SLO County named a top craft spirits destination in U.S.

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Daniel Green, co-owner of Whiskey & June in Atascadero, demonstrates how to make a Whiskey Sour cocktail.
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Daniel Green, co-owner of Whiskey & June in Atascadero, demonstrates how to make a Whiskey Sour cocktail.

San Luis Obispo County has been named a top craft spirits tourism destination by Travelocity and the American Distilling Institute.

The county ranked fifth among small metro areas in a new craft spirits tourism index created by the travel booking website and the trade group to “help people find the best places to experience craft spirits and the artisans who create them.”

The index highlights the Paso Robles Distillery Trail, describing it as “a 23-mile-long trail that incorporates some of San Luis Obispo County’s best craft distilleries into an easily drivable scenic tour of Central California.”

Alex Villicana, co-owner of Re:Find Distillery and a pioneer of Paso’s growing spirits scene, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the area rank even higher within a few years. California only passed craft spirits legislation last year, while states like Oregon and Washington have had it for about eight years.

“You’re going to see an acceleration in the number of distilleries here over the next couple years,” Villicana said. “Plus, we’ve got the infrastructure. We’re a cool, touristy area with wineries, breweries, cideries — all the fun stuff.”

The index considered factors including the number of craft distilleries by population, density of the distilleries, awards, accessibility by air and hotel cost. It was created to meet travelers’ increasing interest in local, authentic experiences, according to a news release from Travelocity.

You’re going to see an acceleration in the number of distilleries here over the next couple years.

Alex Villicana, co-owner of Re:Find Distillery

The index also reflects the explosive growth in local distilleries in recent years.

In 1880, there were more than 5,000 distilleries in the United States, most of which were small local producers, according to Eric Zandona, director of spirits information for the American Distilling Institute. A hundred years later, following Prohibition and market consolidation, there were less than 100, almost all large, national distilleries.

Today, there are about 1,000 small, craft distilleries around the country, Zandona said, a number that’s on pace to double over the next three to five years.

In San Luis Obispo County, the Paso Robles Distillery Trail counts 10 member distilleries, with a couple other existing local producers and a few more set to come online soon, according to Villicana.

Coming in ahead of the county in the small markets category are Corvallis, Oregon; Wenatchee, Washington; Kingston, New York; and Boulder, Colorado. The top five large metro areas on the index are: Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; Washington, D.C.; and San Diego.

Travelers can explore and book trips to the 20 locations on the index at, which aggregates flights, hotels, packages and more. Site bookings of experiences related to beer, wine, spirits and cooking increased 150 percent in 2016 over the previous year, according to press materials, “demonstrating interest in learning about local culinary and beverage offerings.”

Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at or on Twitter @sallybuffalo.

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