Earlier this year, a Reader cover story highlighted changes to California law allowing small batch distilleries to sell bottles out of their tasting rooms. Only a few months later, this change is helping Spring Valley spirit maker Liberty Call Distilling get creative with the liquor it brings to market.
"It's made all the difference in the world to us," says Liberty Call cofounder Bill Rogers. "We were legally able to sell February 4 this year, and ever since then we've been in the black." Rogers says the company has shown profit 5 months in a row after doing so only two months all of last year.
The brand has distributed to local bars and retailers including Costco and Albertson's within California, primarily with core offerings of white rum, spiced rum and gin. With the tasting room in play, it can sell special batches unavailable elsewhere. "I don't want to compete against myself," Rogers says, "Now that we have some cash coming in, it's like, okay what else can we make…? The tasting room is supporting us now, what can we do that's fun?"
Each month Liberty Call plans to release new bottles in the tasting room, including barrel aged versions of its white rum and gin, orange- and lemoncello, and a cask strength version of its four grain whiskey.
The capital intensive process of making whiskey has been the goal for Liberty Call from the start. It began releasing its four-grain last summer and is preparing to upgrade its still to allow on-grain whiskey production. "We're really starting to focus on our whiskey," Rogers says, "Because it's our top seller. We literally can't make enough."
Traditional whiskey production takes years, so Liberty Call's focus is creative recipes to compensate for circumventing traditional aging practices. "We want to something completely different in terms of making whiskey," Rogers points out, suggesting Liberty Call may experiment with unusual ingredients such as heirloom blue corn and smoked rye.
Liberty Call has also been embracing unconventional techniques to speed up a whiskey's maturation. One process involves rotating the spirit through a trio of 30-gallon barrels. The distiller bottles 15 gallons from oldest barrel, leaving half the whiskey behind to blend with 15 gallons from a younger barrel. The second barrel gets refilled by a third, even younger barrel. "It gives a steady consistency of flavor across the line," Rogers explains, "and ages a little quicker."
Another way Liberty Call accelerates the whiskey pulling flavor from oak is putting an agitator in the second barrel. Designed by a local company Hertzbier, Rogers says this small device, "causes the whiskey to vibrate inside the barrel and penetrate the wood." Within the next several weeks Rogers expects to start using 23-gallon barrels specially designed by a company called Black Swan. The new barrels feature internal staves cut into a honeycombed lattice pattern to add surface area, thereby increasing the whiskey's contact with the oak.
With the new barrels, Rogers hopes to turn around finished batches of whiskey within a year — in time to fund another new round of expansion.