Until recently, the space at 225 South Wilmington Street played host to craft beer destinations. With Young Hearts Distilling, opened in late August by the team behind Trophy Brewing Company, a new beverage category is on display—craft distilled spirits—alongside a menu of refined new American cuisine.
The latest addition to Raleigh’s downtown landscape should feel pretty familiar to locals: the location previously housed Busy Bee Cafe and Trophy Tap + Table. At Young Hearts, the spirit of these downtown craft beverage staples lives on.
“Opening a distillery was always kind of our dream,” Young Hearts co-owner Chris Powers says. “When we got into brewing, we thought distilling was the next step for us. We were thinking about how we could continue to grow and about what gets us the most excited, it was about being experimental and being creative.”
The distillery is the natural evolution of the projects Powers and his partners have previously launched. At the heart of Trophy Brewing Co. and State of Beer, another location founded by Powers, is a passion for sharing quality beverages.
Having the opportunity to produce their own distilled spirits, then, isn’t so far-fetched. In fact, there are several high profile examples of regional and national craft breweries delving into the world of distilling—New Holland, Dogfish Head, and Rogue come to mind—and offering a variety of spirits including whiskey, gin, and rum. But, Powers and Young Hearts’ Master Distiller, Mena Killough, have squarely embraced the bitter side of things.
While Young Hearts Distilling has already launched with a gin and vodka, the true focus of the distillery is reimaging traditional bitter botanical liqueurs from around the world.
Young Hearts taps into the rising mainstream appreciation of complex Italian amaro, Scandinavian Aquavit, and many other botanical-based spirits. The distillery will showcase these spirits in craft cocktails and customers will be able to bring bottles home with them.
“The beverage scene here is very interested in trying things out, taking a chance on something a little different,” Powers says. “That’s why Amari are something we’re so excited about doing. Teaching people about them. And we’re going to focus on those botanical-forward spirits.”
Curious about trying some amaro for yourself? Powers suggests heading to your local liquor store.
“The closest one on the commercial market is Montenegro to the flavors we’re developing with our house amaro,” Powers explains. “It’s got a lot of those citrus notes, a little bit of this honey characteristic but enough of that gentian root kind of bitterness to be assertive. I know the average drinker might not be as excited about the idea of ‘bitter’ but I think they’ll appreciate the use of quality, local ingredients.”
Alongside these distilled spirits, diners can expect a lush food menu, prepared by head chef Alex Ricci (formerly executive chef at Guglhupf Artisan Bakery, Restaurant & Café) that prioritizes fresh, local ingredients.
“We’re embracing a seasonal approach to New American dishes,” says Powers. “The majority of what we’re getting into the kitchen is coming from local vendors, local providers, and local farms. And it’ll likely change seasonally.”
Food and drink come together in the cozy confines of Young Hearts Distilling. The main dining space and bar evokes a classic red-sauce Italian joint with thick leather booths, exposed brick walls, and dark wood floors. The ambiance continues upstairs to the VIP loft, which features leather seats and intimate dining spaces.
At the end of the loft area, a bright yellow and pink neon sign lets you know the party continues onto the breezy rooftop bar. And the indoor dining and bar space beside the rooftop patio allows for further seating and a distinct, private dining experience.
“We want people to come in and see a new business in an old space,” explains Powers. “We want people to come in and have a new experience. We’ve learned a lot since we started in this same building 11 or 12 years ago and our passion has only evolved for craft beverages.”
Having spent years familiarizing themselves with the location, locals may feel like regulars here. Young Heart’s injection of new spirits, a refined menu, and an elegant experience, though, is bringing the space to its next chapter.
“When people come in and embrace what we’re doing, connect with the bartender, see 40 different barrels with spirits aging,” Powers says, “we sort of deputize them to go out and evangelize what we’re doing.”
Young Hearts Distilling welcomes guests into the distillation process. Char oak barrels line the wall and a stunning vintage copper still housed behind a glass wall greets diners when they arrive. It’s not unlike wandering around the lab of a mad scientist. But, the end result of this experiment is tasty, complex booze and food.
“We’ve found that people like to be connected to where things are made. And having people in the space where things are happening around them – spirits aging in barrels, and the distillation process happening, seeing and smelling the ingredients — it changes the connection point for them. That’s why we thought this was the perfect location for it. No one else had a downtown Raleigh distillery. It was the perfect opportunity to do this.”
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