As the number of craft breweries in San Diego nears 150, the number of distilleries approaches a mere 17. However, in the relatively young world of craft spirits, 17 apparently counts for a lot. When travel-booking site Travelocity.com crunched its user data to release a Beer Tourism Index last fall, it ranked San Diego a debatable number eight among large cities people travel to for beer. However, on a similar Craft Spirits Tourism Index it published last month, San Diego ranked higher: fifth.
Here's the thing about that: Travelocity hasn't seen Cutwater Spirits' new destination property yet.
9750 Distribution Avenue, Miramar
The booze company opened its 50,000-square-foot combination restaurant and distillery in Miramar on May 10, debuting space for 220 guests to dine and sample cocktails made from liquor produced onsite.
Mostly onsite. Much of Cutwater's barrel-aged spirits were produced in the distillery Ballast Point Brewing established in Scripps Ranch nearly a decade ago. Following the sale of Ballast Point to Mexican beer importer Constellation Brands, the distilled product remained independent and many of the brewery's executive leadership moved on to form Cutwater, including brewer-turned-distiller Yuseff Cherney.
Thanks to its Ballast Point origins, Cutwater has a massive advantage over San Diego's other spirit producers in terms of resources and inventory, and especially capacity, as it works on eight stills, including the property's centerpiece, a custom-built, 40-foot, 18-plate continuous still.
The building employs 120 workers full-time, including distillery, restaurant, and bar staff. The bar offers a deep menu of both light and spirit-forward cocktails to highlight Cutwater product, while the presence of food service allows Cutwater to bypass the California law that restricts craft-spirit tasting-room service to 1.5 ounces per customer per day.
However, it must still abide a three-bottle retail limit, and in order for patrons to purchase bottles they must first receive an educational tour of the facility, including four open-fermentation foudres brewing grains for whiskey production. Free tours are offered each hour, on the hour, from noon till 7 p.m. Customers who miss the tour may opt for a virtual tour accessible via smartphone through the building's Wi-Fi.
Two new Cutwater bottles are exclusive to the bar, including a 128-proof, cask-strength version of its Three Sheets barrel-aged rum. The other, dubbed Black Skimmer, is a blended whiskey featuring Cutwater's Devil's Share bourbon and outside-sourced whiskey used to supplement the brand's sudden surge in retail demand.
In addition to the Miramar restaurant, Cutwater opened a bar at Petco Park this spring. Named The Still, it serves cocktails in view of the Padres' field, including the brand's ready-to-drink cocktail cans. That line of cans will soon include four takes on vodka with club soda, including cucumber, lime, orange, and grapefruit flavors.
The latter may ring familiar to followers of Ballast Point, which found global success by adding grapefruit to Cherney's popular Sculpin IPA. But he doesn't necessarily connect the two. "It's a pretty normal thing," he quips, "for cocktails to be flavored with stuff. More than beer."