Following the Paso Robles Distillery Trail
By Mary Charlebois
In Paso Robles California, distilleries are all the rage.
The Central Coast town is a craft-spirit epicenter. In the last 15-years, industry cooperation, community support, and sustainable practices have put over a dozen flourishing distilleries on the map. Each is making hand-crafted spirits; taking gold medals, blue ribbons, and pleasing palettes everywhere.
Paso Robles produces the state’s most extensive variety of distilled spirits. They include – vodka, flavored vodka, gin, flavored gin, grappa, aged brandy, fruit brandy, apple brandy, neutral brandy, oak brandy, mango/ginger/black peppercorn brandy, Turkish fig brandy, burned orange peel brandy, French oak cinnamon brandy, hibiscus/lemon brandy, botanical brandy, limoncello, apple cider, rum, coffee liqueur, rye whiskey, bourbon, bitter liqueur, vermouth, and new varieties every year.
Everyone is in on it
Winemakers, fruit farmers, distillers, brewers, grain farmers, restaurants, and cocktail venues, are working together, sharing techniques, equipment, PR, and friendship. Each one takes the success of others as seriously as their own.
On my tour of Paso Robles’ distilleries, I asked, “Why is there such a close connection between should-be competitors?”
The answer was universal, “We’ve always been farmers in this county, you can’t make it without the help of your neighbor, your neighbor can’t do it without you.”
There are shared philosophies among the allies – the land is first – nothing goes to waste – adopt sustainable practices – share what you’ve learned – help one another. The love of their land and passion for their craft are evident in every drop of their lovely elixirs.
From grape to spirit
Alex, from Re:Find Distillery, started his operation in 2011. He hated wasting unused grape juice from Villicana, his winery.
In the process of making certain wines, saignée (son-yay), (grape juice), is drawn off before fermentation. Alex decided to try fermenting, then distilling the extra juice to make vodka. Re:Find Handcrafted Spirits was born.
Today Re:Find makes award-winning vodka, gin, limoncello, kumquat liqueur, rye whiskey, and bourbon whiskey. website
There are similar distillery stories around the county. Some were wineries looking for sustainable uses for all the fruit in their vineyards and orchards. They began using the extra juice to make spirits.
Others started as distillers, buying saignée from local wineries, fruit, and grain from regional farmers. All have joined forces to help each other and grow the industry in their region.
The Paso Robles Distillery Trail will take you to some of the best distillers in the area. Each location creates handmade spirits and liqueurs from regionally sourced ingredients. All offer tasting and bottle sales. Chances are the distiller will be pouring while sharing with you his passion for the craft. website
All the locations have places to enjoy a libation and the view. KROBAR Distillery has an outdoor sippin’ lounge overlooking a farm and undulating vineyards. Barton’s Kitchen, KROBAR’s eatery, is renowned for their farm to table dishes, often sourced from less than a mile. website
As you meander from place-to-place, you’ll pass through valleys, over rolling hills, through farms, ranches, and vineyards. The scenery is spectacular.
The backroad tour is made for taking your time. Bring a picnic or buy some goodies along the way. Kickback and watch the clouds change shape. Listen for bird calls and insect buzz. This is California casual.
If you don’t want to drive, give Uncorked Wine Tours a jingle, they will tour you in comfort and safety to distilleries, wineries, breweries, and cideries. You choose your destinations or let Uncorked surprise you. website
Many distilleries in the area were started by a winery. You might find a winery and/or vineyard next door to the spirits. It’s a bonus libation experience. You can taste, explore, and sip the sun down.
A winery without a distillery, but not to miss, is DAOU. The tasting room, wine bar, and restaurant are located at the top of DAOU Mountain. From the terraced gardens at 2200-feet, the view across valleys and mountains will mesmerize you. A patchwork of vineyards, orchards, farms, and fields stretches to the horizon.
DAOU is sublime. The family-owned vineyard and winery produce world-class Cabernet Sauvignon in remarkable geology and an ideal micro-climate. A food and wine pairing here will be remembered with great affection. website
Apple a day
Cider has made a welcome comeback in the US. Tin City Cider is where to go taste, sip, and play.
It’s kid and adult friendly, with indoor and outdoor games for all sizes and interest. Ciders are fermented and canned on the spot.
Food and libation are served at open seating communal tables or the bar. website
Eat & drink
Paso Robles eateries have jumped on the spirits bandwagon offering cocktail and food pairings. Craft cocktails are designed using local liquor. Dishes are prepared with spirits, wine, and beer.
La Cosecha has one of the most complete collections of local liquors. Their cocktail program creates libations using garden-fresh ingredients and always features Paso Robles distillers’ handiwork. website
Donovan Schmit, from Paso Robles retro speakeasy, Eleven Twenty-Two, got involved in the distillery movement as a local source for craft spirits he needed for vintage cocktails he revitalizes.
He works directly with local distillers developing recipes and forgotten spirit varieties. A visit to Eleven Twenty-Two is part cocktail lounge, part science lab, and part theater. The array of bottles, canisters, and jars are ingredients and tools for the super-mixers behind the bar. website
More than spirits
There’s more than good food and libations in this part of the state. Paso is only a few miles from the beach, where waves and wildlife are king. The old downtown square is alive with art and music.
Eateries, watering holes, and shops are locally owned and operated. Live entertainment on the square and in bars is frequent. Farmers set up a market twice a week. Art and music fairs are celebrated most of the year.
The closest airport is San Luis Obispo (SBP). An Amtrak station is two blocks from the Paso Robles downtown square. Rental cars are available.
A car will be your best bet getting to and around Paso Robles, located on HWY 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
For more information about Paso Robles, visit their website – Travel Paso.
Mary Charlebois is a freelance journalist and photographer. Her home base is on California’s Mendocino Coast. She travels by train, plane, bus, boat, shoe sole, and auto. She digs into the culture, people, and history wherever she goes and isn’t opposed to a little adventure along the way.