Five Favorites: Western Gin


With the rise of craft distilling in America inevitably comes a wave of rebellion against the traditional way of things. Case in point: Leave it to us Americans to take the juniper-bomb London Dry Gins of yesteryear and turn them on their head. Distilleries like 209, Brooklyn Gin and Greenhook are pumping out gorgeous new styles of Gin using juniper berries as a connective tissue if-you-will to enhance other botanicals, as opposed to juniper acting as the dominant flavor component. As is also the case with the rise of craft spirits, the “big guys” love to come around and make their presence in these new niche markets well known. As a devoted Gin drinker, here are five of my favorite status-quo abolishing gins, including a few from the giants and a few regional craft offerings. P.S. “Western-style” can be used to describe any Gin where juniper is not the overwhelmingly dominant flavor. P.P.S. You could say that Western Gins aren’t technically Gins at all, as by law a Gin must have juniper as the “main characteristic flavor,” according to the Federal Government’s Beverage Alcohol Manual. Oooooh, sneaky!

1. Hendrick’s | Hendrick’s Gin | Scotland

Okay okay, although technically one of the “big guys,” no article on Western-style Gins would be complete without mentioning Hendrick’s. Hendrick’s has challenged the notion that Gin should have a strong, juniper-forward flavor profile from day one. This spirit has earned a cult following thanks to refreshing cucumber and rose petal notes up front and a myriad of other delectable floral notes on the finish. Hendrick’s Gin is a great intro into the worlds of both Gin in general and Western Gins.


2. Tanqueray No. 10 | Tanqueray Gin | England originally, now made in Scotland

This is a perfect example of a big-budget, traditionally London Dry brand offering a modern take on the traditional to keep up with changing times. Supposedly made in their No. 10 experimental still with fresh citrus, Tanqueray No. 10 definitely delivers a lighter, more approachable flavor profile than that of the original. This, along with Hendrick’s, is one of my favorite spirits to keep on hand.

3. Aviation | Aviation Gin | Portland, OR

Aviation was one of the original American craft distilleries to offer a Western-style Gin. Using notoriously hard-to-get-it-right botanicals such as lavender, Aviation paints a picture of their native Pacific Northwest in every bottle. Their proprietary mix of botanical makes a great Martini or G & T.


4. American Dry Gin | Greenhook Ginsmiths | Brooklyn, New York

Greenhook’s American Dry Gin is something of a hybrid between a London Dry and Western-style Gin. Lush and aromatic botanicals like elderflower and chamomile get you on the nose and up front, followed by spicy cracked black peppercorn and a generous dose of both cinnamon and juniper notes to round everything out. A unique, attention-grabbing Gin to try. I also recommend picking up their Beach Plum Gin Liqueur – great for champagne cocktails or drizzling over gelato.

5. Brooklyn Gin | Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn Gin is another delicious and ultra-refreshing citrus-forward Gin. By using 100% fresh citrus peels – cut by hand before every distillation – and freshly cracked juniper berries, the makers of this addictively juicy spirit help to solidify Brooklyn as a major hub for American craft distilling. Good enough to drink on it’s own, or with a splash of tonic.


Give one of these non-traditional Gins a try in your next cocktail. And be sure to share snaps of your drinks with the hashtag #Distillerista. Cheers!

The Best Tequila for Every Budget

Welcome to a new Distillerista series, Booze For Every Budget. Besides the fact that today is very conveniently National Tequila Day (!!!), I chose to feature Tequila first because it’s one of those spirits – at least in my opinion – that you just don’t want to get on the cheap… Seriously, I wouldn’t wish a shot of shit tequila on my worst enemy but that’s just me. Luckily good quality doesn’t necessarily translate to pricey when it comes to Tequila. To prove it, I’ve rounded up some great options for todos los budgets. Enjoy!


Under $20: Cien Años On my first trip to Baja I asked a local to recommend me a good bottle of tequila at a reasonable price. He answered with Cien Años and I’ve been a fan of this value Tequila ever since. For a cool twenty bucks or less, it has a surprisingly smooth finish and is a great option for parties or big batches of margaritas

Under $30: Espolón About three years ago, Espolón started winning mad awards and consequently flew off shelves, not to be seen again for quite a while. Thankfully it’s back on the market and just as delicious as ever. The Blanco and Reposado are both conveniently between $25 and $30 if you prefer one style to the other.

