Santa Barbara County’s First Legal Distillery Since Prohibition Opens!

This is not only Santa Barbara County’s first legal full service distillery since Prohibition, but also the first on the entire California Central Coast.

“The craft distilling movement has begun to take off in the U.S. in the last few years, in many ways similar to the takeoff of craft brewing some thirty years ago,“ said Bill Owens, head of the American Distilling Institute, and a champion of small craft distilleries.

Ascendant Spirits is initially releasing Breaker Bourbon Whisky, a handmade small batch bourbon and American Star Vodka, to be followed in the spring by Silver Lighting moonshine, American Star Vodkas flavored with fresh Santa Barbara fruit, and other spirits like gin, which will also incorporate local and organic fresh ingredients.

Steve, the company’s President and Master Distiller, said that he believes that his coastal valley location at the entrance to the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Rita Hills is an ideal location for a craft distillery for several reasons:

“First, is the unique California coastal valley climate. The same climate that produces some of the best wine grapes in America, will also help make the best whisky. Smooth aging of whisky in charred oak barrels is a function of the warming and cooling of the charred barrels. Warming opens the oak’s pores and draws in the whisky through the charcoal; then when it cools down substantially (e.g. 30 degrees), the pores close and the whisky is pushed back out. In Kentucky and surrounding states, this temperature variation aging process is a summer-winter cycle. In Buellton, it happens most days of the year. We’ll produce a world class whisky in fewer years than Kentucky and in a fraction of the time it takes in Scotland!”

A second reason, he says is “the amazing fresh fruit available in the County…. For example, we will be producing a Strawberry Vodka made with local organic strawberries. We will pick strawberries and distill them the same day.” Gertman calls this the beginning of “field to bottle” distilled spirits, which will create a new level of locavore offerings.

His third reason for excitement about his location is the emerging Buellton complex of beverage producers. His immediate neighbors are the Figueroa Mountain craft brewery, the Terravant wine production facility, Margerum wines, and Ken Brown wines. Also nearby are the Walker-Firestone brewpub (home to their new Barrelworks program), Prodigal wines and Standing Sun wines. Steve says, “To my knowledge, we are the only location where a brewery, winery and distillery operate in the same location.” He and his neighbors are already planning some innovative collaborations to make malt whisky and brandy in the near future.

Stephen Thompson, a Director of Ascendant Spirits, notes that “craft distilling could become a significant new economic opportunity for the central California coast, enhancing agricultural revenues, generating state tax revenues and offering additional jobs, just as wine-making has done in the past generation.” Thompson, a California native and Cal Poly graduate, is a past-president of Brown-Forman Distilling, one of the largest U.S. distillers and maker of Jack Daniels and other leading brands.

After the grand opening weekend, Ascendant’s tasting room will initially be open Fridays from 4-8 pm and Saturday & Sunday from 11 am until 6 pm. For more information about its new spirits releases and available locations, go to its website, or call 805-691-1000.


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