Over the last 24 months there has been an increase in the number of San Diego distilleries. This movement was initially influenced by the local craft brewing scene, and has recently started to accelerate due to the implementation of the State of California’s Craft Distillers Act of 2015 (AB1295), which allowed for the creation of a Type 74 license which eases the prior restrictions on craft distillers.
This local distilling movement seems to have now built its own momentum, and the camaraderie among the craft distillers has the same feel as that amongst the brewers in the early days of craft beer in San Diego. If that model continues to progress in a similar fashion we are in for a great future of local craft distilling. Time to Feel The Spirit!
Distillates: 619 Vodkas with various infusions, including a rose petal infusion, a cucumber infusion, a Scorpion pepper infusion and a coffee infusion.
Launched in 2012, 619 Vodka brand owner Nick Apostolopoulos is spreading his wings with his own distillery and restaurant just off 30th Street, smack bang in the middle of craft beer-centric North Park. The restaurant will serve “a new American menu (think burgers, pasta, salads) using locally-sourced ingredients when possible.” Currently, 619 Vodka is distilled elsewhere as a private label brand; however, Nick is bringing things in-house with a thousand-liter still and will continue to focus on the 619 Vodka brand initially. 619 Vodka is 190 proof and distilled from cane sugar. All infusions are made with natural ingredients sourced locally, including coffee from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. No artificial ingredients, flavorings or colorings are used. Nick is also planning on distilling “some limoncello, orangecello, liqueurs and eventually rums, gins and perhaps whiskey.” The additional good news is that as there is a restaurant on-site so a full bar is allowed under the Type 74 license. Nick plans to feature as many of the locally-produced San Diego craft spirits as possible as well as beer and wine. So, just in case you needed it, this is one more reason for a North Park pub crawl.
Location: 3015 Lincoln Ave, San Diego, CA 92104. Opening date TBA. 619Vodka.com
Distillates: 80 proof grain vodka, and a dangerously smooth 150 proof moonshine, released in early March. Also, a brandy in collaboration with San Pasqual Winery.
Perhaps best known locally for their brewing, particularly their “Revolver IPA” which took the Gold Medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival, the distilling part of BNS Brewing and Distilling has mostly been on hiatus since 2014. Now armed with a Type 74 license, they started distilling again in January. The current distillers are Blake Heffernan, a homebrewer and Home Brew Mart veteran, and Mat Brady. In addition to the distillates listed above, the guys are planning on making all kinds of whiskies including a bourbon, a single malt whiskey and some “alt” whiskies using a beer base.
Location: 10960 Wheatlands Ave #101, Santee, CA 92071. Tasting room hours for the distillery are yet to be announced. Check out the website for updates. Phone: 619.956.0952. BNSAmerica.com
Distillates: Silver rum, white rum, bourbon, single malt whiskey, “a rye on the way” as well as some ready-to-drink pre-mixes: Coffeetini, Cinnamon Apple Pie, and California Mojito. In addition, they distill for numerous private labels including Venom Vodka and the grape based U4Rik Vodka.
Casey Miles, owner and master distiller is a major booster of the local distilling scene. Well-informed and with the ability to talk the ear off a jug, Casey is one of those change agents who seems to be truly enjoying altering the status quo and helping to get both the liquid and the word out regarding local craft distilling. Dun Sloan, operations manager and investor in the company, is the yin to Casey’s yang. Together they seem like a formidable force.
Location: 382 Enterprise St Ste 104, San Marcos, CA 92078
Tasting room: “It’s recommended that you call ahead just to make sure we’re not at a late lunch or Home Depot when you show up!” Monday and Tuesday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m; Saturday by appointment. Private functions are also available. Phone: 619.677.7066. CaliforniaSpiritsCompany.com
Distillates: A double-distilled, sugar-based, gluten-free 80 proof vodka with Champagne yeast used in fermentation and no carbon filtering (to ensure more flavor). A white rum and gold rum aged in bourbon barrels will be released a little later this year. More whiskey and bourbon to follow.