Under $40: Herradura The Herradura brand is old favorite of mine. Consistently full-bodied and rich, it’s the perfect foil to tart grapefruit juice in a Paloma. Like Espolón, both the Silver and Reposado are under the forty dollar mark.

Under $50: Casamigos Blanco Casamigos is a relatively recent find for me. I usually don’t go for celebrity-endorsed brands, but Casamigos’ flavor profile stands on it’s own, with or without George Clooney’s laser-printed signature on the label. I prefer the Reposado if given the choice but the Blanco clocks in at just under fifty bucks and has great character for a silver tequila.

Splurge: Tequila Ocho Reposado ($60) Tequila Ocho seems to be the current darling of the “craft” Tequila brands. Bottled in a shape one would most associate with Vodkas, Tequila Ocho’s packaging oozes class. It comes as no surprise the liquid in side does too. This would make for an ideal birthday, hostess or wedding gift.

Ball Out: Fortaleza Anejo ($80) Fortaleza was recently named Men’s Journal’s Best Premium Tequila in the World, and for good reason. Sadly I find it hard to spot this elusive Tequila around town so if and when you do see a bottle, be sure to snap it up. And for the love of God, do not make Margaritas with it. This liquid gold is best enjoyed neat in a Brandy snifter.

Any great Tequilas I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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

The Best Alcohol Delivery Services


Hands up if you’ve been in one of these three scenarios…

  1. You’re in the thick of an epic house party and all of a sudden, you realize the hosts’ve run out of booze. You shuffle through the fridge looking for any straggling cans of beer, pilfer through someone you don’t know’s room looking for a lazy half-drank bottle of vodka, aaand you come up short.
  2. You’re semi-bored, home on a Friday night, possibly with roomates. No one necessarily wants to go out but that doesn’t mean no one wants a tasty adult beverage to go along with that take-out, side of Netflix. But wait, you’re already in your yoga pants and embarrassing middle school theatre camp t-shirt and you’re out. of. draaanks.
  3. You show up to a get together thing that you did. not. know was BYO and feel more than slightly awkward asking that guy you think you know from class if you can have a splash or five from his bottle of Captain.

All of these scenarios are painfully annoying and – thank Bacchus! – remedied by the same thing… Alcohol Delivery Services! To save you and your fellow imbibers, should any of these aforementioned sticky situations creep up on you again, I’ve crafted the definitive guide to Alcohol Delivery Services across the country! You’re Welcome.

1. Ezra’s | Although not app-based like most of the other services on this list, Ezra’s is up first because their mission holds a special place in my heart. As a distiller myself, I appreciate a company who’s main goal is to increase the information channels between distiller and end-consumer. This provides a huge leg-up for small craft distillers who may be struggling due to our three-tier dominated industry. In addition to their focus on craft spirits, I love that their emails update you in real time when high-demand products come back in stock. And they ship country-wide! While not technically an on-demand delivery service, I highly recommend using Ezra’s if you’re planning a dinner or cocktail party at your place and want to impress with some lesser-known boutique spirits.

Get 5% off your Ezra’s order with code distillerista. But be quick about it – code limited to the first 30 readers!


2. Drizly | Drizly is one of the fastest growing on-demand alcohol delivery services. They work with the top liquor retailers in each state to provide consumers the best selection and price on their favorite beer, wine and liquor with delivery in less than an hour (and on average closer to 20-40 minutes!). They service 16 major metropolitan cities. Click here to see if yours is on the list.

The first 50 California readers (Drizly currently delivers in L.A. and Orange County only) get delivery fees waived on their first order with code DISTILLERISTA Offer Ends August 31st, 2015

iPhone Shot, Get the Door

3. Saucey | Saucey is an app, available for download on iOS or Android, that delivers beer, wine, and/or spirits to your door in less than an hour. Currently servicing the west coast in San Fransisco, L.A. and San Diego, Saucey is also planning expansions to Chicago and Dallas very soon. It’s easy as (1) Open the app, drop a pin and choose from a menu of beer, wine, spirits, cocktails and snacks (2) A Saucey driver will be on their way and get to you in about 20 minutes (3) Take delivery and enjoy anywhere, even the beach(!!!)

