San Diego, over the last 20 years has established a well deserved reputation as a craft beer mecca. With over 75 craft breweries currently operating in San Diego County it is easy to see why, with names like Stone, Ballast Point, Green Flash, Alpine, AleSmith, Mission, Pizza Port, Lost Abbey along with many others that have become regionally, nationally, and internationally synonymous with quality craft beer. Given this, it is easy to overlook that it is now becoming an excellent whiskey town.
Beginning with Ballast Point a few years ago establishing a distillery to go with their outstanding beer operation, more recently craft distillers like Liberty Call, and Twisted Manzanita, began offering whiskies in their lineups. Others such as Old Harbor, and Malahat have some aging and will be offering whiskies by years end. Recently started distilleries in San Diego County, in various stages of development, include; Kill Devil Spirits, San Diego Distillery, Perfect Soul Whiskey, The California Spirits Co., Tonglen Spirits, Swinford Spirits, Mackay Distilling, and San Diego Sunshine. If these guys are able to attain the levels of quality of their beer brethren, then we have some exciting times coming for craft whiskey lovers.
As if that weren’t enough to have you packing your bags for an emergency business trip to San Diego, the bar scene has also come on board in some very big ways. Places like the Aero Club, are gaining national recognition, including Mr. Whiskey’s recent piece calling them the “Top Whiskey Dive Bar in America”, they and The Whiskey House, in The Gaslamp District both offer whiskey lists that run into the 1,000+ offerings range. Not far behind in offerings are San Diego’s branch of LA’s Seven Grand, and it’s more exclusive sibling Bar Three Piece with 650+. Polite Provisions is a great option for a unique trip back to a pre-Prohibition time and a relaxing environment of quality drinks and talented staff, that create a very friendly environment.
You will be happy to know that all of these bars also have a healthy selection of fine craft beers, after all it is San Diego. Be sure to check these places out and keep an eye on the burgeoning San Diego whiskey scene.
The Best Whiskey Bar in America!
Dive bars can be found in most any town across the country, pouring a good drink in an unpretentious environment at a good price. We’ve all been to at least a few and know the type, ranging from the true hole in a wall place with just a few seats serving a beer and a shot for a few bucks to those that are long established neighborhood hangouts with pool tables, maybe some dart boards, a jukebox, pinball machines or any of the other things that make for good times at the local.
Now take a spot just like that, complete with all the necessities for a great dive bar, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and add a whiskey list that runs 177 pages with over 1,000 offerings of your favorite brown juice to go with a healthy tap list and you have the makings of “The Best Whiskey Dive Bar in America!”
Mr. Whiskey is proud to declare that he has found the above described establishment just across from San Diego’s Lindbergh Field Airport, in the form of the Aero Club. Read all about it here. Then pay them a visit and tell them that Mr. Whiskey sent you!
To paraphrase Hamlet, “To ‘E’ or not to ‘E’, that is the question: Whether it is nobler in the barrel to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misspellings, or to take up a dram against a sea of troubles, and by imbibing end them.”
The discussion about the spelling of the word whisk(e)y doesn’t go back as far as the time of Shakespeare himself, but to many it is just as controversial. Actually, it is thought to go back to the 1800’s when the Irish and Americans chose to spell it with an ‘e’, in an attempt to distinguish the difference between the unique liquor that they were producing versus the traditional Scottish versions.
This is not as complicated to keep straight as it may sound, in fact it is quite simple. Those whiskies that come from Scotland, Canada and Japan are all traditionally spelled without an ‘e’, while Irish and American versions include an ‘e’. Of course, there has to be an exception to this rule, the most notable coming from one of Kentucky’s oldest distilling families, the Samuels family, who are the distillers of Maker’s Mark Whisky. They make their case for not including an ‘e’ based upon the family’s Scottish origins and that being the way that it was spelled there.
For simplicity, many use the country of origin spelling rule, which says if the name of the country of origin is spelled with an ‘e’, such as Ireland or America, then it is used in the spelling, and if the country of origin does not have an ‘e’ in the name, like Scotland, Canada, or Japan, then no ‘e’ is used.
