When it comes to epic scenery, California’s zigzagging Highway 1 is pretty darn unparalleled. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or proud native of the Golden State, it’s important to take a break from the bustling city and venture out to the rugged coast. And if you fancy yourself a boozehound—a responsible one while on the road, of course—there’s even better news: Sprinkled along the infamously lengthy coastal route are some kick-ass craft spirits to taste. Check out these four spots to hit, from north to south.
If you travel this far north, expect to be handsomely rewarded with pristine coastline, colossal redwood trees and, best of all, vodka infused with weed. Yes, that’s right. The distillery’s beloved Humboldt’s Finest is infused with local Cannabis sativa, but the finished product is THC-free and legal in all 50 states.
Using Florida sugar cane, Humboldt Distillery also produces a non-infused vodka and two different rums that are all certified organic and gluten-free. And soon to be released is its organic malt whiskey, which visitors can get a taste of from the barrel. You may even be lucky enough to score a taste of its seasonal apple brandy and pear brandy—both are only available at the distillery.
Available by appointment, the tour itself is free, and the tasting is $5 (fee waived with purchase). In addition to bottles, the gift shop offers an eclectic mix of local goods such as chocolates, barbecue sauce and more.
Located 30 miles south of San Francisco, this secluded bay played a prominent role in bootlegging throughout Prohibition, earning San Mateo County the reputation of being “the most corrupt county in California” during the booze-free era. Fast-forward to 2014, when husband-and-wife duo Caesar and Ulli Bisono decided to do things the legal way and founded Half Moon Bay’s very first legitimate distillery.
Upon arrival, you’ll watch a quirky video depicting how the couple came to create the distillery. Afterward, you’ll get a taste of the small-batch vodka and gin. The couple named the grain-based Purissima vodka after the local ghost town of Purissima that was destroyed by a flooded creek. The Harvard Avenue gin is made with 12 different botanicals, blending the distinct character of juniper with notes of citrus and spice.
Complimentary visits are scheduled on the hour, and starting late spring, visits will be hosted at the brand new distillery just down the street.
If you find yourself making a stopover in Santa Barbara’s ultra-trendy Funk Zone, pay a visit to Ian Cutler at his cozy tasting room on Anacapa Street. With its décor featuring antique equipment and family heirlooms, you’ll taste through the spirits while learning about the Cutler family’s fascinating history, from serving drinks to thirsty goldminers to bootlegging during Prohibition. And with his modern reincarnation of the family legacy, Ian produces a vodka, a gin, two different whiskeys and a sinfully delectable Apple Pie liqueur inspired by his grandma Tommie’s pie recipe.
Walk-in visits are welcome, and the tasting flight costs $10. Cutler also offers samples of his featured draft cocktail to showcase some of his favorite recipes.
Just over an hour northwest of Los Angeles, Ventura Spirits is the perfect stop to get a taste of local distillates. Founded in 2013 by four guys with a shared passion for small-batch spirits, the aim was to pay homage to the wonders of California agriculture.
Locally sourced from Ventura County, its California vodka is currently the world’s only vodka that’s distilled from strawberries. Also sourced within the state, the Opuntia is a rather unique eau-de-vie that expresses the pure essence of prickly pear with subtle characters reminiscent of mezcal or tequila. The Wilder gin features native wild-harvested botanicals, offering both precision and a sense of California’s wild side. And the newest product is a strawberry brandy that undergoes single distillation before spending two years in neutral French oak.
In the name of spirits, these guys are undoubtedly true to their craft. So if you really want to geek out, this is the place to do it.
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