More and more, spirits are among the local ingredients being used in cocktails around San Luis Obispo County.
About a dozen distilleries have sprouted up around the county in the past few years, capitalizing on the abundance of the local grape harvest, as well as a bounty of other produce and plants used in making high-quality spirits.
Some have already banded together in a new nonprofit group, Distillers of SLO County, to promote a distillery trail. And with at least a dozen other wineries already holding spirits production licenses, expect more to come.
Hungarian and American oak-finished grape brandies and grappa made by winemaker and former aviation engineer Steve Autry on his hand-built still. Next up is an an apple brandy, aging in Autry’s custom-toasted barrels.
Tasting $5, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
5450 Edna Road, San Luis Obispo. 805-546-8669. www.autrycellars.com.
Bethel Road Distillery
Fruit brandy and grappas made with moscato and primitivo from Castoro Cellars’ Udsen family. The Udsens are in the midst of building a 2,500-square-foot distillery and tasting room across from the winery they hope will be complete by early next year.
Tasting coming soon.
1266 N. Bethel Road, Templeton. 805-610-2178. www.bethelrddistillery.com.
KroBār Craft Distillery
Rye whiskey, gin and neutral brandy from Stephen Kroener and Joe Barton of Barton Family Wines. Coming soon is the Bitter Project, which will offer flavored cocktail bitters, bitter liqueur, sweet vermouth and a white wine apéritif.
Tasting $15, by appointment.
2174 Highway 46 West, Paso Robles. 805-467-9463. www.krobardistillery.com.
Pear brandy, muscat blanc grappa and walnut liqueur nocino, from the winery known for its popular zinfandel. Its brandy, which is unaged, won best of show at the new craft spirits category at the 2016 Central Coast Wine Competition.
Tasting $12, 12 to 4 p.m. Saturday through Sunday or by appointment.
7110 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles. 805-238-9593. www.opolo.com.
Port-finished viognier brandy, zinfandel grappa and plum liqueur from the makers of Paso Port, who started distilling to fortify their port with their own brandy. In addition to spirits and a full line of ports, Steve Glossner also makes wines under the Per Cazo label.
Tasting $10 including wine/port, waived with purchase. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday.
95 Booker Road, Templeton, 805-239-2229. www.pasoportwine.com.
Vodka, gin, limoncello, rye whiskey, cucumber and barrel-finished vodka and a limited release kumquat liqueur from Villicana Winery’s Alex and Monica Villicana. The couple is renovating Paso’s old Fox theater to expand whiskey production and offer a second tasting location.
Tasting $10 including wines, waived with purchase. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
2725 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles. 805-239-9456. www.refinddistillery.com.
Red Soles Stillhouse
California hooch (new brandy), cinnamon hooch and limoncello from Red Soles Winery’s Randy and Cheryl Phillips. They’ve also created a high-proof Absinthe Verte, adding anise, fennel and wormwood and other herbs to the base brandy.
Tasting $10 including wine, waived with two bottle purchase. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
3230 Oakdale Road, Paso Robles. 805-226-9898. www.redsolesstillhouse.com.
Flavored brandies including hibiscus lemon, mango ginger black pepper, burned orange and cinnamon from a Tin City distillery that sources grape juice from area vineyards. They also bottle whiskey and brandy Manhattan cocktails with house-made vermouth and bitters.
Tasting 1 to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday or by appointment.
3064 Limestone Way, Paso Robles. 805-286-4453. www.wineshine.com.
BY THE DRINK OR BOTTLE
These companies don’t have tasting rooms, but their products can be found in area stores, bars and restaurants.
Apple cider vodka distilled by friends Ryan Horn and David Vondrasek at Horn’s winery equipment and custom crush business, Vintner Vault, with plans for grape vodka, brandy, rum and gin to come.
Calivore Spirits Co.
Blonde and spiced rum mellowed in wine barrels and a gin made from grapes and Big Sur botanicals from a startup hatched by Aaron Bergh through Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the SLO HotHouse.
Bixby dry gin produced in Monterey County by San Luis Obispo-based Trevor Peterson with ingredients primarily grown in his backyard or foraged in Big Sur, where the Bixby name comes from.
SLO Bitter Co.
Small-batch artisan bitters including lavender, grapefruit chili, chicory coffee and charred cedar and blackstrap using Re:Find’s spirits as the base from husband and wife team Matthew Hanson, also spirits director at Fish Gaucho, along with Robin Wolf.
Going Old School
One other Paso Robles winemaker has gotten into the spirits game — in Kentucky.
While most local winemakers-turned-distillers are forging new ground in the spirits world, Hope Family Vineyards vintner Austin Hope is returning to its roots, resurrected one of pre-Prohibition’s best-known rye whiskey brands, Highspire, established in 1823.
Hope — whose wine labels include Liberty School, Candor, Treana and Troublemaker — partnered with a long-standing 1,500-acre farm in Crestwood, Kentucky, to grow the rye, which is sent to the distillery less than a mile away, where it’s boiled, distilled and aged in red wine barrels from his winery with toasted oak staves for just 120 days before being bottled.
The swift-aging process allows the flavor of the rye — 100 percent single varietal Rhymin rye, with no added barley or corn mash — to shine, Hope said. He is working with the farmer to experiment with heirloom grains to bring even more authenticity to the project.
www.highspirewhiskey.com, available in restaurants, bars and stores nationwide.
Into the mix
To go along with your spirits, local or otherwise, there are now locally made mixers to help you whip up fancy cocktails in a snap.
▪ Yes Artisan Beverages, made by Brandon Alpert and Lauren Butler in Cayucos, offers a line of bottled mixers made from fresh produce without preservatives, corn syrup or artificial flavorings. The creations, with flavors including classic Old Fashioned and Moscow Mule to the inventive like sriracha margarita, blueberry basil and rhubarb vanilla, are available at area farmers markets and online, where you’ll find recipes to get you mixing. www.yesbeverages.com.
▪ Root Elixers offers “soda with spirit,” carbonated mixers in ginger beer, strawberry lavender and grapefruit jalapeño. The creations of Dominique Gonzales, the mixers can be found behind the bar at Novo and Granada Bistro as well as for sale in refillable growlers at The Station wine shop in San Luis Obispo. www.facebook.com/rootelixirs.