Sips in the City: New trends shaking up Charlotte’s drinking scene

With so many new bars and restaurants opening around Charlotte, it takes true ingenuity to stand out from the crowd. Here are a few of the trends that are keeping things exciting in the Queen City drinking scene.

There are times when simply grabbing any old drink with friends will do. But lately in Charlotte, the big question seems to be: “Where can we go for a new, unique drinking experience that we haven’t had before?”

In response to this attitude shift, bar and restaurant owners have been thinking outside the box to come up with distinctive drinks and unique experiences that will truly excite their guests—and that will help their establishments stand out among the rest.

Now we’re seeing a surge in vibrant, new trends that are shaking up Charlotte’s drinking scene. Here are a few boozy fads to look out for in the Queen City this season.

Out-There Ingredients

Kale. Aloe. CBD. What aren’t they putting into cocktails these days?

Colleen Hughes—head mixologist at Haberdish, Crêpe Cellar, Growlers Pourhouse, and Sea Level NC—is known for concocting unique libations that test the boundaries of craft cocktails.

So it was no surprise to learn that she was the first bartender in the city to add a drink infused with cannabidiol (better known as CBD) to her cocktail menu.

Cheekily named The Apothecary ($15), the beverage can be found at Haberdish. It calls for Conniption gin, grapefruit liquor, Cocchi Americano, ginseng, bitter melon and ginger reduction, lime, and CBD concentrate.

Across the country, CBD has grown in popularity over the past few months, appearing in everything from coffee to candy and beyond. It does not have intoxicating effects like those caused by THC, the other chemical component of marijuana. It will neither get you high, nor cause you to fail a drug test.

To Hughes, adding the marijuana-derived substance to a cocktail was a no-brainer. “The bar concept at Haberdish has always been ‘pharma-apothecary,’ or drinking to make you feel good,” she says.

However, Hughes needed guidance when it came to finding the right CBD product to use in a cocktail, since oil isn’t liquid soluble. She worked with Electrik Avenew on North Davidson Street to find a CBD glycerin to successfully blend into the drink.

Hughes then added fresh ginseng, ginger, and bitter melon to enhance the uplifting and anti-inflammatory properties of the CBD.

“I have had so many guests and staff say that after drinking the cocktail, they just felt better,” Hughes says. “That’s good enough for me!”

And CBD isn’t the only surprising ingredient on this season’s cocktail lists. At Bardo, the Gold District’s newest spot for cocktails and small plates, mixologist Amanda Britton experiments with everything from molasses to carrots when crafting the restaurant’s signature cocktails.

Britton, formerly the lead bartender at 204 North, is known for working with lesser-known spirits and creative ingredients to create libations that encourage drinkers to get outside of their comfort zones.

One of Bardo’s signature drinks, Cooling Effect ($12), is a perfect example. It’s made with fresh aloe—yes, the same plant whose leaves you break off to rub on your sunburn—as well as Lunazul Reposado, arbol and guajillo peppers, agave, and lime. The result is a delicious drink that actually feels quite like a sunburn slathered in aloe: somehow hot and cooling all at the same time.

Speaking of plant-infused cocktails: Patricia Smith, master mixologist and sommelier at Sophia’s Lounge in The Ivey’s Hotel, is here to prove that kale isn’t just for your morning smoothies anymore. You can visit this upscale bar to taste Don’t Kale My Vibe ($14) to see for yourself.

In fact, you can almost convince yourself that this crisp, refreshing, bright green cocktail is actually good for you, since it’s made with a custom-blended kale and lime cordial, vodka, and ginger beer.

Self-Serve Sips

Get your fill—or don’t. At these self-serve spots, you’re in charge.

In December 2017, Charlotte welcomed its first self-serve wine and craft beer bar, Hoppin’. The South End spot uses iPour technology to allow guests to serve themselves from 62 taps of beer, wine, and cider. Each tap has a 7-inch screen above it to provide guests with details about each beverage.

When a Hoppin’ guest finds a drink that looks appealing, all they have to do is wave their wristband—which is linked to their ID and credit card—in front of a sensor above the tap. From there, guests can pour as much or as little of the beverage into their glass as they’d like (with a limit of 32 oz. at a time, thanks to state law). Then they can return for another drink whenever they’re ready.

