Spirits

Subtle Notes

And the myriad of flavors from Winston-Salem’s Sutler’s Gin

By Tony Cross

“When are you coming up to Winston-Salem? How does your schedule look for the next two weeks? Any chance you are coming to the Triad area? Either way I need to get Sutler’s Gin into your market very soon.” All are questions from Scot Sanborn, owner and distiller of Sutler’s Spirit Co. Sanborn and I were introduced via email from a mutual friend back in March. We’d been playing tag up until July, when the two of us finally sat down at his distillery and had a chance to talk. When we went our separate ways, I left Sanborn a bottle of my Tonyc and took with me his sleek and sexy bottle of Sutler’s that I purchased. I definitely got the better deal in the exchange.

Although he was born in Boston, Sanborn considers himself a “Southern soul with Yankee blood.” As he relocated to the South as an infant, Charleston, South Carolina, served as his stomping ground as a youth. After graduating high school, Sanborn went on to attend The Citadel, where he received his undergraduate degree, and later, his MBA.

When scanning over his unique bottle of gin, you can definitely see the patriotic influence. Twenty-some years of the commercial photography business followed, but it wasn’t until eight years ago, when Sanborn began experimenting with home distilling, that his passion developed. After making what he calls “horrible-tasting spirits,” Sanborn began taking distilling courses, traveling the country, and acting as an apprentice to deepen his knowledge and perfect his craft. Soon after, he left his domestic cocoon of garage distilling and took it to the next level.

Gin is the spirit that has intrigued him the most over the years for a few different reasons. “It’s versatile and classy, and it doesn’t require aging, which means that I knew that I could get it on the market much quicker than other spirits starting out.” He’s also been perplexed as to why gin sales in the South aren’t much higher than they are: “I feel that gin is a spirit that people have forgotten about, but are slowly returning to.” And he’s right: Most folks that I’ve talked to that pass on gin do so because they’re used to London Dry gins, whose characteristics are juniper-forward, or “piney,” as most would put it (think Beefeater’s or Tanqueray). It wasn’t until Hendrick’s went global that people began to rethink their position on the ever-changing botanical spirit.

Delving into a glass of Sutler’s, on the nose I immediately notice the presence of juniper. However, on the palate, the juniper is present, but nothing like a London Dry or as Sanborn calls it “a lack of a ‘punch in the mouth’ Christmas tree flavor.” In fact, I find that the juniper is balanced quite nicely with citrus, and coriander. On the finish, a trace of lavender and Earl Grey tea. I’ve never prided myself on having the best palate so I’m afraid that I’ve had to keep sipping just to make sure that I get this right.

Actually, this is something that Sanborn and I have in common: good, but not great palates. To help him with distinguishing the subtler notes of his labors, Sanborn recruited distiller Tim Nolan. The two met in Winston-Salem a few years ago when Sanborn was building his distillery in the renovated Mill Works complex near downtown. Sanborn would cool off next door at a Hoots Roller Bar & Beer Co. and would chat with Nolan, who managed the brewery and was often behind the bar. Nolan’s background spans over 10 years in the food and beverage industry, including working in New York and studying abroad in Italy. They would always chat, and “during one of these conversations, I realized he was very knowledgeable about gin and I asked if he would like to help me,” Sanborn recalls. After a short apprenticeship, Nolan became a “mad scientist, (and) after almost 11 months of hard work, and making all types of gin, Nolan and I were finally confident that we had something that was special. I am very lucky to have found someone who is so passionate about gin and other unique spirits. Nolan is a great asset to Sutler’s Spirit Co.”

Sanborn, Nolan and I sip the fruits of their labor at the distillery, which, incidentally, you can tour (just reserve an appointment online at sutlersspiritco.com or through its Facebook page.) Otherwise, look for Sutler’s in Triad ABC stores or in cocktails at area restaurants such as Crafted, Undercurrent, all three locations of 1618 and at Quaintance-Weaver properties, Green Valley Grill, Print Works Bistro and Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen.

For the moment, Sanborn and crew are only selling Sutler’s across North Carolina, but it’s making a, well, splash wherever it’s served. (Last month, the Wyndham Championship chose Sutler’s as its exclusive gin, “the only locally made North Carolina spirit at the tournament,” Sanborn notes.) It’s just a matter of time before the rest of the world catches on and Sutler’s gin makes its way across the Southeast and other parts of our nation. The gin has plenty of depth, with unique packaging to boot. In time, Sanborn and Nolan plan to release a rum that they’ve had barrel-aging for a few years. They’re hoping for a winter release, but nothing’s set in stone yet. In addition to the gin and rum, they’re experimenting with other spirits at the moment. Their gin is delicious, so I’m eagerly anticipating their rum, my favorite spirit. With the work ethic that these two employ, I’m sure it’s going to be nothing short of fantastic.  OH

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern pines. He can also recommend a vitamin supplement for the morning after at Nature’s Own, a local nutrition store.

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