Back in 2008, when Ballast Point was a big favorite among local beer aficionados, but still far from the billion-dollar brewer it is today, a few of the brand's employees began dabbling in distilling. Fast-forward to the present, and these aleumni from the now-international brewing outfit have left the mothership and launched a premium assortment of locally made alcohols under the name Cutwater Spirits.
Occupying a 50,000-square-foot distillery near Miramar Road, replete with a spacious tasting room and sprawling restaurant, Cutwater isn't merely the biggest spirits maker in San Diego; it's also the largest distilling operation on the West Coast. With an outstanding assortment of rum, gin, vodka, whiskey and liqueur, the distiller's innovative and unconventional offerings ensure a spirit for all tastes. Here's a look at the lineup.
Crafted in a custom-built copper still, Devil's Share Moonshine (98.6 proof, 49.3 percent alcohol by volume) is seductively sinful. With a malty profile and smooth finish, this sweet whiskey contains a touch of tropical fruit and floral flavors, plus higher proof to kick up the warming factor up. Available in limited quantities are Cutwater's Bourbon and Single-Malt shades of Devil's Share (both 92 proof). Aged in virgin, heavily charred American oak barrels, the small-batched Single-Malt is sweet, with woody caramel and vanilla notes backed by cinnamon, cardamom and licorice. The Bourbon is an exceptionally refined spirit rich with tones of oak, vanilla, cinnamon and tobacco.
A unique twist on the classic London Dry style, Old Grove Gin (88 proof) is crafted from freshly cracked juniper berries with subtle hints of rose petals, lemongrass and locally sourced coriander among 11 vapor-infused botanicals. Also available is a Barrel Rested version, which spends 50 days unwinding in a charred oak barrel, giving it a smoky-cinnamon taste.
Named after a famously venomous fish, Fugu Vodka (80 proof) is distilled from top-quality grains and filtered 15 times. In addition to the original offering, Fugu is also available in two distinctly San Diegan flavors: horchata and habanero. Horchata Fugu features a blend of cinnamon, rice, and vanilla; Habanero Fugu adds a fiery finish to any cocktail.
Crafted from pure cane sugar rather than the typical molasses, Three Sheets Rum (80 proof) comes in three varieties, each distilled in a hybrid pot-and-column still. The standard incarnation of the silky smooth rum stands well on its own or when mixed with whatever. Distilled like a bourbon, the Barrel-Aged version spends two years in virgin American oak barrels, soaking in subtle nuances of toffee, caramel, vanilla and tobacco. Infused with a blend of seven spices including vanilla bean, nutmeg and cinnamon, the Spiced Rum is an excellent choice for toasty evenings or island-inspired cocktails.
MIXERS & LIQUEUR
Bloody Mary fans won't want to miss Cutwater's masterful mixes. Available in spicy and mild varieties, this nonalcoholic blend of tomatoes, peppers and spices pairs perfectly with Fugu Vodka for one helluva Bloody. For a more tropical taste, Cutwater's fruitful Mai Tai Mix offers a refreshing twist on the Tiki classic when mixed with a shot (or two) of Three Sheets Rum. For a touch of anise, try Cutwater's Opah Herbal Liqueur* (72 proof), which offers a warm, licorice flavor ideal for a casual sip or an eye-opening shot.
Why waste time mixing drinks when you can crack open Cutwater cocktail-in-a-can instead? The distillery's quartet of ready-made 12-ouncers includes a potent Fugu Bloody Mary (10 percent alcohol by volume) and an Old Grove Gin & Tonic (6.2 percent alcohol by volume) concocted with housemade grapefruit-cucumber bubbles. Pick up a four-pack of Cutwater's Three Sheets Rum & Ginger or Rum & Cola (both 7 percent alcohol by volume), blended with a frisky housemade ginger beer and cardamom-infused cola respectively.
Cutwater Spirits: 9750 Distribution Ave., Miramar. 858.672.FUGU, cutwaterspirits.com. Daily tours open to the public