‘Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to get in the holiday spirit than by sipping Santa Barbara County spirits.
This winter, our local micro-distilleries have new craft creations ready for you to sample.
Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, with a distillery and tasting room in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone (137 Anacapa St., Suite D), recently built a tap system to serve cocktails, in addition to their tasting flights of small-batch whiskey, vodka and gin.
Fourth-generation distiller Ian Cutler produces a liqueur that “screams holiday season”—“Grandma Tommie’s Apple Pie” (40-proof). “We start with a seven-times-distilled vodka—a white canvas to build the apple pie flavor on top of,” he says. “It ends up tasting exactly like my grandmother’s apple pie.”
Cutler embraces his high-spirited family history. His great-grandfather, Duke Cutler, served up booze to gold miners at his Oakdale bar. During the Prohibition Era, Duke ran a successful moonshining operation in the Sierra Nevada Foothills before legally opening Duke’s Bar in 1933.
What does Cutler sip at home during the holidays? His favorite winter whiskey cocktail is Cutler’s “33 Straight Bourbon Whiskey” (86-proof), a bit of his housemade chocolate bitters, his pecan and walnut bitters, a twist of orange and a splash of maple syrup. This will surely warm you up on a dreary December night!
In Santa Ynez Valley, the former Brothers Spirits, owned by brothers Jay and Jeff Lockwood, recently changed its brand name to Dorwood Distillery (a combination of their mother’s maiden name and their last name).
Dorwood’s handcrafted straight-sipping “G7 Gin,” containing nine botanicals and less juniper than most gins, is sure to multiply holiday merriment. “This is not your dad’s gin!” says head distiller Jay Lockwood. “This is a cocktail in a bottle waiting to be poured over a glass of ice.”
Dorwood Distillery and Tasting Room (201 Industrial Way, Unit D, Buellton) also creates clean ever-so-sweet vodka from Santa Barbara County wine, distilling it four times and filtering it through coconut shell charcoal.
“We’re in wine country, and you can make vodka out of anything, so why not use wine? It’s a different mouth feel. It’s creamy, velvety. You can drink the vodka straight,” says Lockwood. “It’s actually converting people back to drinking vodka.”
“We don’t do tastings here; we do experiences. You can see and smell everything that’s happening inside the distillery at any time,” he adds.
Ascendant Spirits, offering tastings and tours (37 Industrial Way, Suite 103, Buellton), was the county’s first post-Prohibition distillery, founded in 2011 by master distiller, Steve Gertman, who opened the doors to the public in 2013. As of January, his products will be distributed in 50 states.
The distillery’s flagship, Breaker Bourbon (90-proof), barrel aged 6+ years, is something Santa would sip.
Breaker is Gertman’s “go to” drink during the holidays, “Usually just neat. I’m pretty simplistic like that. There’s a greater shift into the brown spirits during the chillier months. They seem to be more comforting, in some ways. Most folks gravitate more toward a bourbon drink.”
Ascendant also produces a unique variety of American Star vodkas; the “crystal clear” original, Caviar Lime, Ghost Chili and Strawberry.
In the winter, Gertman makes a spicy Mexican hot chocolate. “We simply, as Emeril Lagasse would say, ‘kick it up a notch’ with Ghost Chili vodka, giving it a nice extra warmth to it with a little bit of capsaicin that goes over really, really well,” he says.
Taste for yourself, stock up, and why not celebrate the season by gifting the grown ups in your life with spirited Santa Barbara-made stocking stuffers!
This story was originally published in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.
Click here for a seasonal cocktail recipe from Ascendant Spirits.
Click here for a seasonal cocktail recipe from Cutler’s Artisan Spirits.