Distilling is a tradition as old as time, but it was only just recently that a craft distilling presence emerged in San Diego. While the numbers remain small--less than ten are currently open to the public, with more expected soon--local industry players are optimistic of an inevitable growth, citing San Diego as the ideal location to spearhead a revolution in distillation technique and design. Why? Ray Digilio, founder and distiller of Kill Devil Spirit Company and president of the San Diego's Distillers Guild, says it’s because the people here are open minded and willing to try something new, as tested and proven by the booming success of the craft brewing movement over the past two decades; in fact, some of the distilleries featured here also have successful breweries tied to their name (like Ballast Point and Twisted Manzanita). Although still in its early stages, the San Diego craft spirit movement is a prime example of a grassroots amassing of people who share a common devotion and zeal for the craft of distillation. Eater San Diego reached out to the six forerunning local distilleries to find out a little more about who they are, what they have to offer, and what we can expect for the future. Here, the distillers explain in their own words...
KILL DEVIL SPIRIT CO.
Location: 2766 Via Orange Way, Spring Valley, CA 91978
Kill Devil Spirit Co. was established in 2011 in San Diego, CA by a small group of like-minded, rebellious geeks. The company is committed to the hand manufacture of world class spirits and testing the boundaries of traditional distilling practices. With every bottle produced the operation seeks to achieve a self-sustainability which contributes to local, global and environmental prosperity.
What they serve: The spirits they currently produce are Ugly California Moonshine, Ugly California Rise & Shine (In collaboration with Dark Horse Coffee Roasters), Rx Unfiltered Vodka, and Valor West Coast Gin.
Where you can find it: Their spirits are located all around the City of San Diego. To find the location nearest you, go their website and hit the "Find" tab. Some of Kill Devil’s key accounts include: Harrah's Rincon Casino, The Tipsy Crow, Cat Eye Club, PB Ale House, Seven Grand, Krisp Organic Market, Keg n’ Bottle, Texas Wine and Liquor, and Holiday Wine Cellar.
Future plans: As of October 2014 Kill Devil Spirits started the launch of a very unique craft whiskey program. All of the whiskeys released will be small batch spirits inspired by craft beer recipes and styles. These products will be available for purchase by spring/summer 2015 through the Southern Wine & Spirit Artisanal Catalogue. You can find keep up to date on their latest releases by following their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter profiles.
LIBERTY CALL DISTILLING
Location: 2739 Via Orange Way Suite 110, Spring Valley, CA 91978
Bold, inventive, and definitely delicious. That’s how Liberty Call Distilling hopes to define itself. The distillery was first conceived in early 2011, during many conversations about whiskey and the differences between today's whiskey versus what was available before Prohibition. After much debate and research, owner and founder Bill Rogers was given the go-ahead by his wife in April of 2013 and began the licensing paperwork required by the TTB (Fed's) and the ABC (California). They have now successfully set up shop and just got their final license last week and the inaugural distilling commenced over the weekend. What makes Liberty Call so exciting is their commitment and mission to do something completely different. They’re not trying to mimic a great recipe that already exists and they don’t intend to compete with anyone. As Rogers said, "If you want a great Bourbon you can find them in Kentucky. Great Single Malts are from Scotland. And nobody can compete with Mexican Tequila. We are trying to come up with new recipes and styles that will be unique to San Diego."
What they serve: They will launch with a White Rum, a Citrus Spiced Rum, and Dark Spiced Rum. They will also have a Moonshine.
Where you can find it: They have just started distilling at their current location and tasting room, and plan to be on shelves by the first of the year. Check their blog for updates.
Future plans: In the very near future they will have an aged rum, as well as their first aged whiskey. Although Rogers currently operates as a one-man-band, he has plans to bring on several different partners in the upcoming months following their launch. Stay tuned!
