2725 Adelaida Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Paso Robles, CA, has been a wine making region for over 150 years, so finding excellent wine makers in the area is not hard, but finding a good, potentially great distillery there is unusual. Alex and Monica Villicana began producing high quality wines 20 years ago on their vineyard in the rolling hills of Paso Robles. From the beginning, they have been highly concerned about sustainability at their vineyard, and one of the largest sources of frustration for them was the waste that comes from the free-run juice that is a by-product of wine making. As part of the production of fine wine, some of the pre-fermentation juice is run off to create a higher concentration of juice, resulting in
a more concentrated and flavorful wine. This juice is known as saignee (son-yay) and is normally a waste product for most wineries. Alex finally realized through some creativity, that he could save the saignee that was wasted and put it to a productive use by distilling it into vodka, gin and brandy. Many of you may be scratching your heads, wondering what winemaking, vodka, gin, or brandy have to do with whiskey and whether Mr. Whiskey is losing his edge. Bear with me a moment and you will see how it becomes a key element.
By utilizing such premium-quality juice from their winemaking grapes instead of a much less expensive base like potatoes or grain to make their base distillate, they gain a far more flavorful result. After triple distilling the juice, they end up with a vodka that is highly flavorful, a
touch sweet, and with just a touch of the grape/wine flavor at the end as it leaves your mouth. It is an exceptional pure liquor and bottled at 80 proof, and while it is full in flavor, it is noticeably lacking the alcohol burn in the nose or on the tongue commonly experienced with more traditionally distilled liquors.
In the production of their gin, they begin with the ultra-pure vodka as a base and then distill it one more time with the inclusion of 7 unique, locally-sourced botanicals, producing an extremely crisp and fresh-flavored gin with very distinct elements of each of the botanicals coming through.
Now is where we bring it to the brown juice. While I was touring their operation recently, Monica, was gracious enough to rummage through deep secret hiding spots in a couple of offices to find samples of what I had really come for. Neither is currently available for sale, even to their tasting customers, because it is temporarily sold out, but Mr. Whiskey was able to try some so that I could share it with you. First up was a very unique tasting item that I was instructed to nose and taste first, before they would tell me what it was. This secret liquor had a slightly sweet, bourbon-like scent, and initial taste to the tongue but became more scotch-like as it passed over the back of the mouth, yet also left a very slight hint of fruitiness. Now I was really curious. What is this outstanding and very versatile tipple. It is a product that they call “(e)”, as in whether to use an “e” in whiskey or not. Interestingly it is not a whiskey at all, but that ultra-pure vodka that I had tried before after it had spent 10-12 months aging in 5 and 10-gallon newly charred American oak barrels. Wow, what an eye opener to how much different flavor truly comes from the barrel aging process. I understand that we talk about the differences that barrel aging can add to a whiskey and all of the subtleties that are involved in it, but to taste a truly neutral base spirit that has been aged for the equivalent of 3-5 years, because of the small barrel size, was truly eye-opening. They will have this available again a bit later in the year and I highly recommend it, especially for someone who is new to whiskey and also those of you who do tasting classes as a way to demonstrate how much impact the barrels have on the taste of the final product.
Then came their Rye whiskey. The mash is made to their specifications by one of the local craft breweries and then taken to the distillery for fermentation and distillation. Even at 93 proof, this is a spicy yet just slightly sweet tasting expression without a strong alcohol burn, either in the nose or in the mouth. I can see it being very tasty in a Manhattan or similar style cocktail, especially with the tinge of sweetness.
After tasting I toured the barrel storage area, small but efficient, and was shown stacks of 5, 10, and 15-gallon barrels that have been patiently holding a bourbon that will be released this quarter, once the new labelling and distribution laws for California are in place.
This is a distillery that you need to keep an eye on. Not only are they already producing some excellent products, but as their capacity increases in the coming years I see them pushing the envelope hard in areas of sustainability and the true benefits of local sourcing, especially in an area where there is a tremendous variety of fresh produce and wonderful soils. They told me that they have even begun planting rye, wheat, and some other grains in between the grape vine rows during the off season to provide for their own grains for whiskey and to improve the overall soil quality and durability for both the grapes and the grains. It is folks like Alex and Monica that really get me excited about the prospects of craft and home distilling into the future. With such dedication and devotion, we will all benefit from the coming changes in the distilling industry.
Open Daily From 11:00 am – 5:00 pm for Tours and Tasting
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
― Mark Twain