Jason Pelle and Scot Nixon met while Navy divers, stationed at Undersea Rescue Command on Coronado. The distillery’s Copper Collar moniker is derived from the older style copper collars that deep sea divers would use to secure their diving helmets to their diving suits. Jason and Scott had talked in detail about doing something together after they left the service. Scott’s Navy duty ended a year before Jason’s and he was enrolled in a Business Administration degree (which he is currently completing) when he got a call from Jason regarding opening a distillery. With initial assistance from Ray Digilio of Kill Devil Spirit Co they managed to get started around February of 2015. Ray is also currently distilling his Kill Devil products out of the Copper Collar location as he contemplates his next moves.
Location: 8733 N. Magnolia Ave, Suite 126 Santee, CA 92071. Tours, Tastings, and Bottle Sales: Friday 3 – 7 p.m.; Saturday 12 – 7 p.m. If you are in the vicinity and are driving by, look for the Copper Collar flag outside Suite 126. If it is flying then Scott and/or Jason are on the premises. If you want to visit outside of their regular business hours or utilize their venue for a private function then call or email Scott or Jason to request a time to visit. Scott Nixon 619.758.5926, firstname.lastname@example.org; Jason Pelle 812.704.2527, email@example.com. CopperCollarDistillery.com
Distillates: Various vodkas, various gins, various rums, bourbon whiskey, single malt whiskey, moonshine, various mixers and a number of canned cocktails.
So you sell your craft brewery for a billion dollars and then what? A nice big yacht to cruise the Caribbean? A downpayment on the Falcon 8X private jet? Not for the Ballast Point guys. Clearly of the “go big or go home” mold, they are doubling down and have built a large distillery and packaging plant with a restaurant on the way. It is located in Miramar not too far from their old stomping grounds and they have named it Cutwater Spirits. As part of the sale of Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, the now Cutwater guys managed to negotiate to keep the entire spirits side of the business including individual product names and lots of tasty stuff currently getting happy in barrels. Here’s the official blurb straight from the pioneering team:
”At Cutwater, we are dauntless spirits. We’re always focused on the horizon, the road ahead. We’re just hardwired that way. Armed with some heavy experience, hard earned awards and boundless energy, we’re charging ahead to carve out our place in the global spirits industry. At Cutwater we make stuff we like, share it with friends, and invite all who share our passion to join the journey.”
Location: 9750 Distribution Ave, San Diego, CA 92121. Tasting room and restaurant: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. CutwaterSpirits.com
Distillates: Henebery Celebrated Whiskey, a 90 proof rye whiskey.
Former casino pit boss Jesse Fanning married into a family whose wife Natalie’s ancestor, Matthew Henebery, was a distiller, importer and distributor of alcohol back in the late 1800s in Peoria, Illinois. After inheriting some old labels, letters and other ephemera, an idea was sparked and a new Henebery Whiskey was born. The whiskey has been distilled by a Los Angeles craft distillery for the past three and a half years and the Fannings are now in the process of building a distillery and tasting room in Vista. The current Henebery Celebrated Whiskey is infused with organic vanilla, cardamon and citrus which gives it a unique and interesting flavor profile. A bourbon and also single malt whiskey will soon be added to the lineup as well as a “barrel-aged cocktail program” that will only be available in the tasting room. The tasting room is scheduled to open sometime in March 2017.
Location: 2870 Scott St, Vista, CA 92081. Check out the website for the official opening date and tasting room hours. HeneberyWhiskey.com
Distillates: RX Vodka, which is unfiltered, 12 times distilled, 80 proof gluten-free and sugar-based; Valor Gin, influenced by “West Coast-style” craft beers at 94 proof with notes of Chinook hops, grapefruit and mint; Ugly, the company’s “California Moonshine” is 90 proof and made from premium 6-row malted barley; and Ugly “Rise and Shine” is similar to its ugly sister but naturally caffeinated with Dark Horse Coffee Roasters’ premium Brazilian coffee beans.
