Spooky season is just around the corner, so what better way to celebrate than with some spirits? And for those scared of ghosts and ghouls, there’s no need to fret because there’s nothing scary about these spirits. San Diego’s nickname “Capital of Craft” extends far past beer and cocktail programs to an array of liquors, including whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, agave spirits and more, brewed right here in San Diego. Whether curious travelers prefer a traditional tipple — dark or clear — or fancy an experimental liquor brewed with pomegranate or pumpkin, there’s a place to punch up everyone’s drinking agenda.
Dancing with the Devil’s Share American Whiskey
From the head brewer at one of San Diego’s famous breweries, Ballast Point Brewing, comes Cutwater Spirits with an award-winning portfolio of spirits that include whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, tequila and liqueurs that are incorporated into canned cocktails available nationwide. Visitors can get their drink on at Ballast Point’s 50,000-square-foot distillery, tasting room and restaurant combo in San Diego’s Miramar neighborhood. Whiskey lovers should be sure to try the distillery’s Devil’s Share American Whiskey, rich in woody caramel and vanilla notes backed by hints of cinnamon, cardamom and licorice.
A Cauldron of California Coastal Gin
Founded by two veterans of the microbrew and distilling scenes out of Salt Lake City, Storyhouse Spirits celebrates friendship, fun and the big taste of small-batch spirits in Downtown’s East Village neighborhood. The distillery offers an alluring lineup of locally crafted vodkas, gins and whiskeys, and their restaurant/tasting room boasts a range of creative cocktails and food, as well as periodic tours of the works. Those who aren’t ready to trade California’s summer vibes for witches and werewolves just yet can revel in memories of shining sun, lemon trees and ocean breezes with Storyhouse’s California Coastal Gin. The beverage encourages flavor profiles infused with local floral notes, ripe citrus and refreshingly crisp cucumber.
Vodka Perfect for Vampires or Humans
Founded in 2017 by entrepreneur and distiller Laura Johnson, San Diego’s You & Yours Distilling Co. bills itself as California’s first destination distillery. It’s one of the first female-owned and operated distilleries in the United States. The distillery produces all of its small-batch canned and bottled vodka and gin in Downtown’s East Village, where visitors can sip on some aperitifs, too. Created to bring people together over elevated cocktail experiences, it does just that. Vampires with a sweet tooth who enjoy a creamy, vanilla-like sweetness with subtle hints of apple and pear should go for the Y&Y Vodka. The grape-based vodka has a satisfying texture, capped off by an elegant floral finish.
RIP (Rum in Peace)
Named for a rum-running schooner that supplied Southern California during Prohibition, Malahat Spirits Co. distills rum and whiskey in its twin copper-pot stills. The distillery in San Diego’s Miramar neighborhood is a throwback to the days of Prohibition, when speakeasies were bustling and liquor was hidden in local caves and basements. Observant visitors will also see some props from a famous Hollywood movie as well as the San Diego Maritime Museum and Star of India. Spirit lovers will experience a sampling of six of Malahat’s artisanal spirits, including some that aren’t on the shelves, with seasonal surprises and experimental blends. The Spiced Rum is a can’t-miss for visitors just passing through. The taste is a unique blend of about a dozen natural ingredients with the richness of vanilla and cinnamon.
Not Very Frightening Fruitcraft
Fruitcraft in San Diego’s lively Hillcrest neighborhood is an employee-owned business launched by two brothers to experiment beyond the grapes, apples, potatoes and starchy grains that are the basis for the vast majority of fermented and distilled alcoholic drinks. The establishment is an all-in-one kombuchery, cidery, meadery and distillery, making suds from pineapples, pomegranates, cranberries, mangos, pumpkins and blends thereof. While spooky season brings all things afterlife, Fruitcraft puts forth quite the opposite: Eau de Vie, French for “Water of Life,” gives visitors a taste of clear spirits distilled from fermented fruits.
Agave for the Afterlife
Distilled in quantities of 30 gallons or less, Seven Caves Spirits are “ludicrously” small batch. With a belief in crafting the finest distilled spirits using the best ingredients possible, Seven Caves is a true “grain to glass” San Diego distillery, meaning every drop of alcohol that leaves the shop comes to life at the distillery first. A visit to the tasting room provides guests with tastes of rum, gin, whiskey and the first of the exploratory series: the agave spirit. While not a traditional tequila, this spirit is unique to the world and a first in San Diego.
No Need to be Afraid of this Absinthe
Born out of the idea of doing more by wasting less, ReBru Spirits takes unsold beer destined for the drain and repurposes it into spirits. ReBru is a one-stop shop for visitors seeking flights without the frights. The distillery is located in Barrio Logan, San Diego’s artistic and industrial neighborhood with Mexican roots, in a Willy Wonka-esque warehouse that is also home to a craft brewery, wood-fired pizza restaurant, speakeasy and large indoor and outdoor events area. Liquor lovers should be sure to try Rebru’s absinthe, made with real wormwood and delivering a sweet black-licorice flavor accompanied by a light floral hint. The drink finishes with a tingling numbness from the angelica root and star anise.
Trick-or-Treat-Yo-Self with Coffee Liqueur
One of San Diego’s first craft distilleries, Old Harbor Distilling Co., produces artisanal liquors using local grains in the spirit of small batch production. Visitors can try these beverages in a new, 20-seat speakeasy located inside the distillery’s Downtown warehouse. The Commodores Club is a private, reservations-only space currently operating on Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. until midnight, with approximately three seatings per night. Guests shouldn’t leave without first trying the Ampersand cold-pressed coffee liqueur. The speakeasy’s espresso martini is also spine-chillingly good. Spirit fanatics will have even more opportunities to try Old Harbor’s liquors next year with a satellite tasting room and casual restaurant coming to San Diego’s Seaport Village in 2023.
Trading the Candy for Some Brandy
Visitors will undoubtedly encounter some good spirits at this North County hot spot. Pacific Coast Spirits is a small-batch craft distillery and kitchen that embodies California’s energy and essence. The distillery uses only premium ingredients sourced as locally as possible to the Pacific Coast, developing handmade spirits that are representative of the region. A visit to the restaurant and tasting room would not be complete without trying their brandy. Guests can choose between the Pisco Style Brandy for a lighter and refreshing flavor, or the American Brandy for a classic, oaky flavor.
Werewolves Howl for this Moonshine
Tucked into a warehouse space in Spring Valley, a neighborhood in San Diego’s East County, is Mike Curphy Distillery, a small craft distillery founded in 2015 with a goal to produce fine quality products for a more discriminating taste. Open on Fridays and weekends, the Mike Curphy tasting room resides in the same industrial park as fellow whiskey producers Liberty Call Distilling and San Diego Distillery, creating a sort of Spring Valley whiskey trail. Curphy also malts his own corn for his second line of products, dubbed PD-101. Technically an American whiskey, this clear liquor is more commonly thought of as moonshine. Curphy also offers seasonal flavors of this spirit, including a fall season favorite: pumpkin spice.