North Carolina is a control state, meaning the state government controls alcohol sales in the state. It was not that long ago that bars did not exist as we know them in North Carolina. When you went to a restaurant you had to brown bag your wine and spirits. Things have come a long way in the past few decades and Gary Crunkleton is leading the way with even more changes. He recently convinced the state legislature to pass a bill allowing him to sell older bottles of spirits he may find to customers. There are restrictions – the bottle has to be a brand not sold today as a brand. For example the state considers a bottle of 1970s Yellowstone from the Shively distillery the same as today’s Yellowstone so he can not sell that Bourbon in his bar but he can sell Belmont from 1915.
The Crunkleton is a whiskey bar so they have a large selection of rye whiskey and Scotch whiskey as well as Bourbon, but Gary like his Bourbon. The staff is very well trained and Gary insists that they all have knowledge of spirits and cocktails. Until recently the only menu was computerized in the cash register. Gary had the philosophy that every customer should have to talk with the server in order to make a choice in spirits or cocktail. That way his staff could better understand the customer’s tastes and preference. However his staff complained that simply took too much time on a busy night so he has put together a menu. The menu includes sections of “Rare and Collectible” with old bottles of Bourbon and Rye whiskeys, “Bourbon” with the brands in alphabetical order by distillery producing them, “Rye”, “Tennessee” and “Other”. He does not even list “flavored whiskeys” which scores a point in my book. There is no menu of flights but they do offer them. Gary is still getting used to this menu idea. He would prefer customers to discuss the flight selections with the staff to get the best flight to meet their desires. The drinks are poured in old fashioned glasses but he does offer brandy snifters upon request. The pour is generous 1.75 ounces and the prices are reasonable considering North Carolina is a control state.
Training is important to Gary Crunkleton. He believes that it takes a well trained staff to make money in the bar business. His servers and their knowledge are what keeps customers coming back. He holds regular training sessions that often includes tasting of the spirits. His training techniques are so well known that other bars in the state and even other states, have hired him to train their staff. I will say that I had the time to talk with the staff when Gary was not around (my hotel was across the street) and I can say that I was impressed with their knowledge. I also had an opportunity to see them work with other customers and they were friendly and knowledgeable helping the customer to pick the right cocktail or whiskey.
The Crunkleton does offer a wide range of cocktails and has several “Barrel Aged” cocktails available. I have to admit I did not have a cocktail while I was there. The whiskey selection was large enough that I never felt the need to try a mixed drink. However I did see the staff at work mixing drinks for customers and they were quick at their job and I never heard anyone complain about the quality of the drink.
So how do I score The Crunkleton? Being such a good whiskey bar in a control state is worth 2 points from me. I will give them 1.5 more points for the menu. It is good but also a work in process. I suspect that the next time I visit it will be complete for all spirits and include flights. I will give them 1 point for flights. They may not be on the menu but I do like the way the staff helps put together a flight with the customer. I will give them 1 point on the pour. It is generous but the glassware could be better for spirits served neat. Gary is looking into getting better glassware but Glencairn glasses are expensive and often walk away from the bar at a fast pace. He does not like brandy snifters and I don’t blame him. They are the glass of last resort for me, just a little better than the old fashioned glass. The staff deserves a full 2 points on knowledge and training and I think general welcoming and friendly atmosphere will earn them 1 more point. This brings the total to 8.5 points in my book. It is a great bar well worth visiting.
Photos Courtesy of Michael Veach and The Crunkleton