TWISTED MANZANITA SPIRITS
Location: 10149 Prospect Ave, Santee, CA 92071
Twisted Manzanita has been distilling for quite sometime now, but only within the last year did they open their distillery to the public. The idea behind their distillery was to create a place where both craft spirit enthusiasts and craft spirit novices alike could come to taste their product and learn more about the process behind small batch distilling.
What they serve: The list of products you can sample at their distillery tasting room include their: Orange Vodka, Rebellious Rye Whiskey, Limoncello, Apple Smack, Oaked Bacon Moonshine, Manzanita Moonshine (matured with Manzanita wood), Manzanita Rum, Manzanita Oaked Rum, Manzanita SoCal Moonshine, and their Manzanita Oaked Moonshine. The distillery tasting room is open Fridays and Saturdays from 5pm to 10pm.
Where you can find it: Currently, their SoCal Moonshine and SoCal Oaked Moonshine are the only two spirits available on the market, with the Rebellious Rye Whiskey set for their next release. To find specific locations, check out their handy Bottle Locator tool on their website.
Future plans: As far as anything they may have up their sleeve for down the road, the team at Twisted Manzanita hopes to continue their creative tradition that they started by pushing the envelope on what a craft spirit can be. At the same time, they want to introduce more people to the "Softer Side of Spirits" taste profile that they have created, embodied by a concept where you can enjoy all of the flavor without the burn of traditional liquors.
BALLAST POINT SPIRITS
Location: 10051 Old Grove Rd, San Diego, CA 92131
In 2008, San Diego’s beloved local brewers indulged their adventurous side (yet again) and fearlessly journeyed into the world of distilling. Perhaps considered a risky move when they already had a good thing going with their craft beer, the folks at Ballast Point Spirits explain their transitional venture with this simple statement: We make what we like to drink, and that doesn't stop at beer. Thus far, their brand of spirits has been greeted with a successful and warm reception, which likely has something to do with their use of the same meticulous strategies they applied to the brewing side of business. They didn’t just jump into this one without thinking it all the way through; they took their time, they studied traditions, they experimented with techniques, and the end result was award-winning spirits that the brand is truly proud of.
What they serve: Their product lineup includes 14 spirits and two mixers: Old Grove Gin, Old Grove Barrel Rested Gin, Fugu Vodka, four Fugu flavored Vodkas (Horchata, Habanero, Pina, and Jamaica), Three Sheets White Rum, Three Sheets Barrel Aged Rum, Three Sheets Spiced Rum, Devil's Share Single Malt Whiskey, Devil's Share Bourbon, Devil's Share Moonshine, Opah herbal liqueur, and their two cocktail mixers, Ballast Point Bloody Mary Mix and Ballast Point Mai Tai mix. They just released their Opah liqueur in October, and will be introducing the new Three Sheets Spiced Rum in November.
Where you can find it: Those interested in putting Ballast Point Spirits to the taste test can start by trying a few of the samplings offered in their Old Grove tasting room (located at 10051 Old Grove Road). They offer guided tastings daily at 1, 3, 5, and 7pm. Tastings are $10 and include a .25oz pour of 6 of their spirits. Otherwise, you can find the spirits for purchase at BevMo, Whole Foods, Vons, and the "better stocked" liquor stores in the area. They distribute spirits throughout California and in 6 other states.
Future plans: They are planning to release their third Three Sheets Rum product--spiced rum--by the end of November. Other than that, the folks at Ballast Point are always tinkering with new recipes…they just can't talk about any of them yet so you’ll have to wait and see!
OLD HARBOR DISTILLING CO.
Location: 270 17th St, San Diego, CA 92101
The brand spanking new Old Harbor Distilling Co. just opened its doors for business in a 7,500-square foot warehouse in the East Village as Eater San Diego reported last week. The founder and head distiller, Michael Skubic, is a well known presence on the local craft brew scene and his background includes a large role in Hess Brewing Company, of which he is the co-founder and formerly functioned as their head of sales. His talent, passion and affinity for craft beers led him to segue into a new pursuit of equal appeal, that of craft spirits. It took years to make his dream come to fruition, but Skubic is proud to announce that they are finally open.
