The PubScout samples the goods at the grand reopening of Four Hounds Distilling in Carolina Beach.

Like Country Western singer Trent Willmon, I’m a Beer Man. A misadventure with Hiram Walker’s 100 Proof Private Cellar Bourbon in my college freshman experience was enough to keep me away from ALL alcohol for the duration of my college days.

That’s four years with no booze, folks. Oh, I took my share of ribbings from my frat brothers when we’d have parties and mixers, and they’d show up with their kegs and six-packs of (usually crap) beer, while I would waltz in with my two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola.

But at night’s end, when they were all lying — usually sleeping — in their own bodily fluids, someone needed to escort their dates home. And I was usually the only sober one left. It was a tough assignment, but someone had to do it.

My lifelong love affair with beer began shortly after I graduated, because I tasted a British beer called John Courage, and I thought to myself: “Damn! Now that’s how beer is supposed to taste!” The rest is history.

But while I gave a wide berth to bourbon and whiskey (and still do), I also became intrigued by rum after a visit to the Caribbean. Specifically, Myer’s Dark Rum as it appeared in a drink called a Planter’s Punch.

Four Hounds Distillery

There was something about rum that appealed to me. Maybe it was the tankards filled with rum being swung about a Bermuda or Jamaican pub. Maybe it was the allure of the Golden Age of Piracy. Regardless, rum began to interest me.

Planter’s Punch, Rum and Tonic, Rum Punch and others played a big role in my mid-20s to mid-30s life. But beer has asserted itself (assertively) and supplanted rum for lo, these 40-odd years.

Then two things happened, both within the past month. First, one of my buddies told me to watch the swashbuckling Netflix series Black Sails. Beautifully shot and based on that Golden Age of Piracy, it’s a spectacle of unremitting violence, shifting loyalties, blatant lasciviousness and unrestricted rum drinking.

Then my publisher asked me to cover a distillery located in Carolina Beach called Four Hounds, which makes rum — and only rum.

I had been gifted two bottles of the elixir and after tasting one called Sea Level, I vowed to weigh anchor, hoist my sails and set a course for Carolina Beach.

Four Hounds Distillery NC

Four Hounds Distillery was celebrating its grand re-opening when I visited, and it was with the idea of starting with a clean slate — and new partners for Chris Stellacio. Chris became enamored of rum in his late 20s during a surfing visit to Costa Rica. There, in places like Panama, he tasted rums that did for his palate what John Courage did for mine way back when.

At the insistent urging of his former partner, they eventually launched the first version of Four Hounds, named, fittingly, for Chris’s beagle, Olive, and his partner’s three hounds. Their first establishment, he allowed was in a small 400-square-foot space that was “little more than a closet.”

But stuff happens, and while he did learn the intricacies (and bureaucratic requirements) of distilling rum, the time came to find a new partner. Enter Ray Rock.

Like Chris, whose day gig is in insurance, Ray’s a seasoned loan broker. But Ray was simply a former customer who enjoyed rum. And when another owner candidate passed on the offer, Tucker, another integral and effervescent part of the team, suggested Ray. And the new Four Hounds was launched.

Ray, who is also a home brewer, winemaker and mead maker, shared that distilling, at least in N.C., requires a permit to even begin the learning process. You can’t learn in your kitchen or basement without one. That’s why those fellas who make moonshine way back in the hills are always on the lookout for “gummint revenooers.”

They began with just a 20-gallon distiller, but now have the services of Brutus, a four-eyed, 56-gallon distiller.

They use an old Ford car radiator as a cooler. Chris and Ray’s budding operation is not giving Captain Morgan, Bacardi, Appleton, Myer’s or Mt. Gay any sleepless nights yet, but production is increasing with a growing demand for craft rum.

Carolina Beach Four Hounds Distillery

Apart from how a better rum affects mixed drinks, like a piña colada, mojito, Planter’s Punch or daiquiri, more folks, especially those who prefer a sweeter taste, are warming (literally) to the idea of a “sipping rum” instead of bourbon, whiskey or scotch.

Ray gave my tasting team samples and descriptions of each of the four they currently produce. Ray McVay, Father Dave Greb and I learned first-hand about the very smooth, 80-proof Porch Dog, Sea Level and Silver and the higher-proof Queen’s Share, made with the “tails” of previous batches. All the rums are aged on oak chips for 30 days.

My consensus, and the team generally concurred, was that they were all good. But Sea Level, the closest rum to a spiced rum that Four Hounds produces, won the day. My team was unaware, however, that Chris had earlier climbed up into the darker regions of his building to secure for yours truly a taste of a 150-proof rum — aged for a year on oak chips. It wasn’t simply smooth. It was svelte. And delicious.

Hey, being the team leader has its perqs. Check that correct spelling, as the word comes from “perquisites.” Once a teacher…

The afternoon was spent trying different mixed rum drinks and sampling the fare from a totally vegan food truck called Well Fed Ed.

Lucas’s Sloppy Joe sandwich — made with chickpeas — was quite good. And it went very well with my Painkiller cocktail.

Well FedEd Food Truck Carolina Beach NC

For the grand re-opening Chris, not only the owner and host of the business, was also the musical entertainment for the six-hour-long party, playing guitar and singing for those who came out.

The guy sure wears a lot of hats. In a past life, one must have been a tricorn, emblazoned with a skull and crossbones.

Want to go?
Four Hounds Distilling
1202 N. Lake Park Boulevard, Carolina Beach
(910) 945-0880
Hours: Wednesday through Saturday 1 to 7 pm, Sunday 12 to 5 pm

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