The wristband will keep track of how much a guest has had to drink. They’ll only be charged for the amount they have poured when their wristband is returned to the front desk at the end of their visit.

Beer, wine, and cider lovers will also be able to enjoy a similar setup at Pour Taproom, scheduled to open in Charlotte in late September. The Pour Taproom concept started in Asheville in 2014 with a unique self-serve, pay-by-the-ounce system and a constantly rotating beverage selection.

Pour Taproom’s new Charlotte location is a 6,900-square-foot space with a whopping 120 taps. Half of those taps are dedicated solely to North Carolina beers. Beyond that, four of the taps are dedicated to red wine, three to white wine, and one to prosecco—in addition to one root beer tap and one water tap for anyone looking for a nonalcoholic drink to sip on.

Despite the fact that it boasts eight locations throughout the Southeast (as well as one in California), Pour Taproom is not a franchise. It’s simply a group of friends and family with small local businesses in a variety of cities, and each Pour Taproom location is independently owned and operated with its own unique features and vibe.

Taking Flight

Samplers aren’t just for beer anymore.

You can walk into nearly any local brewery and ask for a flight in order to sample a variety of their beers in small quantities, rather than gambling on a full-sized pour of a beer you’ve never tasted. So why shouldn’t you be able to order wine and spirits the same way?

At 5Church, brunch-goers don’t have to choose one bubbly-based beverage and stick to it. Instead, they can order a Mimosa Flight ($15) for the chance to taste test four different mimosa samplers. The current flavor selection for these mini-mimosas includes cucumber mint, hibiscus lavender, passion fruit, and pineapple—but 5Church switches up the selection seasonally.

If you prefer a bit more bite to your flight, make your way to Paco’s Tacos & Tequila in SouthPark for a Tequila Flight. This FS Food Group-owned establishment only offers tequilas made from 100 percent blue agave, and although they do offer a few “suggested flights” for tequila lovers, guests are free to choose whichever four tequilas they’d prefer to taste. The cost of the flight varies with the tequila selection.

More of a whiskey fan? Visit Gallery Bar at The Ballantyne for daily Whiskey Flights, made up of the guest’s choice of three whiskeys. Gallery Bar’s exceptional whiskey collection includes a Woodford Reserve Personal Selection blended on the Eclipse in 2017, as well as the Maker’s Mark Personal Selection. There are also more than 200 other distinctive whiskeys from single malt Scotches to rye.

Fire & Smoke

One of the hottest new cocktail trends… literally.

Charlotte mixologists are bringing the heat with two recently trending cocktail ingredients: fire and smoke.

When Dot Dot Dot opened behind Park Road Shopping Center last year, the speakeasy started out serving its popular cocktail The Hot Box ($18) using Booker’s Bourbon Boxes. But after becoming the number one Booker’s account in the state of North Carolina—yes, Dot Dot Dot has gone through more Booker’s boxes than any of the state’s ABC Stores thanks to this specific cocktail—the Booker’s boxes became allocated and much harder to order.

Dot Dot Dot is now having custom Knob Creek boxes made instead, and the speakeasy will be using them for The Hot Box. The drink itself is now made using Knob Creek 10-year Personal Selection Bourbon (120 proof), house blended sweet vermouth, Hellfire bitters, Islay Scotch, and pecan smoke. The concoction is then poured into a short glass over ice, then placed inside the bourbon box, where it’s smoked to perfection.

If you’re more interested in a fire-focused drink than a smoky one, make your way to Stoke Charlotte… but you may want to shield your eyes when the bartender grabs a blowtorch to torch the angostura bitters that top the Stoke Fashioned ($14), made with High West Double Rye, simple syrup, and orange bitters.

‘Uncle Eddy’ at Zeppelin — Photo by Key Vision Photography

Looking for a beverage that’s still smoky, but not so fired up? Try a cold smoked drink instead. At Zeppelin, a new high-end restaurant and cocktail lounge in South End, the Uncle Eddy ($16) is made with wagyu fat-washed bourbon, slow ginger syrup, buck spice bitters, king cube, and candied ginger, then cold smoked to achieve an unbelievably upscale drink presentation along with a luxuriously smoky taste—without the extra heat.