Get $5 off any Saucey order with code DISTILL


4. Minibar | Minibar, another app, provides on-demand delivery of wine, spirits, beer & mixers. Minibar gives users a better way to shop by connecting them with local liquor stores to offer the best selection of products. What sets Minibar apart for me is that they also provide tasting notes, pairing recommendations, cocktail recipes, an option to send gifts for special occasions, AND they feature a “Party Planning Tool” which allows users to quickly determine how much of each spirit is needed for the perfect party. Super useful and convenient! Currently servicing 19 major metropolitan cities. Scroll down to the bottom of their home page to see if yours is included.


Get $10 off your first Minibar order with code DISTILLERISTA

5. Thirstie | Thirstie is a leading national on-demand wine, beer and spirits delivery service that delivers in under an hour and provides curated cocktail recipes. It is redefining the way consumers shop and discover the best wine, beer or cocktail with its innovative editorial platform, The Craft. The Craft redefines the way consumers shop and discover the best wine, beers or cocktails and elevates the overall consumer experience by getting people “Thirstie” through curated and original content engagement.

The Craft (2)

Use code DISTILL10 for $10 off your order. Expires August 31.

6. DrinkFly | DrinkFly was started by two brothers in a suburb of Chicago. They’ve now grown into seven cities and continue to add more as they expand.  Drink Fly’s unique selling point is that you have the option to select the specific liquor store from which you buy.  This let’s you get your hands on some booze, quickly, AND support local business.  Win-win!

Get $5 off your first DrinkFly order with code distill5


7. Klink | Klink is a liquor-store-to-your-door service on steroids. They strive to take the experience one step further by adding a little something extra. Whether they’re delivering liquor-infused cupcakes, sending mixologists along with larger orders to help serve drinks or partnering with a hand-crafted mixer to turn customers’ spirits orders into artisanal cocktails, they’re constantly going above and beyond.

Free delivery on two Klink orders with code distillerista 


Recap: After downloading each app, playing around with them a bit and emailing with the various apps’ media teams, I can genuinely say I’d happily use any of the above services. As I live in Southern California, not all of them cater to me so I couldn’t actually try every service for myself. I’d advise clicking through their websites, making note of which apps deliver in your city and going from there. Enjoy the discount codes and let me know your experience. Personally,  I can’t wait to try out the Saucey app on my next beach day! Whooop whoooop!

The Gimlet: Three Ways


A Gin gimlet has to be my favorite classic cocktail. For a couple of reasons… First, it’s so simple and yet so perfect. That blend of Gin (my most beloved spirit), tart lime and smooth sweetness just fits so perfectly into any imbibing mood I’m in. Second, it’s a genius way to introduce the Gin-averse to the error of their non-Gin-drinking ways. Simply put, it’s the perfect starter Gin cocktail. A gateway drug to the realm of Gin, if-you-will. (Ok, I’ll stop.)

However, when I first started ordering gimlets regularly I was always confused as to why I was paying craft cocktail prices for a half-ass mix of Gin and Rose’s Lime Juice… ?! Well, little did I know, that’s the way Gimlets were (sort-of) traditionally made!

First concocted as a way to encourage sailors to down scurvy-fighting lime juice, Gimlets were a common vehicle for daily Gin rations on British Naval ships. {Popular belief has it that the Royal Navy doctor during that time was Sir Thomas Gimlette.} Sailors quickly switched to Rose’s Lime Cordial – a blend of lime juice and sugar that made it easy to preserve the citrus on long oversea hauls – as it had recently been invented. All this time I’ve been scoffing at what I thought was a shitty excuse for a great classic cocktail when really I’d been drinking history! Sailors, forgive me!

While the Rose’s Lime Juice of today (corn syrup, artificial flavors, weird additives) is a far cry from what it originally was, I suppose the OG recipe is still worth including here. I’ve also added a recipe for what I consider the modern day Gimlet (The Contemporary), and a fun twist on a Vodka Gimlet for those who aren’t quite ready to come over to the Gin side (The Lime Hangar Gimlet). Mix up one of each this holiday weekend (Happy Independence Day!) and let me know which you prefer!

Each recipe makes 1 cocktail.


