The Winter Spirit
By Zachary Rosen
Photos courtsey of said Distillery
As the winter months set in and after a long year (or two), people are looking for some warming comfort. A hot cocktail or sweet, smoky bourbon can give a little liquid hug to bring some support to the long cold nights. Taste your way through this range of wintery local spirits for some uplifting flavors and a touch of solace in your glass.
Channel Islands Distillery
Warm grog, hot buttered rum, and even a boozy chai tea all have a place on the list of winter cocktails, with the buttery caramel character of rum naturally lending itself to warm drinks. During Prohibition, Ventura County and the surrounding areas had a rich tradition of rum-running. The Channel Islands were known to be a secret space for bootleggers to store their rum, hiding their boats on the back side of the islands. It is in this spirit that Channel Islands Distillery in Ventura produces their two flagship rums. Their Signature Silver Rum is produced from organic roasted whole cane sugar and molasses, and distilled in a traditional pot still to produce the slightly sweet, clean-tasting flavor that silver rum is known for. The same distillate (liquid from the still) is then aged in American oak barrels to give the vanilla and turbinado character of their Signature Aged Rum. Along with the occasional limited-edition Po Uila Over-Proofed Rum and Grey Ghost Extra Dark Rum, any of these will make a pleasant addition to your next winter warmer.
Visit cistill.com for a list of Central Coast shops and bars that stock these well-rounded rums.
Foggy Bottom Distillery
On a cold night it is sometimes pleasant to just have a sip of something complex that can warm the chest and busy the mind. Foggy Bottom Distillery produces just that. This small distillery, which used to be a storage closet behind a Mexican restaurant in Los Osos, is a one-man show with Todd Adams distilling and serving micro-batches of craft spirits. From rye whiskey to spiced rum, Todd often has several dozen different products available, and these small batches offer some unique blends that you will not find anywhere else. Uphill Fallout, a fruited corn whiskey, is one of the more complex ones. Orange, lemon, cranberry, pomegranate, and blueberry are added during distillation to give the whiskey an intricate aroma that doesn’t detract from its light, clean character. The corn whiskey is then briefly aged in toasted Hungarian barrels traditionally used for wine, which gives it a more neutral oak character and less smokiness than a bourbon barrel, which is charred. If you’re looking for a stronger barrel character, an aged version of Uphill Fallout called Black Sunshine will soon be released. The Barrel Rested Gin uses the same base fruits as the corn whiskey, along with nine other botanicals to give it a West Coast-style flavor that is citrus-forward and light on the distinctive juniper flavor that London-style gins are known for. The gin is aged in a charred barrel, but only for a short amount of time, to give it a light golden color and pick up some of the roasty oak notes of the wood.
The small batches from Foggy Bottom are not available online or in any stores. They can only be sampled and purchased at the distillery. Visit their tasting room at 905 Los Osos Valley Rd. in Los Osos on the weekends (Saturday noon to 7 pm and Sunday noon to 6 pm) or contact Todd through their website at fbdistillery.com to arrange a pick-up order.
KROBĀR Craft Distillery
Whether it is an Irish coffee, hot toddy, or even just on the rocks, the world of whiskey is always a comforting fit for the winter months. The brown sugar and smoky oak character of bourbon make a natural accomplice to the crackling warmth of an open fireplace. Over the years, rye whiskey has become increasingly more popular. In both beer and whiskey, rye grain has a distinct spicy bread-like character to it that is known to smooth out the other flavors. Over at KROBĀR Craft Distillery in Paso Robles, they are producing several bourbons and rye whiskeys, in addition to a range of other spirits like their hearty Navy Strength Golden Rum. This distillery is the creation of Stephen Kroener and Joe Barton, and together they combine more than 40 years of experience in the alcohol industry.
KROBĀR has two rye whiskeys currently being offered. Each one brings the full flavor of the grain, using only rye (95 percent rye and 5 percent malted rye), stronger charred barrels, and a longer barrel aging process of over four to five years. The extended aging and toastier barrels lace the distinctive American oak character of vanilla and caramel to each of these whiskeys. The KROBĀR Straight Rye Whiskey lets the rye shine while letting more of the oak come through with a hint of crème brûlée and kirsch in the nose. They also have a more robust KROBĀR Cask Strength Straight Rye Whiskey. Spirits are typically aged in barrels at a stronger proof and then blended down with water to the final alcohol content in the bottle. Cask strength releases, however, give the drinker the chance to try the full power of the spirit found in the cask. These special editions are usually from a single barrel, and only released in a small batch. At 57% ABV (114 proof), the KROBĀR Cask Strength Rye Whiskey still has the essence of their rye, with the added warmth of the increased alcohol content.
Now with a second location in San Luis Obispo, visit either of their distillery and tasting rooms for a tour, taste, or to just pick up a bottle. KROBĀR Paso is located at 2174 W. Highway 46; in SLO, find them at 10 Higuera St. For more, visit krobardistillery.com.
Sespe Creek Distillery
If you’re looking for a whiskey with a twist, then look no further than Warbringer Bourbon from Sespe Creek Distillery in Oxnard. This distillery is the brainchild of David Brandt, PhD. With several degrees and 20 years in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, David brings the technical expertise, experience, and passion needed to run the large stills of Sespe Creek Distillery, which aims to be a national brand. David was also one of the founders of L.A.’s renowned Lost Spirits Distillery, known as the “Willy Wonka of distilleries,” and he left there to start Sespe Creek, bringing the same level of success to the new distillery that he brought to Lost Spirits. After only a few years of being open, Sespe’s Warbringer Bourbon and Silvergrin Vodka have collectively won several dozen awards.