Former Queens, New York native Ray Digilio moved to California and worked in the aerospace procurement business before making the leap to craft distilling in 2011 in what is now considered the early days of California craft distilling, establishing the original Kill Devil Spirit Co in Spring Valley. Self-financed and cobbling together what little he could at the time, Digilio initially distributed his brand through wholesale “cash and carry” liquor stores in San Diego. After a couple of years, Digilio managed to get his product into a major distributor and it was going through this process that he really learned a lot about the US liquor distribution business and specifically how that relates to smaller craft boutique distillers. Digilio has used that experience to operate as a consultant to other distillers and continues to operate Kill Devil though currently as a roving distiller, utilizing the still at Copper Collar Distillery in Santee while he contemplates his next steps for growth.
Tasting room: See Copper Collar Distillery
To contact Ray: 1.888.399.4961 or email Info@KillDevilSpiritCo.com. KillDevilSpiritCo.com
Distillates: A four-grain (corn, wheat, rye, barley) 90 proof whiskey aged in “a Solera system generally reserved for fine Cognacs and brandies,” as well as a “Navy Strength White Rum” that’s 123 proof, a 90 proof white rum, and a 90 proof spiced rum. Also in the works are a “barrel-rested” gin, a barrel-aged rum, and a dark-aged spiced rum.
Liberty Call is the onboard announcement that informs navy personnel that they can now leave their vessel once docked in port and go ashore for a prescribed number of hours. Bill Rogers, a Coronado homebrewer, gave a liberty call to his 401K and used the proceeds to invest in a distillery. He was initially granted a Type 4 license in 2014 and received one of the first Type 74 licenses in 2016. Not too long after, partner and distiller Steve Grella officially joined after he completed his navy career. Then Bill and Steve brought in brewer Addison Toth as the final piece of this distilling triumvirate. In addition to distilling under their Liberty Call brand, the guys also private label for others.
Location: 2739 Via Orange Way Suite 110, Spring Valley, CA 91978. Tasting room: Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. (by appointment only; reservations can be made online); Friday 5 – 8 p.m.; Saturday 12 – 7 p.m.; Sunday 1 – 5 p.m. “Drop-ins welcome on the weekends!” Phone: 619.630.1240. Email: Info@LibertyCallDistilling.com. LibertyCallDistilling.com
Distillates: Numerous rums including white, spiced, black tea, ginger, and one aged in cabernet barrels; bourbon whiskey; rye whiskey; four-grain vodka.
Former investment portfolio managers Ken Lee and Tom Bleakley both with homebrewing and home winemaking experience teamed up with a mutual friend and self proclaimed “serial entrepreneur” Tony Grillo to create Malahat, named after a rum-running schooner that plied its trade on the West Coast during Prohibition. By doing tons of their own R&D and selecting only the finest ingredients, the Malahat guys have set themselves on a course for excellence. “We seek out extraordinary ingredients, combine traditional techniques with experimentation, and handcraft it all from scratch to make the finest spirits. We are proud of every drop and will only produce what we love to drink ourselves.”
Location: 8706 Production Ave, San Diego, CA 92121. Tasting room: Friday & Saturday 12 – 7 p.m (last tasting at 6:30 p.m.). Private tastings available by appointment 858.999.2326. RumRunner@MalahatSpirits.com
Distillates: “San Miguel Southwestern Gin”; “Barrelflag Navy Strength Rum”; “Ampersand Cold Pressed Coffee Liqueur”
Michael Skubic was the first employee at Mike Hess Brewing Co. Skubic readily admits however that his go-to drinks have always been whiskey and gin and he took a little time touring Portland, Oregon’s distilleries before setting up shop on the eastern edge of the East Village area downtown with sidekick Ricky Warner, a fellow distiller and VP of Operations. Old Harbor Distilling Co. is primarily a production facility and their tasty wares are distributed all over California. That said, they do have a tasting room that is by appointment only. Their coffee liqueur, Ampersand, is a collaboration with locals Coffee & Tea Collective.