The Traditional



  1. Pour gin & juice into a cocktail shaker or tall glass
  2. Shake or stir with ice, whatever your preference
  3. Strain into a Martini Glass and garnish with lime wheel if desired

Gimlet Three Ways Comtemporary Distillerista

The Contemporary


  • 2 Oz Traditional, London-Dry or New American Style Gin (I’m using citrusy Tanqueray No. 10)
  • Juice of 1-2 limes
  • 1 tsp superfine sugar
  • Lime wheel and mint for garnish


  1. Dry shake (no ice) lime juice and sugar for at least 60 seconds to dissolve sugar.
  2. Add gin, ice and shake.
  3. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Alternatively, strain into a chilled coupe.
  4. Garnish with lime wheel and sprig of mint. (No garnish if you went with the coupe)


Lime Hangar Gimlet (ever so slightly adapted from the famous Ivy Gimlet)


  • 3 oz. Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka a.k.a. the only lime vodka you ever need to know about
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 5-10 Mint leaves, muddled
  • 1 tsp Superfine sugar


  1. Combine muddled mint, citrus juice and sugar in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Dry shake (no ice) for at least 60 seconds to completely dissolve sugar.
  3. Add Vodka, a handful of ice and shake.
  4. Pour into a sugar rimmed glass filled with crushed or cubed ice and garnish with a wedge of lime and sprig of mint. As an option, top with a splash of seltzer or sparkling water. Enjoy!

Photos by the delightfully talented Megan Burgess of Shortography!

A Father’s Day Cocktail


The only thing you can get our Dad to drink – besides the occasional glass of Pinot Noir – is vodka (I know…I’m working on him). He’s been known to knock back the champagne when duty calls (4th of July *cough, cough*), but vodka is his ride-or-die. And much like anyone who has enjoyed more than twenty-five years or so of legal drinking, he has a go-to cocktail he sticks to fiercer than you would an alibi. Sure, his tastes are a bit unorthodox compared to your standard male, – don’t even try gifting him a 6-pack of craft beer or a 30 year scotch – but it’s actually a convenient habit, as his family and friends always know exactly what to make him or order him at a bar. SUPER simple and to the point, with just the tiniest hint of tart sweetness, I give you… The SPJ.


Makes 1 Cocktail.


  1. 2 oz Really good vodka (We like Hangar One Straight Vodka or St. George Spirits new St. George Spirits All Purpose Vodka)
  2. 1.5 Oz. Good quality club soda (Can’t beat Fever Tree Soda Water)
  3. Splash or so of cranberry juice (If you can find an all-natural or no-sugar-added version, go for it, but cranberry juice cocktail works just fine)
  4. Generous wedge of lime


  1. In a DOF or other short glass filled with ice, combine vodka and soda and stir gently
  2. With a steady hand, splash a half ounce or so of cranberry juice over the soda
  3. Don’t stir. Viciously squeeze a wedge of lime on top, plop it in the glass and let the cranberry mix with the clear liquids gradually
  4. Serve to Dad & Enjoy!


Cheers to all the papa bears out there! Happy Father’s Day!

Seasonal Peach Craft Spirits + Matching Cocktails

With peak peach season right around the corner (July & August are when they’ll be sweetest at your local farmer’s market), I had the idea to round up a few peach flavored craft spirits for your summer cocktail making pleasure. While I love having a bottle of Leopold’s Peach Whiskey on hand for a sweet night cap, I was only recently introduced to the sheer bliss that is High West’s 7000′ Peach Vodka. My third pick, Prichard’s Peach Mango Rum, caught my eye in an article on the revival of rum making in the American south. I haven’t had a chance to taste it yet, but I can’t wait to get my hands on some and whip up a batch of Peach Dark & Stormy’s.


1. 7000′ Peach Vodka | High West Distillery | Park City, UT

This vodka is a dream. Peaches are fresh picked the day of, de-stoned, macerated, and soaked in High West’s award winning 7000′ Vodka. The peaches are then removed and thrown in the still to distill out the remaining alcohol. The resulting peach distillate is then combined with the peach-steeped vodka to create a truly one-of-a-kind real fruit spirit.

{ Would be perfect in this pretty Peach Collins for a brunch or shower | Cupcakes & Cashmere }

2. Sweet Georgia Belle Peach Mango Rum | Prichard’s Distillery | Kelso, TN

This tropical fruit-spiked rum, along with Head Distiller Phil Prichard’s more traditional offerings, are inspired by colonial-era rums. I can’t help but think how good this would taste splashed into iced tea or an Arnold Palmer.

