day pop-up. North Carolina-exclusive LP variants, online-exclusive releases, merchandise and rare imports will also be available for sale. Live DJ sets from the extended Psychic Hotline community, including Nick Sanborn, Helado Negro, DJ Lil Meow Meow and SHWNxSBTG, will be played throughout both event days.

Citizen Vinyl is at 14 O. Henry Ave. Visit avl.mx/cr7 for additional information.

Cheese and cider dinner

Barn Door Ciderworks hosts local artist and cheesemaker Victor Chiarizia for a dinner event celebrating melty Raclette cheese and crisp cider on Wednesday, June 14, beginning at 6 p.m.

Classic, artisanal methods will meet modern techniques as Chiarizia discusses the history of Raclette cheese, how it’s made and the best foods to pair with it, while using a melting machine he built by hand. Various roasted vegetables and meats prepared in the Barn Door Ciderworks kitchen will complement the cheese, as will a number of special ciders selected specifically for cheese pairing.

“We’ll go down to the cellar the afternoon of the event to choose ciders that are not on tap to pair with the meal,” says Barn Door Ciderworks co-owner Katie Moore. “That way our guests are able to have tastes of ciders not currently being served to the public.”

Barn Door Ciderworks is at 23 Lytle Road, Fletcher. Visit avl.mx/cr6 for tickets ($45 per person) and additional information.

Pride Bar Crawl

Crawl With US hosts its annual Pride Bar Crawl on Saturday, June 17, 4 p.m.-midnight, beginning at Catawba Brewing Co.

Single tickets cost $25 per person, and group tickets (including at least four people) are discounted to $20 per person. Twenty percent of all event proceeds will support Blue Ridge Pride. Last year, the crawl raised over $22,000 for The Trevor Project, a national nonprofit providing 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQ young people.

All tickets include one complimentary drink or shot, free cover to a drag show at Banks Ave Bar ($15 value, begins at 6 p.m.), a themed party cup for the first 100 check-ins and exclusive drink and food specials throughout the crawl. Guests are encouraged to “make your own adventure” after checking in, with stops planned for Banks Ave Bar, Catawba Brewing Co., Daddy Mac’s Down Home Dive, Dalton Distillery and a special after-party held at Scandals Nightclub beginning at 10 p.m.

Catawba Brewing Co. is at 32 Banks Ave. Visit avl.mx/cr4 for tickets and additional information.

Brats and beer

Looking for a last-minute gift idea for Dad or just want to bone up on your grill skills? Bert Sheffield, White Labs Brewing Co. research and development chef, will guide a hands-on sausage-making class at the brewery on Saturday, June 17, at 2 p.m.

Originally from Louisiana, Sheffield’s upbringing has equipped him with years of experience in butchery, sausage making and meat curing. Sheffield plans to synthesize his bayou background into an instructional Cajun crash course, wherein class attendees will grind, link and grill their own sausages. Once guests learn how the sausage is made, they’ll get to enjoy their work and wash down the handmade tubular treats with a beer tasting chosen specifically to suit the sausage.

“Guests will gain a better knowledge of food processing and better understand the science behind sausage making,” says Erik Fowler, head of education and craft hospitality at White Labs Inc. “Sausage making is an art, and when you understand the inner workings of what’s happening in the meat, it becomes an extension of your personality. We want the guests to feel like sausage making is a fun, easy way to get in touch with their local farms and process their own sausages and proteins at home.”

White Labs Brewing Co. is at 172 S. Charlotte St. Visit avl.mx/cr3 for additional information and tickets ($65 per person).

Community solstice celebration

Chef Joey Woll of the Weaver House, in collaboration with various vendors from the Weaverville Tailgate Market, invites the Weaverville community to celebrate the summer solstice with a special meal on Wednesday, June 21, 3-6 p.m.

Customers are encouraged to preorder plates prepared using local farm-to-table foods and pick the meals up on June 21 at the Weaverville Community Center. All meals will be composed of meats, grains and produce sourced locally. Pickup meal options include a chicken rice bowl with Dillingham Farms poached chicken, a mushroom rice bowl with a GourMays lion’s mane “crabcake” and a vegan mushroom rice bowl featuring MycoCulture mushrooms, wood-fired Ivy Creek vegetables and Second Flora Microgreens.

All meals include a starter salad featuring Ivy Creek greens, High Top croutons and Ali Rae dressings made with ingredients from Sister of Mother Earth and Lane in the Woods Farm and Creamery. In an effort to highlight inclusivity, a 10% discount will be offered to those who are disabled or from marginalized communities.

The Weaverville Community Center is at 60 Lakeshore Drive, Weaverville. Visit avl.mx/cr5 to place your order.

Sideways to sell

Sideways Farm & Brewery owners Jon and Carrieann Schneider have announced their plans to sell. “It is our desire to sell the brewery as a fully functioning business with inventory,” the brewery announced on its social media platforms. Operations will continue until the brewery is sold.

Sideways Farm & Brewery is at 62 Eade Road, Etowah. Visit avl.mx/cr2 for updates.


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