SNEADS FERRY | When Sarah Hanerfeld visited the Sneads Ferry ABC store on Friday afternoon, she knew what drink to buy for her friends at North Topsail Beach: a North Carolina-based liquor that has been among the varieties to rise in popularity recently.
Hanerfeld of Wilmington stopped at the store at 964 N.C. 210 to buy blueberry-infused Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon, a variation of moonshine that she likes to mix with club soda and a dash of lime juice, she said.
“It’s just something different,” Hanerfield said. “It’s not something I’d drink every day, but it’s a great mixer. I always take it to parties.”
Summer liquor sales have begun to rise at Onslow County’s ABC stores, especially on regular tourist routes: in Sneads Ferry and Swansboro, said Onslow County ABC Administrator Neta Grady.
“School just recently got out and we’re just at the beginning of it,” Grady said.
The heated season marks a change in drinking habits to lighter liquors and mixers, she added.
Vodkas and gins, for example, are sought after.
“It’s all about comfort,” Grady said. “In the winter, you’re looking for something that’s good to drink inside. You’re drinking to warm up. In the summer, you’re outside. It’s hot and you want to be able to drink a little more of it.”
Onslow County is home to six ABC stores: three in Jacksonville and one store each in Richlands, Swansboro and Sneads Ferry.
“The Sneads Ferry area is just really starting to boom,” she added.
Summer also marks a spike in sales for pre-mixed liquors.
But sales continue to surge for cinnamon-flavored brands and for spirits distilled in the Tar Heel State, she said.
For example, Midnight Moon’s fruit-infused versions, such as Apple Pie, continue to be popular.
Recent years’ tea-infused liquor rush continues, but it is “waning,” she said.
Summer months will see sales pick up for brands, such as the South Carolina-based Firefly Sweet Tea, she added.
But spicy, cinnamon-infused products are dominating liquor sales, including the shot market at bars, Grady said. That market had been dominated by the German liquor, Jägermeister.
Names such as Cinerator, Fire Eater, Kentucky Fire and Fire have emerged in attempts to meet rising demand. But Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is the leader in sales, she added.
Many North Carolina distilleries — including Onslow County’s own Diablo Distilleries — continue producing popular spirits — and not all of them are light.
“They make rums and vodkas — not just moonshine,” she said. “Toward the mountains, brandies are being distilled. Especially apple brandies, which makes sense.
“Some are doing American whiskey. It’s not quite bourbon,” Grady added. “These people are real entrepreneurs. And their products are good.”
Starting a distillery requires authorization with federal mandate via state oversight from the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
“It’s not easy to start a distillery,” Grady said. “It’s not really all that simple. Once the product becomes available, it’s up to each ABC system (to choose to stock it.)”
Onslow County ABC Administration is within the authority of N.C. ABC Commission, which is a public agency.
The commission sets prices and oversees each county and municipal ABC board. To browse a monthly price list of liquors sold in North Carolina, visit ABC.NC.gov/pricing/pricebook.aspx.
Onslow County ABC Administration’s budget year ends June 30 and Grady said fiscal-year-end sales reports would not been finalized until August.
Another predicament for liquor sales during summer is the prevalence of drinking alcohols that are not sold at ABC stores, Grady said.
“Unfortunately, for us, people drink a lot more beer,” she added.
However, if there is a type of liquor that a customer would like ordered, Grady said her staff of roughly 50 people can make that happen.
“We do a lot of special orders,” she said.
At minimum, such a purchase requires a case of booze, and it usually takes about six to eight weeks for orders to arrive.
To make a special order, visit one of the county’s six ABC stores listed at Onslow.ABC.NC.gov or contact the county ABC board at 409 Center St. in Jacksonville at 910-577-7186.
Such orders require authorization from the producer and the state ABC commission.
“If you have tried something on a trip somewhere, we can try to find it for you,” Grady said.