I can assure you that whichever way you spell it, does not impact any of the great flavors that can be found in any of the various varieties regardless of origin. As a note to readers, I will state that my policy will be to use the spelling that is used by the distiller on their labeling as best as I can. Because the current majority of material here is focused on American Whiskies, at least initially the American spelling will be the default.
That’s enough talk about ‘e’s for one day. I think a dram is now in order, regardless of whether your bottle of choice has an ‘e’ or not. My apologies to all the Shakespeare fans that I may have offended with my opening paragraph, but it had to be done.
“Whisky is liquid sunshine.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
Recent updates to page listings for Bars and Distilleries.
I will be in San Diego next week to see what is going on in some of the new distilleries and finer whiskey bars.
I will also be introducing my newly created, proprietary whiskey bar review and scoring system. This will be a system to grade the quality of a bars whiskey selection, plus the talent and whiskey knowledge of the staff. So be watching for that in the next couple of weeks.
If you know of a craft distillery or whiskey bar, or any other whiskey issue that I need to let people know about, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get it on my schedule.
Thanks for reading. Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter.
The New Downtown Las Vegas
When I first began going to Las Vegas in the early 80’s, the downtown area was known mostly as being rather rough and unseemly, full of drunks and the folks who had blown their weeks pay and were trying to give blood or panhandling for cash for a bus ticket back to get back home and to work. To put it mildly that has changed.
The Downtown area of Las Vegas has seen some very significant changes over the last few years. Gone are the cheap low-end hotels, and the dumpy casinos, replaced by remodeled and improved hotels and clean, quality, casinos and something called the Fremont Street Experience. The Fremont Street Experience is the byproduct of cooperation between the city, the hotels and casinos in the area, and local businesses. The result is a 5 block long stretch of Fremont Street running from Main St. to Las Vegas Blvd. that has been closed to vehicle traffic. It is covered by a video canopy that operates at night and becomes a part of the overall entertainment experience. Where cross streets used to exist, now you will find live stages with bands and entertainers performing various styles, so that there is something for most everyone. There are casinos, hotels, bars, shops, and restaurants that open directly onto the walkway that connects it all together. If all that isn’t enough for you, it is now possible to ride Slotzilla, which is a giant 12 story high slot machine, that regularly pays out by sending folks zip-lining for 3-5 blocks underneath the canopy, and over the crowds below.
About 3 years ago I was invited to be a judge for the World Food Championships being held in the Fremont Street Experience area in Downtown Las Vegas. It was the first time that I had ever stayed in that part of town, and what a pleasure it was. I was there to judge the World Chili Championship portion and that year it took over a large part of Fremont Street east of the Experience and set up cooking stations for the chili contestants right in the street for a few blocks; just past that were the BBQ contestants. I spent a fair amount of time there over the few days that I was in town. While going back and forth, I noticed that a really unique and interesting transformation was taking place. Their were a number of new bars and restaurants on the few blocks, where previously had existed some small outdated businesses and dive joints, plus a good amount of construction demonstrating that a major transformation was taking over this part of Fremont Street.
The median of this stretch was now adorned with some of the old neon displays from the old hotels. It creates a nice mood and atmosphere, which was bringing in a more local crowd, while also catering nicely to the tourist trade which is the engine that makes Las Vegas run.
A key element in the success of this stretch of Fremont Street is a recent addition called “The Container Park.” Inside you will find some very nice small businesses offering unique wares and crafts in combination with some very unique restaurants and bars. As the name suggests, all of these businesses run out of re-purposed cargo containers. Yes, the same ones that float around the world on cargo ships. One of these is an exceptional little American Whiskey bar called Oak & Ivy. These folks have taken this small cargo container and rocked the world of whiskey and cocktails in the Las Vegas market, having gained tremendous recognition throughout the city and with the media. They have an excellent selection of primarily American whiskies, (due to space restrictions) and award-winning bartenders/mixologists to create whatever your heart desires.
