Distiller Interview: Bill Rogers, Liberty Call Distilling Co.

IMG_0743*{ Steve, Bill and Addison of Liberty Call Distilling Co. | San Diego, CA }

For the second installment of our Distiller Interview series I tapped Bill Rogers, President and Founder of Liberty Call Distilling Co. Beyond my personal affinity for Liberty Call’s patriotic Navy flair (several of my extended family serve or have served in all three branches of the Military), I also have a deep respect for Bill’s unapologetic dedication to the craft. He and his team use only premium ingredients to craft their delicious rums, gin and whiskies. They’re also creating some worthy buzz – along with a few other San Diego distillers – by pioneering new and exciting methods of aging (battery-powered barrel agitators anyone?). Read on to learn more about Bill and Liberty Call! 

1. Explain a little bit about your background and how and when you began to have an interest in distilling. 

I have 15 years of experience in Sales and Marketing, including 2 years selling Budweiser and Corona. I have a background in Chemistry, and I used to home brew a lot. A couple of years ago one of my chemistry buddies asked me if I’d be interested in getting a small still to make moonshine. I said a small still doesn’t make enough alcohol, and that we needed a bigger one. Now we are here.

2. How did you come to the decision to actually pursue distilling? Tell us how you settled on the name Liberty Call.

I looked at what it would actually take to make alcohol and to make a profit. I talked with a lot of distillers and saw that a small distillery could be profitable quickly if you kept the breakeven low. After crunching numbers my wife gave me her blessing and I decided to open up. My partner, Steve, is a Navy vet, and I grew up in Coronado with a Dad that was in the Navy. Liberty Call is the term used for sailors when they are on leave (R&R) in port. We thought it was a good idea to have a Navy themed distillery due to the large naval influence in San Diego.

IMG_0696*{ Getting ready to bottle a batch of Gin }

3. Opening a distillery is a lengthy, difficult and expensive process. What was the most challenging speed bump on the road to opening Liberty Call?

The never ending legal hurdles are the most challenging. We’re constantly trying to stay in compliance with the ABC and TTB, but there is usually no one that you can go to for answers. The gov’t is so arbitrary in their answers. It’s quite frustrating, and really is one of the reasons that we started a guild in San Diego. Each guild member wants to help each other out, and we compare notes to see how we can get through the bureaucracy

4. Why did you choose San Diego for Liberty Call, and in what ways do you feel the culture here aligns with Liberty Call’s vibe or unique selling point?

We live in San Diego. We we’re about to move somewhere else to start a new venture. San Diegans are very much into craft beer, maybe more so than anywhere else in the US. We wanted to capitalize on that and get the craft beer drinkers to put down the Bacardi and pick up some real craft spirits. That’s easier said than done, but they are our target market.

IMG_0717*{ Making the most of tight quarters with a compact four plate column }

5. In terms of a hypothetical ‘anonymity – to – mainstream’ spectrum, where do you feel the American “craft” distilling industry/movement is today, and how would you describe this current state?

In the US, the spectrum is about a 5, but in San Diego it’s about a 2. Other than Ballast Point, most people don’t know that there are other distilleries in San Diego. The needle is slowly getting moved as more and more craft distillers enter the market. It’ll probably take a couple years for there to be a real shift in the culture, but we feel it’s going to happen.

6. Where, or who, do you feel is the driving, innovative force behind craft distilling right now?

Seattle and the Washington Northwest are really putting out some good products. New York, and Oregon aren’t far behind. That being said, California is starting to get some really good distilleries that are doing off-the-wall stuff.

IMG_0693*{ Weathered barrels being used to finish a batch of Whiskey }

7. Name a few other distillers or distilleries you’re inspired by.

Lost Spirits in Monterrey has to be considered one of the top innovators in the country. They are making spirits that no one else is making, and they’re delicious. They also have innovated the industry with their aging processes and we could see some ground breaking technology spread through the industry because of them. St. George Spirits is one the original “Micro” distillers. They have a great approach to the craft and definitely lead the way in regards to getting legislation reform in CA.

8. Where do you see Liberty Call in 10 years? What do you want to be known for?

In 10 years we would like to be in a stand-alone building that we designed from scratch. We’re going to make the spectrum when it comes to spirits, but we are just starting to get into our whiskey program. We want to be known for taking risks and coming up with unique spirits that no one else has the guts to do.

9. Your favorite thing about coming to work each day? Free drinks

IMG_0740{ The Team: Addison, Bill & Steve }

10. I’m sure you’re familiar with the tradition of distillery cats… does your operation have a feline mascot? If so, name and story please!

No cats, but we have a dog named Rufus that can be seen from time to time. Usually sleeping.

10. I love how you’re targeting Coronado as a home base for your spirits. How is that effort going and what are some of your favorite Coronado spots to eat and drink?

Steve and I both live in Coronado and we know a lot of the local businesses. They really helped us out and brought us in. It’s nice to know that you are wanted in a small community. Saiko Sushi, Little Club, Candelas, and High Tide Bottle Shop all gave our spirits a chance. Not surprisingly they are all places where we can be found enjoying a drink. Saiko makes fantastic craft cocktails, while the bartenders in Little Club all promote our drinks. High Tide created a display just for us that is front and center when you walk in the door. Candelas is a Mexican restaurant that brought in our Gin just to give us a shot. You can’t beat the view at Candelas, it’s one of the best on the bay.

IMG_0688*{ Gin, Spiced Rum & Light Rum }

11. What is the first thing someone just stumbling upon the craft liquor trend should know about the industry?

Be careful when buying craft. If it doesn’t say “Distilled By” with the name of the company on it, it was probably made somewhere else. There are a lot of “craft” distillers that don’t make their own product, and the industry is suffering from it. Well said. Thanks, Bill!

Be sure to check out Liberty Call’s tasting room (Open to the public Fridays 4-7 & Saturdays 1-5) in Spring Valley and keep a lookout for their upcoming Groupon!

Huge thanks to Daniel Dreher for the photos! Check out Dan’s website and Instagram

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