{ Use it to make a batch of Peach Mojitos for your next BBQ | Southern Living }

3. Rocky Mountain Peach Whiskey | Leopold Bros. | Denver, CO

If you stick around long enough, you’ll catch on that Leopold Bros. is one of my all-time favorite distilleries. Everything they make is delicious and they were recently named Distillery of the Year by the American Distilling Institute. Their incredible fruit whiskies are made by blending their American Small Batch Whiskey with fresh juice, squeezed right in the distillery – in this case from tons of fresh Colorado peaches. P.S. They make a Georgia Peach version too!

{ Whip up this summery Peach Mint Old Fashioned on a hot night | Cook Like A Champion }

Bar Basics: Spirits to Keep On Hand at All Times


One of the things I was most excited about when moving into my first solo apartment was stocking a beautifully curated bar. I have a bit of an obsession with bar carts – there may or may not be an entire Pinterest board to prove this – so I knew I wanted to make mine the focal point of my first big-girl living space. This obsession of mine is so well known that my Mom bought me the gorgeous bar cabinet in these photos as a house warming gift. It’s still one of my favorite pieces of furniture to this day. Here are the must-have spirits I keep stocked at all times for easy entertaining.

Hangar 1 Straight Vodka ($38) // Vodka is my family’s go-to spirit and this is the one we’ve been drinking for years. Made from a blend of wheat-based spirit and grape eau de vie, it has virtually no bite and a gorgeous floral quality. If you can’t find Hangar 1, go for Prairie Vodka or Tito’s in a pinch.

Hendrick’s Gin ($40) // If I’m having a cocktail these days, there’s a good chance it’s made with Gin. As a result, it’s worth it to have my favorite around, even if a bit pricey.

Flor de Caña Rum ($20) // I don’t drink a lot of Rum, but when the mood for a Mojito or Dark & Stormy strikes, I make sure to have both dark and light. Captain Morgan or Bacardi will do the trick for the light stuff, whereas I prefer to have at least a semi-decent dark rum like Flor de Caña or Zacapa on hand for guests who enjoy it on the rocks.

Casamigos Tequila ($57) // Tequila is a must. Whether it’s for weekend margaritas or a quick shot before heading out to a bar (you know you do it too), never be without it. Blanco or Reposado, whatever you prefer. Funny enough, the Kirkland brand Silver and Reposado options are bomb, and a great value too. If I haven’t been on a Costco run in a while, I go for Casamigos, or Fortaleza when I can find it. They’re premium and definitely priced as such, but cheap Tequila can be painful and drinking should not be painful.

Bulleit Bourbon ($28) // This is, hands down, my favorite mainstream Bourbon. Even though I’m pretttyyyy sure it comes from a factory distillery in Indiana, it’s still the best-tasting bang for your buck these days. If you like something a bit spicier, their Rye is also fantastic.

Carpano Antica ($36) // Several of my friends and family enjoy a well-made manhattan so I make sure to keep this vermouth (plus brandied or maraschino cherries) stocked. It also makes an excellent night cap neat or on the rocks.

Wild Card – Hangar 1 Kaffir Lime Vodka ($38) // I’ve gotten so many friends hooked on this spirit, I can’t keep count. Although a little weird (read: surprisingly floral) at first, you’ll quickly decide you don’t ever want to drink anything else. With club soda or in a gimlet, this real-fruit infused vodka is always a hit.

{Exact prices may vary by city and state.}


I’m curious, what are your favorite every-day spirits? Let me know in the comments below.

Again, thank you to Megan Burgess of Shortography for the gorgeous photographs!

Distiller Interview: Ray Digilio of Kill Devil Spirit Co.

{Ray Digilio | Founder + Distiller, Kill Devil Spirit Co. | San Diego, CA }

It’s fitting that I begin my Distiller Interview series with Ray Digilio. Beyond being one of those rare, truly genuine and accountable humans, he was the first legit industry player to give me the time of day. When I wanted to break into this business in some way, but had less than zero ideas of how to go about it, Ray was a much appreciated ally. His unconditional assistance in helping anyone he can build their business faster and more efficiently is, in my opinion, one of the shining lights of this industry, and one that will continue to push our collective endeavors forward as distillers.  His story below is impactful, so don’t miss a word of it.

