While the Wilmington craft-beer scene continues to thrive, there’s a new liquid industry creeping into the Cape Fear region: distilleries. As of September 1, the recent approval of SB 290 will allow distilleries to sell their product directly to consumers without first going through ABC as the middleman. It’s a big win for North Carolina spirits.
Already Blue Shark Vodka is distributing their vodka made with Carolina corn. While no plans for a bar are currently in the works, local spirit-seekers can find the vodka in ABC stores and bars in the area.
According to Brooke Bloomquist, president of Blue Shark Vodka, the idea for the company began about five years ago. Her father, Mark Bloomquist of Sports Accessories and Memorabilia (the industry standard in bobblehead doll manufacturing), was tailgating with his buddies before a football game. Mark had worked for Seagrams in the ‘90s, and his wheels started turning. A visit to see Brooke, while she was living in Hawaii sparked an idea, and now the dream has become a reality.
But, like all good things, it took lots of trial and error.
“I said, ‘Dad! How cool would it be if we could get a bobblehead doll in a liquor bottle?’” Brooke reminisces. “Then I realized it wouldn’t really work, so we started brainstorming how to get some sort of figurine in the bottle. Some initial thoughts were a wave or palm tree, but I think people have a weird fascination with sharks. So I thought, Why not a shark?”
In the Blue Shark office in Dutch Square near Ogden, the evolution of the shark in a bottle is apparent in all five iterations. Initially, the shark was much bigger than it is today. (Brooke jokes she refers to the first bottle as “blue whale vodka,” as the figurine was a little, well, bloated for a shark.) They also attempted a bottle with the glass tinted blue, but it made the vodka look murky, and since the liquor is typically known for its brilliant clarity, that was out.
After the bottle was perfected, Brooke thought it needed a little something else—a vinyl sticker that makes it look like the shark is underwater, not just trapped in a bottle of delicious vodka.
Then they began sourcing ingredients. “We got connected with Farmer Jeff,” Brooke explains. “We bought part of his farm in Polkton, NC. He grows non-GMO Carolina sweet corn for us at Griffin Family Farms. He also grows grain for some breweries in Asheville.”
The legal side of running a distillery fascinates Brooke most. North Carolina has some pretty particular blue (alcohol-related) laws, which can be challenging to navigate. Brooke has found the local ABC excited to have a new industry in town—a tale not often told.
“I will say New Hanover County ABC has been nothing but supportive,” she says. “The second-in-command even sent me a text because he was happy to see a display of our product in one of his stores during Shark Week.”
An inaugural beach sweep launched the brand in July and Shark Week kept Brooke busy with events and promos throughout the city. Blue Shark hosted a specialty cocktail at Billy Mellon and Luke Carnevale’s latest endeavor Earnest Money & Sons. Brooke says more events will be coming down the pipe soon.
Beverage enthusiasts eager to deepen their knowledge can find Blue Shark distillery on “The Blue Tube” YouTube channel.
Across town, on Castle Street near The Cargo District, End of Days Distillery will have a different approach to making their liquor. With a bar and tasting room for patrons on the way, EoD expects to be distilling by the fall and fully open in the winter.
Shane and Beth Faulkner were in the pest-control business when they decided to tap into Shane’s passion for homebrewing. The initial thought was to open a brewery, but it eventually evolved into spirits.
“We’re going to start off with clear [liquor],” Shane tells, “vodka, gin and rum. We’ll start barrel-aging the gin and the rum, and move on to bourbon, sour mash, single malts and things like that. And of course we’ll have our distillery selects, which means we’ll make [liquor] in very small batches, only available in the tasting room, not through ABC distribution.”
While the name “End of Days” may seem ominous to some, Shane and Beth didn’t mean it to arouse imagery of the apocalypse. In fact, they want it to have the opposite appeal. The idea began a decade ago as they sat around a campfire, shooting the breeze with friends.
“We were talking about life in general, and people kept saying, ‘Well at the end of the day…’” Shane reminisces, “and it occurred to me, at the end of the day, while we were reflecting on our lives—where we were, who we were with—we were all drinking something really special to us. We’d gone out and specifically purchased something to share with each other. We definitely weren’t thinking about the Armageddon. The mindset was ‘at the end of the day,’ who do you want to be with? Did you enjoy it? Were you a good, productive person, or could you have done better? We wanted to be what people are sipping on while they reflect.”
Shane is doing all of the renovations himself at the historical Quonset hut at 1815 Castle Street—an old hangar. The couple isn’t afraid to consult industry pros to get the advice they need.
“They say when the tide comes in, all ships rise,” Shane states. “And I truly believe that to be true; everyone I’ve gone to [in the industry] has been very helpful.”
“Transparent,” Beth affirms. “It’s crazy. We went to see Oak & Grist on our trip to Asheville, and we told them we were opening a distillery in Wilmington and needed to learn everything we could from them. Everyone was so amazingly open. Our take on the industry is not to be cut-throat because there’s enough for everybody—and everybody’s doing something a little differently.”