Warbringer Bourbon is a mesquite smoked whiskey with a southwestern flare. Sespe smokes the corn used in the bourbon with mesquite on a farm in Camarillo, just a mile from the ocean; the higher humidity in the air there helps bring a smokier character to the corn. The base liquid headed to the still (known as the wash) is fermented in wooden cypress fermentation tanks — and Sespe Creek is the only one in Southern California to do this. The wood fermenters naturally harbor microflora that promotes anaerobic fermentation, adding complexity to the flavors of the bourbon. Bourbon, by definition, has to use freshly-charred American oak; however, David selected Minnesota wood over the more familiar Missouri or Tennessee barrels. It has a denser grain that lowers the liquid’s ability to breathe in the barrel (known as extraction rate), giving the bourbon more of a butterscotch note and restraining the vanilla character American oak is traditionally known for. The Warbringer is then finished in premium Pedro Ximénez sherry barrels to give it a rich finish.
With all the different flavors going on, David notes that the bourbon was designed to be approachable and not so esoteric that it only appeals to a few palates, describing it as “the bastard child of bourbon and mezcal.” David also produces a special Warmaster Edition in collaboration with former UFC Heavyweight Champion “The Warmaster” Josh Barnett. This version is a cask strength, single barrel release that unloads the full weight of this whiskey. David notes that Josh is not just a figurehead; he works full days at the distillery for the release and brings his own knowledge and passion for whiskey.
Visit warbringerbourbon.com to purchase a bottle of this smoky specialty, and sespecreekspirits.com for info on Sespe Creek Distillery.
The peppery flavor of tequila can liven up the chilly weather at any time. “Tequila” is a controlled term and any spirit donning its name must be made in specific regions around the city of Tequila in the central western Mexican state of Jalisco, using only the indigenous blue agave plant. If the spirit is produced outside of this region, it is known as an “agave spirit.” While all of the blue agave used in the line of agave spirits from DorWood Distillery come from organic farmers in the Jalisco region, their flavors are purely Central Coast. When Jay Lockwood was first approached in 2013 by his brother and business partner Jeff and his wife Joanne about starting a craft distillery, his first impulse was to make his own tequila. After a year of research, the two brothers opened the distillery in downtown Buellton, and today offer seven different spirits with more to come, including a line of canned cocktails.
Every product that Jay produces focuses on smooth, balanced flavors that can be sipped on by themselves at room temperature. Keeping liquor ice cold is a sneaky way to hide its flaws so he feels that if all of his spirits taste good at room temperature then they stand up to his quality test. This is best seen in his silver agave spirit, Agave Blanco, which won a bronze medal at the 2019 San Diego World Spirit Competition. It has a rounded, semi-sweet flavor with a hint of white pepper. Jay will occasionally produce an aged version, Agave Rojizo Reposado, that uses pinot noir barrels. Rojizo means reddish in Spanish and this agave spirit picks up some of the grape notes of these distinct barrels. While the different agave spirits can warm the chest, the Habapeño Limoncello will bring another kind of heat into the mix. This spicy edition of his regular limoncello uses a jalapeño and habanero puree to give the slightly sweet lemon liqueur its distinct heat. Just as with his other line of products, the Habapeño Limoncello can be sipped by itself, with a gentle spiciness that lingers in the chest but never overwhelms the palate. As Jay puts it, “The Habapeño Limoncello won’t burn your face off, but will make your tongue dance.” It also blends perfectly with his agave spirits to make a spicy margarita that will add a zesty warmth to the cool winter days.
Visit dorwood-distillery.com to purchase a bottle, or three (which has free shipping in California) or visit the tasting room at 201 Industrial Way #D, Buellton. It’s open every day except Wednesdays from 11 am to 5 pm.
Cutler’s Artisan Spirits
Cool weather and desserts are a natural fit, and Cutler’s Artisan Spirits in Santa Barbara produces two liqueurs that pair perfectly with the winter months. Owner and head distiller Ian Cutler is dedicated to using only premium ingredients, with no extracts or artificial ingredients and likes to keep the sweetness balanced in his liqueurs so that they can be sipped by themselves on the rocks or warmed. The Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur uses a Colombian roast from Santa Barbara Roasting Company and gets its earthy chocolate notes from the addition of chicory, vanilla beans, and cacao from local Twenty-Four Blackbirds Chocolates. In addition to apples, Grandma Tommie’s Apple Pie Liqueur contains organic cinnamon, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and a secret blend of spices to capture the flavor and memory of his grandma’s apple pie recipe.
Ian uses his vodka as a base for both liqueurs, with the neutral flavor of vodka allowing him to build the flavors exactly as he intends and making it easier to blend into cocktails. He recommends either of the liqueurs with cream and additional vodka. The coffee liqueur creates a roastier White Russian, and the apple pie produces a cocktail that tastes like melted ice cream. Of course, both go wonderfully with a winter dessert — try the coffee liqueur with a chocolate lava cake, or naturally, the apple pie liqueur alongside a slice of apple pie à la mode. Andersen’s Danish Bakery & Restaurant in Santa Barbara makes a Cutler’s Apple Pie cake, eclairs, and other delicacies with Ian’s liqueurs. Either liqueur will make a sweet end to a wintery night.
Visit them at 137 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara to give these sweet somethings a taste, and cutlersartisan.com for more information.