When you’re looking for quality whiskey, you might be surprised by the pure variety of flavors and brewing methods that you can find in California. It’s worth the drive to visit your local California distillery and stillhouse for their unparalleled dedication to the art of brewery and for an experience you cannot find anywhere else.
Alcohol has always been a part of American culture, so it’s difficult to say exactly when production began in California. What we do know is that distilleries were present as early as the 1800s since we can reference the preserved paper ads from that time period, which show icons like Uncle Sam reclined on a whiskey barrel or various animal mascots alongside bottles.
We also know that citizens of the time fought hard to keep alcohol present, with California counties being divided between dry and wet states depending on the legal restrictions of their area. Though some people supported prohibition through the mid-18th century, the majority continued celebrating their spirits secretively even within the supposedly dry counties.
Whiskey is so innately tied to the history of California, in fact, that there was a town created around 1850 that was literally named Whiskeytown. The story goes that a traveling miner, named Billie Peterson, accidentally dropped a whiskey barrel off his mule. The barrel rolled into rocks lying at a creek’s edge and spilled its contents into the flowing water, earning both the creek and the town whiskey-based names.
Brewing whiskey initially starts with grains, often something like corn or rye, that have been moistened with water to allow the formation of sugars. From there, the grains are heated to re-dry them to stop the sugar formation, ground up into smaller pieces, and mixed with hot water to create a substance called mash. The magic really starts here, where we add yeast to the concoction to convert the sugar to alcohol.
Though you can get whiskey from this product, it’s preferable to take it a step further with a process called distillation. This technique allows for a higher concentration of alcohol and increased intensity of the spirit’s profile so that the true flavor can shine more brightly. Most of the whiskeys we enjoy today have undergone this developing process.
Pot stills are a recurrent technique for distilling. Made with an outer metal casing, this large device contains layers that become increasingly narrow the higher they are placed within the pot. The grain mash is placed at the bottom of the container and heated at such a temperature that the alcohol vaporizes but the water does not. The narrow openings force the alcohol to eventually condense at the top, yielding the distilled product.
Whiskey is among the most popular of all spirits, so it’s no surprise that brewers have taken to creative twists to stand out and present flavors that have never been seen before. Adding in sugary elements is particularly well-loved with whiskey, so chocolate or citrus-infused brews are quite common. The chocolate lends a rich, creaminess to the liquor, while the citrus compliments the whiskey’s innate smokiness.
Other brewers prefer a more savory take on the whiskey so that the spirit’s natural taste doesn’t become overshadowed by the additions. One such instance is coffee whiskey, which utilized espresso beans to add a sharp pep to the more rounded-out nature of the brew. Younger drinkers tend to love this one for how it combines two intense tastes together with the added benefit of caffeine.
Another take that leans on the savory side is rice whiskey, which swaps out the usual rye and corn for long-grain rice in the mashing process. This swap yields alcohol that is smoother while still providing the intense whiskey flavor you crave. While it may not be as naturally smokey as the usual brew, the sharpness still manages to remain present as a lingering aftertaste.
Adding all these exciting flavors requires the discovery of unique techniques that take advantage of the multiple stages that occur during distillation. Easily the most common technique is grinding the ingredient to be added and mixing it with the grain during the mashing phase. This allows for the component to truly set in with the base during the fermentation process, as well as allowing the alcohol the chance to stay dominant during the distillation steps.
There are some situations, however, where the ingredient added may be so subtle that we’d want to place it in after the brewing. In these instances, the element may be added to the distilled product and left to sit in the bottle with the spirit to offer more time to combine. Sometimes the element is so mild that it’s added directly before serving, such as when smokiness is applied to the glass right before the recipient takes the shot.
Each California distillery and stillhouse makes a name for itself based on what ingredients and methods they choose to enhance their spirits. The brewing process is incredibly important for the base, but adding artisanal twists is what makes a business stand out and last the test of time. When a location makes a discovery unique to itself, it’s sure to draw a curious crowd.
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a nice brew by yourself to settle in the evening, everyone knows that alcohol is more fun when you’re with your friends. Sharing a brew offers the group a chance to relax fully and release their inhibitions in a setting where they can be open with the people they love to spend time with the most.
Meals have always been a source of community, and adding spirits to the ceremony is the cherry on the cake. Whiskey is more than just liquor: it’s a culturally rich and widely celebrated part of being with your pals at restaurants, bars, and pubs. Sharing is a large part of drinking traditions for a reason, and you’ll have twice the gratification in you pair it with your comrades and family members.
Feeding a crowd takes a lot of effort and room to house them. The average person won’t have the time or space to accommodate such a task, so we recommend visiting a California distillery or stillhouse so that you can join in on the fun instead of spending the whole event trying to serve as host. This way, you’ll have the chance to settle in and properly enjoy your company.
Whiskey by itself is an absolute pleasure, with its full flavor and hints of smokiness, but that experience can definitely be enhanced by putting a snack or meal alongside it. Besides helping to keep your stomach settled and your tolerance high, whiskey’s intense palate really does contribute to creating a full adventure at the dining table.
While you can create your own table at home, we recommend visiting a California distillery for the full production. These locations can provide a full-course meal in addition to brews you just can’t find in the store. Even better is that these buildings will be designed to provide ambiance and space for all the friends and family you bring with you.
We personally adore having a delicious ribeye steak with whiskey over ice. The steak’s juices have an innate smokiness that is perfectly complimented by the shared nature of a stronger whiskey, and this is only made better if the steak is well-marbled for that extra flavor. If you’re still hungry, we recommend adding a side of grilled asparagus to bring in some herbal notes.
If you’re looking for a more light experience, try adding the whiskey to a charcuterie board. Cheese is well known to flatter the richness of whiskey since the creaminess of the dairy opposes the darker notes of the spirit. Crackers are also a common element on charcuterie boards and can simultaneously be used as a palate cleanser between sips or bites of different servings.
For a fancier experience, we advise pairing your brew with sweets like chocolate or cakes. The previously mentioned chocolate whiskey, or simply a whiskey with high rye content, will combine well with any delicacies containing vanilla, toffee, or caramel notes. If you’re wanting the combination to be slightly heavier, try pairing the glass with thicker slices like cheesecake or pumpkin pie. Even better is pairing a coffee whiskey with breakfast pastries, like blueberry coffee cake.
Whiskey is intensely loved by almost every casual or seasoned drinker, and this brew is worth all the time and effort it takes to produce. It truly is an art to develop a brew that matches the high quality we have come to expect from whiskey, and when you’re looking for a quality stillhouse, Town’s End Stillhouse and Grill is just that. Visit Town’s End today to have the full experience with your friends.