Location: 270 17th St, San Diego, CA 92101. Call 619.630.7048 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to visit. OldHarborDistilling.com
Distillates: 100 proof rum, 100 proof whiskey.
David Jackson, former bouncer and bar/nightclub manager, quotes Jay Z in describing his approach craft distilling: “Far from a Harvard student, just had the balls to do it.” From time spent on the other side of the bar, Jackson clearly understands the upmarket consumer he is going after and his “narrow focus” is on “small batch and high quality” for Perfect Soul’s whiskey and rum.
Location: 215 S Pacific St #104, San Marcos, CA 92078. Tasting Room: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 4 – 9 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday 12 – 5 p.m. Phone: 760.644.6806. PerfectSoulWhiskey.com
SAN DIEGO DISTILLERY
Distillates: Bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, American single malt whiskey, rye whiskey, peated whiskey, craft beer whiskey and the occasional rum.
Trent Tilton, a former brewer, is making some very interesting distillates with a primary focus on whiskey. Tilton is by his own admission “super experimental” and a tasty American single malt whiskey based on his Russian imperial stout homebrew is, dare I say it, proof positive. There’s some “peaty” whiskey on hand too, made with peated barley imported from Scotland and an different take on a bourbon that is made with a relatively high percentage of Vienna malt in the corn mash. Should you become anxious and develop heart palpitations when trying to decide which of the plethora of deliciousness you are going to sample… fear not, Tilton is also a registered nurse.
Location: 2766 Via Orange Way Suite H Spring Valley, CA 91978. Tasting Room: Friday 4 – 8 p.m.; Saturday 1 – 7 p.m.; Sunday 1 – 5 p.m.; Monday through Thursday call 619.361.1525 or email via website for appointment. SDDistillery.com
Distillates: Various grape brandies finished in different barrels, 100 proof wheat whiskey infused with honey, and a couple 100 proof “specialty spirits” based on a wheat and barley grain bill: Blueberry/Honey as well as Apple Pie Sunshine with a honey infusion, red ambrosia, Granny Smith apples and cinnamon. A rye whiskey aged in red wine barrels is also planned.
A machinist and welder by trade with a homebrewing background, Paul Markham is the founder and distiller at San Diego Sunshine Craft Spirits. Paul opened the distillery in 2015 and in 2016 he applied for and received a Type 74 license. Paul’s machinist skills are clearly a valuable asset in a distillery; he built his own still which he is currently planning on converting into a continuous still. His DIY and openly espoused “farm to table” ethos even carries over to the avocado honey that’s used in some of his distillates, which comes from hives that he and his wife Amanda maintain at their home not too far from the distillery. The blueberries in the flavored moonshine are also locally sourced as are the grapes for his brandy. In addition to distilling brandy for San Diego Sunshine, Paul also operates as a contract distiller making brandy for some of the thirty or so vineyards in the immediate region. San Diego Sunshine products are also available in limited distribution in liquor stores and restaurants across San Diego County.
Location: 432 Maple Street, Suite 6, Ramona, CA 92065. Tasting room: Thursday through Sunday 12 – 9 p.m. and by appointment. The distillery is also available for private functions. Phone: 619.820.3379. SanDiegoSunshine.com
SEVEN CAVES DISTILLING CO.
Distillates: All ultra-small batch creations including a bourbon-influenced, whiskey-centric rum which is currently available. Various whiskeys and bourbon will be available in the not too distant future. In addition, “non-traditional gins, absinthe, eau de vie and other spirits are in the works.”
