Review: TOPO Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey

DSR – NC – 007: TOPO Eight Oak

Company/Distillery: Top of the Hill Distillery

Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Mash Bill: 100% Wheat

Age Statement: NAS

Proof/ABV: 92 Proof/ 46% ABV

Color: Dark rich copper; Very nice color

Purchase Price: $29.95 from NC ABC store 3/26/2020; 750 ml

Bottle Label Information:

Neck Label: “USDA ORGANIC”

“Bottle #905”

Front Label: “TOPO Eight Oak”

“Carolina Whiskey”

“Distlled from 100% Wheat”

Back Label: “Issued by Scott Maitland”

“Fermented, distilled, & bottled by Top of the Hill Distillery, in Chapel Hill, NC. “


“Hand-crafted from organic soft red winter wheat grown less than 100 miles from our distillery.”


“FINISHED WITH COMPLEXITY: This bottle contains one chip of vanilla toasted oak which is one of eight different woods used to finish this exemplary whiskey.”

Distillery Background

Top Of The Hill Distillery

Top Of The Hill Distillery (also known as TOPO) is located on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. TOPO Brewery and Restaurant was founded by Scott Maitland, West Point Graduate and former Army officer, in 1996. Mr. Maitland was disappointed with the way that chain restaurants had taken over Franklin Street and wanted to bring a local option to the college town of Chapel Hill. TOPO’s brewery would become North Carolina’s 5th oldest micro-brewery and the first to offer their brewed beer in cans. As the company continued to grow in popularity and expand, it became clear that a second brewery packaging facility was needed. It was at this time that Maitland made the decision to launch the distillery instead.

In 2012, Maitland would launch the Top Of The Hill Distillery. The distillery would specialize in making the South’s only local USDA 100% organic spirits. Four years prior to opening of the distillery, Maitland partnered with local farmer, Earnest Wilson, who produced 100% organic soft red winter wheat that is used in the various spirits made by TOPO. Today, TOPO’s line of 100% organic products include the following: Vodka; Piedmont Gin; Moonshine Carolina Whiskey; Reserve Carolina Straight Wheat Whiskey; Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey; Spiced Rum.

To find out more about TOPO Distillery visit them at In addition, check out this YouTube video with Scott Maitland discussing the history of TOPO Distillery.

Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey

TOPO Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey is a 100% organic wheated whiskey. The name “Eight Oak” alludes to the eight different combinations of both American oak and French oak for flavoring. The bottle contains a chip of vanilla toasted oak, which is one of the varieties used to finish this whiskey. This process is used as a way to impart complex flavors not easily achieved while using a single American oak barrel.

Tasting Notes

Tasting Date/Vessel: March 22, 2020 – Neat in Glencairn Glass


Christian: The nose on this whiskey is very sweet. Immediately pick up allspice and vanilla extract in the glass. These aromas are quickly followed by faux leather and wheat grains. It tends to come across as a bit synthetic or medicinal. Adding water brings more vanilla forward on the nose. A slight hint of glue and green clay also becomes more present.

Mike: Sweet tobacco aromas and baseball glove leather. Delicate hints of clove, brown sugar, honey, and cinnamon are all present. The tobacco and leather smells are prominent with the leather being very pronounced.


Christian: Very light mouth feel. The glass did not have a lot of legs on it. On the palate, I notice a lot of the leather and vanilla extract from the nose carry through. A sweetness is present from these flavors that is followed by a very subtle hint of cinnamon. The chewing gum, Big Red, comes to mind – cinnamon and sweet with a little spice pop. Water makes this whiskey take on a more lacy feel. Baking spices, specifically allspice, become prevalent.

Mike: Lots of leather in the mouth with a cinnamon kick that is reminiscent of Red Hots candy.  There is an oaky essence that lingers on the back end with just a whisper of allspice. A rush of leather rounds things out.


Christian: A medium finish that is a bit spicy yet dry. The cinnamon spice from the mouth gives way to a finish that is more like black pepper. Tons of faux leather and vanilla extract remain pronounced. As the flavors start to dissipate, a slight hint of almonds is detected. Water shortens the finish noticeably. Oak and leather continue to ramp up on back-end.

Mike: This pour has a medium finish.  There is a gentle burn as the sip moves down your throat…then leather. Did I mention leather? Not a lot of complexity overall.

Our Rating

Final Thoughts

Christian: In many ways, when I think of TOPO Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey I think of a dessert pour. The addition of water makes this even more apparent. Sweet hints of vanilla, baking spices, and leather remain throughout the pour. Unfortunately, it seems like many of these flavors come off as a bit synthetic or artificial. This may be a result of the chunk of vanilla toasted oak that is present in the bottle, imparting additional flavor. In some ways it imparts a flavor profile of chewing on a wallet or leather coat. The price point seems decent and is in line with most other NC craft distillery products. I am interested in trying TOPO’s new make version of this product as well as their Reserve Straight Wheat Whiskey to see how they compare to this product.

Rating: 2.25 Rickhouses

Mike: LEATHER BOMB!  There was little balance in this pour as the leather really dominated the palate from start to finish. This pour would be best enjoyed in Ron Burgundy’s apartment, with its leather-bound books and rich mahogany smell. Perhaps that location would have helped because I don’t hate this offering but I don’t really love it. Maybe another day, in another mood, I would appreciate this more.

Rating: 2.0 Rickhouses

Conclusion: TOPO Distillery is providing a unique product that is 100% USDA organic and made using green procedures. Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey brings a very sweet and leathery profile to the table. A flavor profile of leather, vanilla, allspice, and oak is a typically an enjoyable profile for us, however, we just wish it was a little less artificial tasting. The product shows promise making us want to try the new make moonshine and the longer aged Reserve Straight Whiskey options. The inclusion of the piece of oak in the bottle is a nice touch and the price point was good enough that we can recommend this bottle IF you enjoy the profile of leather of cinnamon in your whiskey.


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