SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — For 10 days, more than 50 specialty made cocktails presented by 26 local businesses will tempt diners with new flavors as part of Port City Taste’s Craft Cocktail Week.
In 2021, Port City Daily and its sister companies, Penguin 98.3 and Dude 93.7, started cocktail week under the Port City Taste umbrella. Port City Taste takes place various times throughout the year, including the official restaurant week in late winter, burger week in late spring, and cocktails in early fall (tacos are being added this fall as well, but more on that in two weeks).
The point of the various restaurant weeks is to bolster support to the local dining and drinking establishments the Cape Fear region has to offer.
The 2023 event takes place from Friday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 8, and like all of Port City Taste weeks, there are no coupons, special passwords, or tickets needed to get a taste — or many — of the unexpected. Customers just ask for the special cocktail week menu and indulge.
So what’s on deck? A lot.
Concoctions are coming in all creative ways: new flavors, classics and twists on classics, featuring tequila, gin, bourbon, rum, and even non-alcoholic spirits. Most elixirs have been devised with fresh local ingredients, others with interesting techniques.
Among this year’s class of participants are quite a lot of newcomers — such as The Underfront, which opened this past winter. Owned by Joseph Sena, his wife, Abigail, and friend Ivan “Chip” Moore, the bar has become a go-to for thoughtful drinks located in a hideaway, a renovated basement along North Front Street. The trio’s culinary background — they opened and sold nearby restaurants and bars Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Rum Cow in the last few years — has them laser-focused on balance and layers.
“We are students of the craft,” Sena told PCD. “We like to explore and learn.”
The team focused on fall flavors as inspiration for the five-item menu — three cocktails and two shots. They homed in on ingredients that include apple butter, salted caramel, pumpkin and saffron.
“Saffron is a culinary curiosity,” Sena said. “Slightly sweet, earthy with a bitter grassy finish and a blast of florals.”
The team infused tequila with the spice, and added rose, light sugar and allspice.
Also featured is an Apple Butter Rum Old Fashioned, which came after fat-washing a 12-year rum and apple butter. The technique includes infusing alcohol and freezing the liquid so the fat separates and rises, to then be scraped off or strained with a cheesecloth. The liquid left behind helps build the foundation of the Old Fashioned, in this case crafted with spiced apple bitters, cinnamon, clove and Demerara syrup.
“It makes something original but anchored in method to a classic,” Sena said.
Many participants are leaning into the new season’s flavors, with quite a few pumpkin-spiced swills — a White Russian one is available at Ruff Draft (Wilmington’s only dog bar) and martinis aplenty can be found at both Little Dipper and Solstice Kitchen and Cocktails.
However, some businesses are hanging on tight to summer.
The Eagle’s Dare, for instance, has a Gas Station Mai Tai. High-octane and with a Southern twist, it contains End of Days rum, pineapple and lime juices, orgeat, Cointreau, liquid smoke, topped with Cheerwine and Captain Morgan’s rum floater, and garnished with a torched pineapple wedge and cherry.
Far From France is bringing forth the flavors of botanical gin in The Garden Party, paired with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lime, and cucumber, while across town at Coquina Fishbar, an End of Summer Smash will be served. It, too, features a spirit from End of Days — the sponsor of Port City Taste Craft Cocktail Week. EOD’s Survivor’s Cut Series Bourbon is blended with one whole fresh peach, hand-squeezed lemon juice, housemade ginger syrup, and a splash of soda.
End of Days, located in the Cargo District, will have a menu of five cocktails, one featuring its newest release: Castillo 1815 Blue Agave. It’s been in the making for more than a year, according to owner Shane Faulkner.
“We decided to be very specific on our agave selection so we work with an importer that selects mature five-to-seven-year agave plants,” he said.
They are roasted before being sent to EOD to be fermented, with the spirit going through a double pot still. Each batch of Castillo 1815 will be able to trace the plant to the particular location and farmer as well.
“We’re really excited to see what we can do with aging Castillo 1815,” Faulkner said. Currently, the 41% ABV has a balanced “earthy sweetness with subtle notes of pepper, sweet cream, and fruit.”
One of EOD’s mixologists, Marina Pfeffer, created the Cantina Verde with the tequila as part of the Craft Cocktail Week menu. It includes honey chamomile syrup, ginger-turmeric-lemongrass syrup, lime juice, muddled cilantro, and a Tajin rim.
With all the options available for 10 days, it’s important to pace yourself, naturally. But The Green House, Wilmington’s all-natural, plant-based restaurant, makes it easy with a non-alcoholic option. The Lavender Haze is made with Dhos, a gin-like spirit that’s both herbaceous and aromatic, prominently featuring juniper and lavender.
“We set off to be inclusive, which led to creating non-alcoholic cocktails that shine on their own and lack nothing,” said The Green House co-owner Anastasia Worrell, who also happens to be a non-drinker.
She said demand for the spirit-free menu has “been overwhelming from day one.” However, the eatery also has a full cocktail program. For its alcoholic option during cocktail week, it’s offering the Aperol Sour — a unique twist on summer’s companion, the Aperol Spritz.
“It is our way to say goodbye to the summer,” she said.
All participating businesses and menus for Craft Cocktail Week are below:
The Blind Elephant | Specials, $15
C-Suite | Specials, $14
Cape Fear Spirits and Beer | Specials, $10-$15
Dram and Draught | Specials, $12
The Eagle’s Dare | Specials, $13-$15
The George | Specials, $14-$16
The Ivey | Specials, $11-$15
The Little Dipper | Specials, $9
Marina Grill | Specials, $12-$15
Rebellion | Special, $10
Quanto Basta | Special, $15
The Underfront | Special, $10-$15
The Vine | Specials, $10-$13
End of Days Distillery | Specials, $12-$15
Mess Hall | Special, $7
Ruff Draft | Special, $7
CAM Cafe | Specials, $12
Far From France | Specials, $13
Greenfield Lake Yacht Club | Specials, $14
Wrightsville Beach/North Wilmington
Brasserie du Soleil | Special, $15
Ceviche’s | Specials, $13-$14
Coquina Fishbar | Specials, $13-$14
Flying Machine Oyster Bar | Special, $13
The Green House | Specials, $12
Osteria Cicchetti | Special, $14
Poe’s Tavern | Specials, $12
Solstice Kitchen + Cocktails | Specials, $14-$15
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