In the Spirit

In the Spirit: Young Hearts Distilling

By: Hannah Lee Leidy

The steady revitalization of downtown Raleigh hit a milestone in late 2021 with the opening of its first—and only—distillery. Brought to the state’s capital by the team behind Trophy Brewing Company, Young Hearts Distilling provides a spot to sip craft spirits alongside chef-driven plates.

Career beverage professional Chis Powers leads the business alongside partners David “Woody” Lockwood, David Meeker, and Les Stewart. They made their debut as players in the city’s beverage scene when they opened Trophy Brewing’s taproom in 2013. A fast rise in popularity soon led to additional locations and the opening of State of Beer. The shutdowns induced by the Covid-19 pandemic gave the team a chance to pursue their next project, distilling. 

The Local Palate caught up with Powers to learn more about this recent newcomer to the city’s beverage scene and the jump from brewing to distilling.

In the Spirit: Young Hearts Distilling

The Local Palate: You come from a brewery background. What inspired you to go into distilling? How did you learn about the process?  

Chris Powers: We have always dreamed about getting into distilling. But we thought it would be a part of our distant future. 

The pandemic sped that part up for us. I took a step back and thought hard about what I wanted us to be working on, where we should be focusing our energies. 

We jumped in with both feet, the best we could during a pandemic. We started researching equipment, digging into books about spirits and production, and most importantly, we started tasting seriously. We were holding virtual tastings regularly to hone in on the flavors we wanted to create, get inspired, and create the baseline palate for our spirits.

TLP: What made you explore the restaurant + distillery combo? Did you encounter any obstacles with opening the first one in Raleigh?

CP: We decided to build a concept that pairs a full scratch kitchen with an exhilarating cocktail program and micro distillery because we wanted to bring a new concept to Downtown Raleigh. 

We learned through our experience in the brewing industry that people love to be where things are made. They want to see the equipment, smell the aromas of the ingredients, and taste the final product. 

Being the first restaurant distillery in Raleigh, we encountered a few obstacles: We are located in a historic building and that wasn’t built to hold the weight of the still, so we had to upgrade. 

Second, a change to North Carolina laws over the pandemic allowed us to serve and sell our spirits in the same space. We could finally create cocktails for guests to enjoy during their experience and then send them home with a bottle.

TLP: In a world where craft spirits are on the rise, what do you think sets Young Hearts’ products apart?

CP: What sets Young Hearts apart is our focus on botanical-forward spirits, and our commitment to continuing to evolve and follow our creative threads. Our goal is to showcase the flavors of the place our spirits are made, highlight seasonality of the botanical ingredients, and consistently offer new and interesting spirits for our guests to enjoy.

TLP: Spirits aside, what do you think the food menu’s biggest selling point is? Did you want dishes that paired well with the cocktails or did you want something approachable to anyone coming by, whether for lunch or late night?

CP: I think our menu is great. There are items that are created specifically to pair with cocktails, but there are also items meant to be enjoyed on their own or with a glass of wine or one of our Trophy beers. 

Chef Josiah Halbohm works closely with the bar and the distillery to consider the ingredients and the spirits themselves when creating dishes.

TLP: What are your next steps for Young Hearts Distilling?

CP: We have a lot of new spirits in the works. We’ll be releasing a barrel-aged version of our amaro. We have a sorghum rum ferment in tanks. We are finalizing an apple brandy collaboration spirit with some friends in New Zealand. 

We are also working on spring cocktail menu which should drop in late April.

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