{Ugly CA Rise & Chine, Valor West Coast Gin, Rx Unfiltered Vodka, Ugly CA Moonshine}

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

My background is all over the map, literally. I am originally from New York City but lived in many other cities throughout the US prior to settling in San Diego. No matter where I lived or what industry I worked in one thing was consistent: If it wasn’t love, it wasn’t for me. The industries I worked in prior to distillation were music, teaching, real estate, and supply chain management.

The concept of working in a warehouse and tailoring a premium product by hand has always been a dream. In 2009, I bought a stove top still (*to distill water at home – wink) and practiced everyday as if I was learning a new musical instrument. At that time, literature on distillation technique or how the industry operates was nearly inexistent. For me it was all trial and error…mostly error. Perfecting the art took years but I believe that being self-taught was critical to the development of the signature quality in the spirits we make today. I also think that it gave me a competitive advantage over other novice distillers who paid top dollar to learn how to distill from other manufacturers. I never felt confined to produce products that were industry “standards” or operate within the limits of someone else’s art.

  1. How did you come to the decision to actually pursue distilling?

About a week after my 30th birthday I fell into a very dark place. I was unclear as to why I was following a career path that did not represent the person I truly wanted to be. Up until this point I was successful and financially secure but there was still no love. I found myself one morning sitting at a bar in Downtown San Diego drinking spirits in hopes to drown the unsettling feeling that I was in the lead role of the movie “Groundhogs Day”. I remember looking down at my empty glass of gin, then looking out to a colorful array of craft tap handles, and looking up at a cluttered shelf of spirits with no backlighting. The lights on the shelf suddenly flickered on and for the first time in life my path became clear. It was last call for me to face the fear of instability and recognize my dreams no matter what the cost.

  1. Opening a distillery is a lengthy, difficult and expensive process. What was the most challenging speed bump on the road to opening Kill Devil?

The most challenging obstacle was the transition from day job to distilling professionally full-time. The day we became legal I quite my job and sold off all of my personal belongings. On average I would work 20 hours a day, 7 days a week relying on the minimal sales we had and driving Uber/Lyft at night to keep the operation from failing. If you’ve heard the story, yes, it is true, I went to the extent of living in a tent in the warehouse to keep costs low enough to power the still. In short, California State distillation laws are extremely outdated and Sacramento lobbyists are extremely corrupt. Being profitable at distilling spirits in California is a monumental challenge at this point in time. The paradox of market entry plays out like this: if you don’t have a distributor, you are not in business. Distributors look at new manufacturers as a risk and many are not willing to take on new products until there is a proven track record.

  1. Why did you choose San Diego, and in what ways do you feel the culture here aligns with Kill Devil’s vibe or unique selling point?

I absolutely love San Diego. I’ve called this place home for over a decade and moved here because its something I always wanted to do. The people here are notorious for their support of local business and have a rare pallet for craft products. I believe that the alcohol beverage market here sets the trend for the rest of the nation. If your product can be a success in San Diego it will be a success anywhere. There is no doubt that we are extremely motivated by the people who live here. Kill Devil Spirit Co. products are a celebration of the open-minded nature and savvy taste buds of the local consumer.

  1. In terms of a hypothetical anonymity – to – mainstream spectrum, where do you feel the American “craft” Distilling industry is today and how would you describe this state? 

Today I would have to rate the industry as a 2 on the scale from 1-10. However, the rate at which that number is increasing is provocative. Every year we weather the storm waiting for the CA government to other local distilleries to become legal and help spread the word that there is a birth of a new industry here in San Diego. Within the next 5-10 years I predict a major overhaul in the way people buy spirits both locally and nationwide. It’s the final frontier in the alcohol beverage industry to be explored. I believe that the average consumer has made it clear that they care about how and where their products are made..

  1. Kentucky aside, where or who do you feel is the driving, innovative force behind our craft distilling industry right now? 

Portland, OR has been leading craft distilling for quite some time. Moving forward I think that Brooklyn, NY will probably become the poster child for the craft distilling industry.

  1. Name a few other distillers or distilleries who inspire you.

My Grandmother

Kings County Distillery

Death’s Door Spirits

Prohibition Distillery

  1. Where do you see Kill Devil in 10 years? What do you want to be known for?

I see Kill Devil being one of Southern California’s most recognized craft spirit houses. I want to be known as an artist; a loving, caring, social and environmentally responsible leader in the dawn of a renaissance in American manufacturing.

