When you think “American craft liquor” states like Tennessee and Kentucky probably come to mind. But the west coast is giving them a run for their money and many highly-lauded spirits in are coming out of California. It’s more than sun and surf calling people to the Golden State, they also have access to a bounty of fresh ingredients perfect for distilling hand-crafted liquors. From Rule-bending newcomers to illustrious old-timers, these are the can’t-miss California distilleries.
Best Distilleries in California
Since 1982, this storied craft distillery has been creating award-winning spirits on the San Francisco Bay. From their herbal Botanivore Gin (which earned 93 points from Wine Enthusiast) to absinthe to the rich NOLA Coffee Liqueur, the varied list of spirits at St. George is a highly lauded one. Their massive distillery tour is $20 but is all-inclusive and gets you a guided tasting.
This premium booze maker follows a hands-on process all the way from milling locally-grown grain on-site to distilling their vodkas, gins, and whiskeys by hand. That attention to detail and accountability leads to high-quality spirits with minimal bells and whistles. Don’t miss their sloe gin, made from a multi-generational family recipe from England.
The lineup of spirits from Charbay seem endless and become even more impressive when you look at their accolades. You would think producing multiple releases of whiskey, vodka, rum, brandy, and tequila (along with flavored vodkas ranging from green tea to blood orange, not to mention their wine) might degrade quality. Not so at Charbay, where their vodka was once named Vodka of the Year by Food and Wine Magazine.
At the heart of this family owned craft distiller is a love of whisky, from peat smoked to bourbon whisky to cherry wood smoked. That doesn’t stop them from making subtly spicy aged rum, a nicely layered gin, and, coming soon, absinthe. The tour and tasting gets you access to the facility and the distillers themselves.
You would think a city like Los Angeles would have a surplus of distilleries but Greenbar has the distinction of being the only one in downtown LA (for now.) Their small-batch spirits (including straightforward bar standards like vodka, whiskey, and their dark hued TRU Organic Gin) stand out as well in that the ingredients are 100% organic and the bottles are 100% recycled.
Amador produces straightforward spirits in uber small batches, making for high-quality hand crafted liquors, including whiskey, gin, and rum. The tour options at Amador offer an exciting glimpse into the distilling process and range from a one hour tour catered to whiskey and brandy lovers to the two hour “Mother Lode” tour.
In sunny Santa Cruz you’ll find an award-winning small batch producer focused on producing spirits from organic, locally sourced ingredients. Whether it’s their gin, tequila, whiskey or something in between, the spirits at Venus highlight the fresh ingredients of each meticulously crafted recipe. A tour of their distillery includes a flight in their uniquely chic tasting room.
Trip tip: These distilleries all offer tours but many require reservations or have limited hours so be sure to call ahead and plan your visit.
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This article was written by Katie Vaughan.