Just a couple of blocks further at Fremont and 9th St is Las Vegas’s oldest bar, Atomic Liquors. Here you will find a comfortable place to have a quality drink and enjoy some true Old Las Vegas history. They have an excellent whiskey selection and 20 craft beers on tap.
While you are in town, if you are interested in seeing how your favorite beverage is made, I recommend a short trip down the 95 to Henderson where you will find Nevada’s first ever distillery, Las Vegas Distillery. Started less than five years ago, they have 3 whiskeys available and more aging, plus a solid compliment of vodkas, gins, a rum, and moonshines, including a tasty little remedy called Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine.
For my detailed reviews on the places mentioned please select their link.
Well, it looks like it is time to move to New Zealand. Not because of our current government administration or even the overload of an another election season (although, a case could be made for both), but because it is the only country in the world that allows home distilling. Yes, you read that correctly. I am unsure if New Zealand is big enough for all of us distilling wanna-be’s, but they had best start ramping up their infrastructure for the influx. The poor Kiwis are not going to know what the hell hit them. My advice is that we invade slowly, before they catch on to the real reason for the influx, and repeal their laws, too.
Sadly, I wish I weren’t half-joking about this. Over the last decade, this country has seen an incredible explosion in the number of home brewers making their own brews, to suit their own particular tastes and desires. This has evolved into a second, and even more noticeable explosion in the form of the craft and micro-brew industry that is turning the beverage industry on its head. Beer drinkers have been the beneficiaries of this tremendous increase of available styles and differing versions of those styles.
Twenty-five to Thirty years ago, only a small group of beer geeks had even heard of an IPA; now any bar or craft brewery that is worth its hops has a selection of them. This is because being able to home brew serves as a type of training ground or minor league for aspiring craft brewers. This allows them to learn how the brewing process and equipment work, plus being able to experiment inexpensively, finding methods that work for them, and the styles and recipes that best fit what they are trying to produce. This is a necessary part of the learning curve. The same is true for distilling, maybe even more so, because the investments involved are even greater.
Being able to distill legally on even the smallest level involves a lengthy and very involved permitting process, which then requires that all production be performed in a permitted facility that can NOT be on residential property. (Under 26 U.S.C. 5178(a)(1)(B), a distilled spirits plant may not be located in a residence or in sheds, yards, or enclosures connected to a residence.) So even if you choose to go through the permitting process and try to be above board, it is still illegal to distill at home.
Very few people have the personal resources to allow them to complete the permitting process, establish a licensed facility, and invest in suitable distilling equipment, all for the ability to make vodka, gin, rum, whiskey or any other distilled spirit you may choose for your personal use. No wonder we see such limited creativity in modern liquors. The major distilleries are parts of multi-national corporate conglomerates which operate under a business model that stifles true creativity. That leaves craft distilleries to fill the vast creative void. In fairness, even they can only go so far based on the scales by which they must operate. This is where home and hobby distilling fit in. When able to try something in such small scales as allowed with small home-sized stills and reasonable production times, creativity is encouraged. The worst that can happen if something doesn’t work, you toss it, or mix with something that makes it palatable, nothing lost.
The age-old American values of independence and freedom to do what you enjoy, plus some exceptional creativity, have changed the world of brewing forever. Now it is time to allow the same opportunities in the spirits industry.
I recently had the pleasure of experiencing one of the single best justifications for home distilling that I could ever imagine. While at RE: FIND Distillery in Paso Robles, CA, sampling some of their fine products, I had the pleasure of having a healthy conversation with Monica Villicana, one of the owners. She shared with me how they got involved in the distilling business as a matter of sustainability for their winery and as a way to utilize the saignee (free-run juice) that is a by-product of their winemaking process. They are now taking what was previously thrown away and distilling it into some exceptional vodkas and gin. They additionally take advantage of their location in the Central Coast and its prime farm land to utilize fresh produce items such as cucumbers, kumquats, citrus, aromatics and others to create a product that truly expresses the tastes and unique terroir of the area.