  1. Your favorite thing about coming to work each day?

The smells, the sounds, the personalities, the creativity, the challenges, all is love. Oh… and riding the forklift.

  1. 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!

We are so overdue for a distillery cat that we have chose a name for it before even getting one. FALCO. If you don’t know who Falco was Google his name and prepare to have the same urge to name a cat after him. You’re welcome! Cha Cha!

  1. You guys were one of the first to begin distilling in San Diego County, with Ballast Point moving into spirits around the same time. Tell us about how the landscape for craft distillers in Southern California has changed since you first began.

For the record, we were not the first in the County of San Diego to begin distilling; Ballast Point started right before we did in North County. We were, however, the first in the City of San Diego to be granted a license to operate since prohibition. We were also the first company to focus solely on distilled spirits in San Diego.   We did not have the luxury of beer or wine sales to help finance the start-up or lend recognition to the brand. In saying that, Kill Devil Spirit Co., in many ways, acted as the guinea pig in the local industry for other distilleries that would open thereafter.   When we started the conditions were brutal. There were approx. 300 distilleries nationwide and only 3 in all of Southern California. We entered the market way before a demand for craft spirits was to surface. The good news is that each year the number of new distilleries has doubled over and because of that we have seen an increase in demand for our products. The truth is, at the moment, no craft distiller is in competition with another. We need each other to create the fuel needed to ignite the industry. In fact, for years, I have been consulting for new distilleries in hopes to bring them to the market quicker. What’s the benefit for us? More boots on the ground to promote the industry that we love.

Thanks Ray!

Be sure to pick up some of Kill Devil’s offerings if you inhabit central or southern California. Their West Coast Gin, distilled with chinook hops and local grapefruit, is not to be missed. 

Five Favorites: American Craft Vodka

Top 5 Craft Vodkas Distillerista

Although considered a bit of a black sheep in the craft cocktail world, Vodka happens to have several redeeming qualities, at least if you ask me. Besides the conveniently low calorie content, Vodka has a mellow flavor profile and is therefore an ideal neutral base for at home cocktails. Notice I did not say odorless or flavorless. In my opinion, any Vodka worth drinking should have both a subtle aroma and a nuanced flavor profile when tasted straight. Here are five of my craft Vodka favorites that fit that bill.

  1. Silver Tree Vodka | Leopold Bros. Distillery | Denver, CO

Arguably one of – if not THE – finest American-made vodkas actually being made from scratch these days. Head Distiller Todd Leopold uses a blend of wheat, potatoes and malted barley to get a final product that goes down almost too easily.

  1. George Spirits All Purpose | St. George Spirits | Alameda, CA

St. George originally made Hangar 1 Vodka (next up on the list) but have since sold the product line to Proximo and recently completed their contract to keep producing it for them. Now they’ve launched a new and equally delectable line of their own. The current lineup includes a straight “All Purpose” version they make from a corn-based spirit and pear Eau de Vie, as well as Green Chile and California Citrus options.

  1. Hangar 1 Straight | Hangar 1 Vodka | Alameda, CA

Now made by one of the few female Head Distillers in the country – Caley Maker – from a blend of a wheat-based neutral grain spirit and a grape Eau de Vie that softens the heat perfectly. One of my all-time favorites.

  1. Spring 44 Vodka | Spring 44 Distilling | Loveland, CO

Spring 44’s claim to fame is where they get their water. It’s supposedly collected from a Rocky Mountain artesian mineral spring in Colorado’s Buckhorn Canyon. Personally, I take slight issue with using water as a marketing ploy, seeing as it really only comes into play in the final proofing stages of distilling, but you simply can’t argue with the smoothness of Spring 44. Also not to be missed is their Honey Vodka made with Colorado honey straight from the comb.

  1. Prairie Organic | Prairie Organic Spirits

Heads up, I’m throwing in something a little more commercial. The jury’s out on the actual “craft-ness” of this so-called craft vodka, seeing as there’s seemingly no physical distillery location to speak of. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that if a a bar manager isn’t a fan of vodka but still has to stock it, this is the one they most often choose to have on hand. It also happens to be pretty damn good and easy to find nationwide.

Honorable Mention: Woody Creek. This 100% potato vodka received double gold at this year’s World Spirits Competition in San Fransisco a.k.a. like, the Oscars of distilling.

Are you a Vodka drinker? Have you tried any of these? If so, let me know your favorites in the comments below!