Durham company’s liqueur to be delivered to Durham ABC stores

Jan. 16, 2013 @ 09:41 PM

Bottles of a honey spiced liqueur blended by a Durham company that has the county’s only distillery permit are expected to be delivered to Durham County ABC stores starting today.

While the company has state and federal distillery permits, there is no distilling going on at the company’s warehouse space on Ramseur Street. Durham-based Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Co. needed the permits in order to process and bottle spirits, said Rim Vilgalys, company founder.

The product, called Brothers Vilgalys Krupnikas, is made with alcohol produced by a supplier in Iowa that’s resold by a company in Baltimore. Vilgalys said the alcohol is neutral with no real character or flavor, and is combined with wildflower honey and a spice reduction that’s made with 16 different spices or plant substances.

Vilgalys said he uses whole spices, and no extracts or flavorings. For each batch, he said he has to scrape the skins of lemons and oranges, cut up a bunch of vanilla beans, and slice up ginger and turmeric. He said he buys honey from a local apiary.

Making a batch takes about eight hours start to finish, which gets about 120 bottles of clear product, Vilgalys said.

He boils spices and plant products in a kettle to make a concentrated liquid. The honey is added in, and then is together added to the alcohol in a steel wine drum. It takes a few days for spice solids to settle out, he said.

Then the product is bottled using a small, four-spout machine, and is finished with a roll-on bottle labeler. 

The resulting product is a sweet drink, Krupnikas, a traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur, is good for parties or special occasions, he said. The dominant taste is honey, but he believes it’s complex and would have a wide appeal.

Vilgalys started writing a business plan in 2011, he had leased space in April of last year and was almost ready to go by December. To get to that point, however, he said he had to get through red tape that was “quite extensive.”

Vilgalys said permits he needed included a distilled spirits plant permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, as well as a N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control-approved distillery permit, as well as federal-level liqueur formula and product approval, and N.C. ABC Commission product approval.

Vilgalys said he pays $27 a gallon of alcohol sold as a federal tax, which he said comes out to about $2.14 per bottle. There is a state excise tax, and mark-ups that fund the operations of the local ABC additional boards, the State ABC Commission and State ABC Warehouse, but he said he doesn’t pay those directly.

Vilgalys said he’s selling the product, which costs $29.95 for a 750-milliliter bottle, at Chatham, Franklin, Orange and Franklin county ABC stores. He said he also has some product in ABC stores in the Winston-Salem area. In two weeks, he said the company has moved 64 cases.

The product is expected to be delivered to the Durham County ABC warehouse this morning, said Emily Page, general manager for the Durham County ABC Board, and deliveries are expected to be made to the eight stores starting this afternoon.

Page said when each store will have the product depends on the delivery schedule. She said she expected the product to be in all eight stores by Friday.

 “Really, we’re excited because it’s a Durham product,” she said. “As far as we know, they’re the first legal distilled plant, the only one now operating out of Durham.”

Agnes Stevens, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, said there are 11 permitted distilleries in the state.

Vilgalys said he’d like to eventually be distilling his own alcohol, but what’s stopping him is cost.