The name Old Harbor Distilling Co. is derived from the fact that San Diego is the oldest harbor in California; it was discovered in 1542 by Cabrillo, but he originally called it San Miguel, which is also the name of Old Harbor’s first release. A "Southwestern Gin" meaning that they used botanicals typically found in southwestern or Mexican cuisine.
What they serve: Their spirits line includes gin, rum, rye, bourbon, whiskey and a coffee liqueur made in collaboration with Coffee & Tea Collective. Old Harbor's San Miguel gin is made with fresh local ingredients picked the day of distilling at Suzie's Farm, including cilantro, sage and cucumber; bottles should be at stores and bars come November. California Law dictates that they can only serve six 1/4 ounce tastes per customer per day so Skubic says they will be serving whatever they have on hand at the time. Right now that is only the San Miguel Gin, but lots of future products are on the way.
Where you can find it: The gin will be out in bars in November at some cool spots like Sycamore Den, Coin-Op, Rare Form and more. If you can’t wait until then, you can book a tour of the distillery via Old Harbor’s website. The tours start at 4, 5, and 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays. The $10 tours include a detailed explanation of their distilling process and a visit to the 600-square-foot tasting room for six quarter-ounce spirit samplings, which come with a keeper glass.
Future plans: Going forward, the distillery will release a new spirit every month or so; rolling out soon will be Barrelflag, a navy strength white rum, plus a barrel-aged version, aged for a minimum of six months. Ampersand, a coffee liqueur made with Coffee & Tea Collective, is in the works as is a gin called 1542 made with native botanicals, including California juniper, sagebrush and lemon verbena. Scubic also says he plans to start creating batches of hopped amaro using IPA's from different local breweries including Societe Brewing Co, Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery and Mike Hess Brewing. Old Harbor is also working hard on their whiskey program and will be releasing four regular whiskies--Bourbon, Rye, Single Malt and Smoked Single Malt--but intend to throw in a handful of special editions now and then.
Location: 8706 Production Avenue, San Diego, CA 92121
Malahat Spirits was started by three friends, Ken Lee, Tony Grillo, and Tom Bleakely that set out to create the finest spirits for themselves, their friends and their families. Their belief was that the spirits industry had room for innovation and quality, and that they could be the ones to pioneer this so they set out to make the best spirits possible. For each Malahat spirit created, months were spent seeking out the best ingredients. The team combined traditional techniques with experimentation and handcrafted it all from scratch.
Their journey started over two years ago and every step of the way, no matter what the task, it was important for everyone to be a part of every aspect of the distillery to ensure their vision. All of their products started as experimental batches in their small sill, where recipes were refined before production. Their white Rum alone took months of experimental blends and many dozens of batches before finding that perfect blend. The Spiced Rum has won a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Malahat is proud of every drop they make. Fun fact: Their facility actually has artifacts from the Star of India and Maritime Museum throughout the distillery, as well as some props from a well known Hollywood movie.
What they serve: Currently, they serve three products that are on shelves: Rum, Spiced Rum and Ginger Rum. There is also a sampling of spirits that you can taste only at the distillery. They have seasonal samplings to try, like the Iced Tea Rum, and they are planning something special for the holidays. At the distillery you can sample the progress of their barrel aged rum and whiskey.
Where you can find it: Malahat is in many bars, restaurants, and retailers throughout San Diego. Restaurants include Polite Provisions, Sea and Smoke, Saiko Sushi, Patio on Goldfinch, and Rancho Valencia. Retailers include Krisp (in the Gaslamp) and Seaside Market (in Cardiff).
Future plans: They will continue to monitor the progress of their barreled aged rum and whiskey, and are thrilled with the direction they are headed. No spirit will be released until it is completely ready. They are always innovating so they may have some releases before then!