Worth the Drive: A Toast to Pittsboro

… and its latest endeavors

What is a fortified wine, exactly? A wine with a spirit added to raise the alcohol content. Photo by Jonathon Young.

Beverages, thankfully, are going the way of food in our area. Now that we have amazing ingredients, restaurants and artisan food products, our options are growing by the day when it comes to craft beers, sodas, ciders, meads, spirits and even bitters.

Pittsboro is reaping the benefits of this – a pretty fast progression considering voters passed liquor by the drink in Chatham County in May 2009. Here, a new business worth raising a glass to.

“The town has changed so much,” says Fair Game’s Chris Jude. “It’s great to see the new businesses and creative folks – good bakeries, coffee shops. And now we have liquor.”

Fair Game Beverage Company

Two new spirits are being made a stone’s throw from downtown Pittsboro, on a property that’s also producing biofuels.

With grapes from the Haw River Valley, apples from Henderson, peaches from the Sandhills, sorghum from Silk Hope and Denton, and sugar cane from South Carolina, Fair Game Beverage Company – our state’s 13th distillery – takes drinking local very seriously.

Fair Game’s first four fortified wines were released in June 2014. An unfortified wine was released in January, and, in late March, you may have noticed the appearance of the company’s apple brandy and No’Lasses sorghum spirit in ABC stores. (Made from a combination of both molasses-style sorghum syrup and fresh-pressed sorghum juice created from Carolina- and Tennessee- grown sorghum, the latter is aged for six months in a combination of new toasted and used bourbon American oak barrels. Only about 12 distilleries in the country are making sorghum cane liquor.)

Both spirits sell for $32.95 for a 750-milliliter bottle. Fair Game will produce less than 500 cases this year.

“I’m trying to build up inventory,” says Chris Jude, head distiller. “Everything we release is aged.”

Fair Game fans can expect the release of a sugar cane rum in late summer. They’re also planning a malt whiskey, a collaboration with Fullsteam, and a giniver-style gin, which would be the first of its kind in North Carolina.

At about 17% alcohol, the fortified wines – including the Tipper Apple Wine, the Two Step White and the Tipper Scuppernong – comprise about two-thirds of Fair Game’s sales. “It’s both easier and more direct to sell them in North Carolina,” Chris says.

You can find them at Carrboro Beverage Company, Glasshalfull, Bull Craft Bottle Shop, Sam’s Bottle Shop, Sam’s Quik Shop, Hope Valley Bottle Shop, all three Triangle Wine Company locations and all five Total Wine shops.

Fair Game is housed in an “eco-industrial park” off U.S. 64 Business East. Other endeavors on the 15-acre property, which feels very rural despite its close proximity to Pittsboro’s regal courthouse, include Piedmont Biofuels, nonprofit The Abundance Foundation, Piedmont Biofarm and a solar farm.

Lyle Estill owns the property and is a Fair Game partner. He coordinates a group of investors, all interested in local food, agriculture and business. Among them? Andy Zeman, who owns Benjamin Vineyards in Saxapahaw, a provider of Fair Game grapes.

Chris has been working at Fair Game for two years. He studied renewable energy and biofuels at Appalachian State, so he had a familiarity with liquids and pumping. He was a longtime home brewer and had been growing sweet sorghum and making syrup (similar to molasses) when Lyle asked him to come on board.

Chris wants consumers to enjoy the spirits exactly as they wish. Making a mixed drink is one option, but he thinks they go down smoothly when sipped. “We’ve been getting some pretty great feedback,” says Chris.

One week after the release date, the Pittsboro ABC store reported that most of 12 delivered cases of Fair Game’s spirits had been sold. Pretty great feedback, indeed.

wino3Small Wonders

For parents, taking a kid to an art museum can be about as carefree as walking a proverbial bull through a china shop, but Lisa Piper and Dave Clark hope their Small Museum of Folk Art in Pittsboro, featuring 400 pieces, will inspire everyone – children above all.

The collection – accumulated over the years by Jim Massey, a former curator of the UNC Herbarium, and gifted to Lisa and Dave for public display – is comprised entirely of folk and outsider art. The couple loves to see other people, in this case artists, pursue their passion without concern for others may think. “That’s just something not enough people get exposed to,” Lisa says. “We think it will be a lot of fun to show that to more people and more kids so that they get excited themselves, to play and express themselves and not feel shame. It’s a playful collection that expresses a lot of joy.”

The couple plans to display the pieces next door to their Small B&B Cafe near Pittsboro’s downtown traffic circle, in a museum that will be as unique as the paintings themselves. “The building will have elements of an old tobacco farm, but modernized,” Lisa says. “We’ll be using a lot of reclaimed and salvaged materials. It will be a very progressive, beautiful design.”

To help with the construction costs, Lisa and Dave, in partnership with Oakleaf, held a fundraiser on June 5 in Chatham Mills, a night of music, food and art that was donated for auction/raffle.

“I think it’s so fascinating and so fun when somebody has a passion for something and feels driven, and they go ahead and do it, and the rest of us reap the benefits,” Lisa says, speaking of Jim, his collection and the artists who created it. Soon, she may find that sentiment come back around – to her – as visitors stand in the wonder of the Small Museum of Folk Art.

View the original piece here.