Deep in the Umstead Industrial Park, something stirs. Amid the clank of modern machinery, a group of workers busy themselves with one of the world's oldest crafts: brewing. At Gizmo Brew Works, this meeting of contemporary technology and ancient know-how produces a tempting slate of small-batch beers. Inside tanks that hold the equivalent of 1,000 pints each, brewers prep favorites including the smooth and sweet Black Stiletto Stout and the complex Palisade Wasp India Pale Ale with the same care that has earned many of their past beers medals at the Carolina Championship of Beer. They also save room for seasonals, carefully adding a sweet caramel flavor and spicy Noble hops to their altbier, which they serve in a traditional stange glass or a large mug in celebration of Oktoberfest. These beers and more make frequent appearances in the brewery's taproom, gracing pint glasses for impromptu toasts or filling up growlers for at-home sips. Never ones to shy away from curious guests, brewers also open up their facility for Saturday tours, walking groups through the beer-making process during 30-minute explorations.
One of the best times of day at Horizon Cellars is dusk. That's when guests out on the covered deck can relax with a glass of wine and watch the setting sun turn the clouds over the Mount Vernon Springs ridge line a soft pink. On weekends, guests can bring a picnic basket and blanket to the winery and sip everything from sweet plum wines to mellow white wines while playing fetch or Monopoly with the dog.
Inside the tasting room, which is located atop a rolling ridge, guests sample Horizon's wines and meads. Its meads are similar to its wines, but are made with honey from Horizon's bee farm instead of grapes. The winery's tasting menus change depending on season and availability, so Horizon recommends that visitors call ahead for a listing of that day's wines.
The Adams family has farmed the land of Adams Vineyards for eight generations. Years ago, though, they replaced the leafy tobacco plants they'd grown for decades with fruit trees and twining muscadine grapevines. Quincy Adams uses blueberries, peaches, apples, pears, and blackberries to make wine. Visitors can pair sips of those varietals with hors d'oeuvres such as Boar's Head cheese or chocolates handcrafted by Quincy's mother, Joyce. At the end of each summer, the family hosts a Grape Stomp Festival, where guests of all ages can participate in the timeless juicing method.
Railhouse Brewery founders Mike Ratkowski and Brian Evitts both did stints in the armed forces before they met while working the same job. The two shared an interest in the effervescent qualities of a good beer, and in 2009, they turned that passion into a business. Brian, a homebrewer for 20 years, oversees the production of the company's five main beers—oatmeal stout, brown ale, pale ale, honey wheat, and barley wine—and Mike handles operations, sales, and the number of bottles of beer on the wall. Together, they help bring Railhouse brews to 14 restaurants and bars in the Sandhills.
The Railhouse Brewery also frequently hosts concerts and festivals, and holds cornhole tournaments every Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, check out the event page or send a pack of investigative hops to visit the brewery.
Studio 91’s elegant gallery space and boutique wine selections combine the passionate products of both artists and vintners, regaling the eye with fine art and the palate with fine wine from family-owned vineyards. Budding oenophiles get to tipple a 3-ounce tasting from a batch of four boutique wines, served in a combination of either two white wines and two red, one white and three reds, or all reds. To match each sip with sustenance, Studio 91's servers will raid the Mouse King’s treasury and bring forth a cheese plate of gourmet brie, aged sonoma jack cheddar, sliced apples, olives, walnuts, and fresh bread. Gourmet chocolate toffee almond truffles, accompanied by fresh raspberries and whipped cream, dance out with the last glass of red wine. The Studio 91 crew's guidance for properly tasting a vino will sharpen your senses to such nuanced flavors as black currant and democracy.
Judging by his daring attitude toward fusion cuisine, head chef Michael Schiffer probably tried to fry the rule book before throwing it out the window. He founded Maximillian's Grill in 1991 with humble aspirations: it would be a 32-seat pizza restaurant where guests could enjoy quiet meals. In four months, however, he had amassed magazine awards and a clientele that would line up outside the restaurant for an hour before he opened the doors. They were there, waiting patiently, to see what delicious fusion food would sail out of the kitchen that night—Michael hand wrote a new menu every day and often invented new dishes on the spot, fusing Italian flavors with creole and Asian influences.
Unfortunately, in 1998, a fire closed Max’s for good. Though he and his wife Gayle later opened a gourmet deli, it wasn’t until 2001 that they opened Max’s once again, this time in a roomier location with high ceilings, soft light, and tinted windows. The new joint even has a wine bar in the back separated from the dining room by a partition.
In the kitchen, Michael devises fresh takes on fusion cuisine while holding onto many of the dishes that made Max’s famous, classics as the grilled caesar salad—prepped by grilling the actual lettuce—and the peppercorn-encrusted Voodoo tuna. Michael has also archived his old menus on the restaurant's webpage, viewing them as a timeline for his culinary evolution and a way to remember how to spell "bouillabaisse."