America's Finest is best known as a beer town, but the recent release of the first locally distilled whiskey proves San Diegans can produce a higher proof.
Yuseff Cherney, chief distiller for Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits in Scripps Ranch, is at the head of this class. His Devil's Share Whiskey (available to the public via a limited release beginning in December) delivers massive oak, smoke and caramel flavor that's impressive for the first run of a brand-new spirit. In fact, it's so solid that it won top honors from the American Distilling Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, last year-surpassing hometown favorites while having barely kissed the barrels in which it has now been aging for months.
"We brew Devil's Share like a traditional Scotch whisky, but age it like an American bourbon in new American Virgin oak," says Cherney.
While Cherney is busy making whiskey, other local aficionados offer tips for how to enjoy drinking it.
Scot Blair, owner of Small Bar in University Heights, is a major supporter of Ballast Point and the nation's most en vogue breed of whiskey, bourbon. "We've been really committed to having a large selection and making often harder-to-find bourbon readily accessible," he says.
For cocktails, Blair recommends against drinks that mask bourbon's subtleties. "I'd suggest an Old Fashioned-sugar, bitters, bourbon, some nice orange essence, and you're set. Then I'd move on to a Manhattan. Even though purists insist on rye, try this cocktail with a brilliant bourbon and you'll see my point. And a mint julep made with love and care is like a little slice of heaven."
Anthony Schmidt, lead mixologist at Noble Experiment in East Village, follows a similarly simple philosophy.
"I strive to limit ingredients and let the spirit sing for itself the way it was intended," says Schmidt, whose go-tos are the Old Fashioned, a ginger-bourbon highball called The Horse's Neck and the legendary Gold Rush (bourbon, lemon juice and honey). That's the spirit.
Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits
10051 Old Grove Rd., Scripps Ranch
777 G St., East Village
4628 Park Blvd., University Heights