Geoff Longnecker, a lawyer by training and long-time San Diegan resident, grew up in the South and went to school in both Kentucky and New Orleans. In addition to being a homebrewer of twenty years plus, he is also an accomplished cook, both of which seemingly underlie his philosophy that “everything at Seven Caves is single barrel, single batch and every batch is different.” Longnecker believes that “uniformity at the craft level is not the way to go. I think when you have uniformity in flavor you’re losing some of the creativity that this process allows you.” From the Kentucky bourbon barrels used for aging his rum, to specially-selected sugar and molasses from his youth in Louisiana, everything is selected with care and attention, and it shows.
Tasting room will be open in the summer of 2017. By appointment only 619.300.1624. The7Caves.com
Distillates: Whiskey, gin, vodka.
“Purveyors of Fun” is Swinford Spirits’ motto and it shows up in their distillates. Brothers Jason and John Swinford are clearly focused on building separate and differentiated brands for their products. “Lumberjack Lily” is a Canadian whiskey infused with toasted quinoa and organic ginger, “Foxlore Gin” is a citrus-forward gin with the “juniper dialed way back” and “Lingo Vodka” is a six times distilled organic wheat-based vodka that comes with an infuser in the bottle so you can flavor your very own vodka if and as you so desire.
Location: 5980 Fairmount Ave #103, San Diego, CA 92120. Tasting room: Tuesday through Saturday 12 – 7 p.m.; Sunday 12 – 5 p.m.; closed Mondays. SwinfordSpirits.com
Distillates: “Y&Y Vodka” is an “American style vodka made from potatoes, grapes and corn” and “Sunday Gin” is a “modern gin with juniper and citrus up front and floral notes on back.”
Texas native Laura Johnson’s initial “a-ha” distilling moment came relatively early when in her late teens she visited the original Old Havana Club Distillery in Cuba with her dad. Now that’s the cultural exchange I am talking about! Over the years her interest in distilling grew and she eventually took the time to travel to numerous craft distilleries in the US in an effort to continue learning. After graduating with an economics and international business degree at USD, Laura’s passion for distilling continued, so to further her distillation education, she enrolled in the Distilling School program at Dry Fly in Spokane, Washington, and she also attended the Distilled Spirits Epicenter’s Master Distiller’s course in Louisville, Kentucky. With that pedigree, San Diego’s craft distillate fans are going to be truly happy that she has decided to set up her still here. For a little more about Laura, check out her blog at Distillerista.com
Location: 1495 G Street, San Diego, CA 92101. “You & Yours Distilling Co” opened to the public in March 2017. Tasting room: Thursday & Friday 4 -10 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday 12 – 10 p.m. YouAndYours.com
COMING SOON: The distillery formerly known as Generous Spirits.
Planned distillates: Gin, rum, whiskies – both traditional and “alt”
Santa Barbara native Justin McCabe is armed with a doctorate in chemistry from UCSD and a background in homebrewing. He currently teaches chemistry at a high school in the Carlsbad area (insert “Breaking Bad” joke here). Justin has also taken courses at the Artisan Distilling Institute in Washington and has a Gatling Still Works “steam infusion still” on order. Due to a conflict in usage, Justin had to change the planned distillery’s name from “Generous Spirits” and the new name is in the process of clearing the various hurdles to avoid the same issue; it will be announced as soon as it is secured.
Location: 2332 La Mirada Dr, #800, Vista, CA 92081 (same business park as Aztec Brewery). Opening: TBA – later in 2017
California Distilling License: The Basics
Established by The Craft Distillers Act of 2015 (AB1295), this bill was aimed specifically at artisanal distilleries producing less than 100,000 gallons of distillate a year. Beginning on January 1, 2016, distillers were granted new privileges, such as the ability to serve their spirits on-site in up to 1.5 ounce tastings or as part of a small cocktail with a non-alcoholic mixer, sell their spirits to-go in amounts up to 2.25 liters (such as 3 x 750mL bottles), host private events, and own a restaurant on the distilling premises. If a restaurant is built on-site, a full bar is allowed — including beer, wine and more — though other companies’ spirits must also be made available.