To expand on this, they have even recently begun utilizing their vineyard during its dormant season to begin growing grains for the production of whiskey. This not only gives them more efficient use of their land, but is also highly beneficial to the soil, through the return of the nutrients that are produced, so that they, and we win in multiple ways. This results in improved quality of the land and aids in reducing erosion, but also provides an improved quality to their wine grapes, the liquors they produce, and the grains that they grow for distillation into whiskey.
Let’s take this a step further and imagine small businesses like theirs all around the country being able to not only be more productive, but to be able to create offerings that truly highlight the unique characteristics of their region. Think of enjoying a wonderful dinner in a small restaurant that utilizes all locally sourced meats, produce, dairy, herbs and other ingredients in combination with locally sourced wine, craft beer, and liquors, all of which integrate to create a truly unique and local experience highlighting the special flavors of the region. This sort of thing is only possible through home distillers being able to practice and perfect their craft on a small scale before attempting to wrangle with the high-wire act that is involved with licensing a distillery and being comfortable with the recipes and techniques required to produce a quality product.
This brings us back to the original question. Why in this day and age is it illegal to make your own distilled spirits in this country? George Washington did it, quite successfully I might add, as did Thomas Jefferson, amongst many others throughout early American history. The ability to make your own was a significant part of early America. Don’t think for a second that the crew of the Mayflower crossed the Atlantic without a brewer and winemaker and a distiller in the house to assure that they could have a relaxing beverage after a hard day’s efforts. Don’t believe all that you read about the dominance of the early Puritans. There was drink on board during the trip and production began right after they landed to keep the morale up and to avoid desertions and mutiny.
The production and consumption of beer, wine, and distilled spirits has been an integral part of our history, the grand experiment included, such that do deny it seems very fundamentally wrong. If you agree, please support the Hobby Distillers Association and their efforts to get these laws changed and bring some common sense to legal home distillation.
I strongly encourage you to do as I have done and support the Hobby Distillers Association!
Hobby Distiller’s Association
and make a difference!
The Hobby Distiller’s Association has been created with a goal of changing federal legislation to give hobby distilling the same legal standing as hobby brewing and winemaking,
BUT WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT!
The HDA has had extensive discussions with a lobbyist in Washington, DC, who has experience (and success) in similar industries. They feel that we will be able to get the changes that we desire, but the association needs you to get involved. Not only is this a very costly venture, but it will get us directly in front of our members of Congress, so we need to show them that we have widespread support. This is the only way to get the changes through.
Please visit the Hobby Distiller’s Association at www.hobbydistillersassociation.org to find out more and to get involved.
Welcome to the world of Mr. Whiskey’s Rickhouse. The gang in the rickhouse and I are glad you are here. We look forward to sharing with you our love for all things whiskey. We will be discussing not only the brown elixir, but also where to find bars with notable selections, and talented knowledgeable mixologists, the distillers that are making it, what the best mixologists are doing with it, recipes for cocktails, whiskey related events, and information on home/hobby distilling. A hearty task certainly, but damn it, someone has to do it.
We are starting small, and simply, so please bear with us, as we plan to grow, and be a true source for all information relating to whiskey. We look forward to your input, and contributions because, that is what will make it truly shine. Soon we will be introducing you to some of the gang in the rickhouse and their unique take on various issues and your questions, which should prove to be quite interesting.
Our tagline is “This is where the magic of whiskey comes to life” because that is our goal, and after all, what a rickhouse is truly all about. It is our goal to provide you with regular, fun, and interesting content to increase your knowledge, and enhance your pleasure, and enjoyment of whiskey.
Thank you for joining us, please tell your friends, customers, or anyone with even a passing interest in whiskey to come and join us. Also, please be sure to follow us on twitter, @MrWhiskeysRkhse and on Facebook, MrWhiskeysRickhouse.
Grab a dram and enjoy the ride.
“Life is short, drink well” – Mr. Whiskey