JEFF BURKHART’S BARFLY: ARTISAN DISTILLERS SHARE THEIR SPIRITED STORIES

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Marin IJ

There are books about cocktails, lists and lists of every drink imaginable. Ironically what many of these cocktail books lack is imagination. There are also books about distilled spirits, page after page of reviews and techniques and ingredients and history. Some are so dry that it takes a dry martini just to get through them. What these books lack are stories about people: Who are the people behind these products? Not just their resumes, but their personal stories. Santa Barbara’s Capra Press is looking to rectify that.

“Distilled Stories: California Artisans Behind the Spirits” (click here to purchase) includes the stories of most of the Bay Area’s artisanal and craft distillers, including vodka distiller and Marin resident Scott Hanson, told in their own words and edited by the staff at Capra Press.

Recently I caught up with Capra Press managing editor P. Allen Brodey.

Q In a world filled with cocktail and spirits books, what sets this one apart?

A The book is about each distiller and their journey to the still, not about cocktails. It is their backstory, personal and not commercial. It’s the process and path each distiller took to finally get to the “spirit world.”

There are no endless cocktail recipes except perhaps the occasional mention, by a few of the distillers, of their own “My Last Drink.”

Q How did this book come about?

A The concept for the book arose out of a chance meeting with Arthur Hartunian at the annual Friends of Ardent Mixology (FOAM) Hawaiian-themed party in July, 2013 in Napa, California.

FOAM was founded by vintner Judd Finkelstein of Judd’s Hill Winery. Judd very much appreciated a good cocktail at the end of the day and decided that his interest in spirits should be shared with others.

Arthur and I happened to be sitting in the shade of a tiki bar and enjoying mai tais. Arthur at the time was president of California Artisanal Distillers (CADG) and the proprietor of the Napa Valley Distillery, the first distillery to open in Napa. I asked Arthur how he became interested in distilling spirits. Two hours later I was still listening to the story about his journey. I asked him if the other members of the CADG also had such fascinating stories. His answer was: “Yes, of course,” and the book was born.

Q What exactly is the CADG and how were they involved?

A The CADG is an organization that protects and promotes the art and craft of small-batch and artisanal distilled spirits making, enhances awareness of California craft-made spirits and works together to grow and ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry.

Arthur was the first president of the CADG, and there were members of the CADG who had great stories to tell, so it seemed logical to ask them if they were interested in telling their stories of how they each found their own way to the still.

Q What is the California Craft Distillers Act of 2015 and why is it relevant?

A The sale and distribution of distilled spirits remained unchanged in the California since Prohibition. The California Distillers Act of 2015 allows for the sale of distilled spirits directly to the consumer in the tasting room. It creates a better business opportunity for small craft distillers to benefit directly from sales of their product directly to the public. It also provides a greater equality between the small craft distillers- those that produce less than 100,000 gallons per fiscal year- and beer and wine producers. As with any law there are, of course, nuances involved.

Q Anything thoughts on the current state of cocktails?

A There is a cocktail revolution taking place in this country. The days of asking for just a glass of wine or a beer are over. Cocktail lists are now almost as long as wine lists. Bartenders are really more like liquid chefs with the availability of many fresh ingredients to enhance the enjoyment of the cocktail. Bartenders actually make the drinks whereas a wine sommelier is only able to talk about the wine and really has nothing to do with making it. The art involved with the bottle and label of distilled spirits provides the opportunity to be much more creative than that with just a wine bottle. There’s now much more talent involved than just knowing how to use a corkscrew.

Jeff Burkhart is the author of “Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender” as well as an award-winning bartender at a local restaurant. Follow him at www.jeffburkhart.net and contact him at jeffb@thebarflyonline.com.


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