Location is the main reason why the first legal distillery in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition has opened in Buellton.
The climate is “perfect” for aging whisky just like it is for growing pinot grapes, said Steve Gertman, Ascendant Spirits president and master distiller.
A native of Massachusetts, Gertman, 32, said “wild temperature swings,” cool mornings and nights in between warm days, “greatly accelerates the aging process” to produce world class products in a short time. He expects two to three years for aging.
Situated at the end of Industrial Way between a winery and a brewery, Ascendant Spirits’ products include Breaker bourbon whisky, American Star vodka, Silver Lightning moonshine, single malt whisky, and rye.
The 3,300-square-foot facility includes a 755-gallon mash cooker, 500-gallon copper still, four open top fermentors, space for bottling, and a room to store 53-gallon oak barrels for aging.
Both the mash cooker and copper still were custom made to Gertman‘s specifications by Vendome Copper & Brass Works of Louisville, Ky.
Fruit and neighbors are two other factors for choosing the location.
Gertman said local organic fruit and other agriculture, such as strawberries from Santa Maria and rare caviar limes from Goleta, will be used to flavor products such as strawberry vodka on the day they are picked.
With neighbors such as Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. to one side and Avant Tapas & Wine on the other side, Gertman called the Industrial Way cul-de-sac the “Buellton Beverage Center.”
“It’s a great little neighborhood we’re starting to develop,” he said.
Gertman hopes to form collaborations and perhaps make beer into whisky for Figueroa Mountain and produce brandy and grappa for Avant.
While visitors 21 and over can sample the spirits and buy a T-shirt, Gertman is prohibited by law from making alcohol sales in the tasting room. He’s seeking agreements with distributors to get his products out to retailers.
A ribbon cutting for the tasting room was held March 1.
Gertman worked in Los Angeles as a television producer for automotive and motorcycle shows for ESPN, Speed Channel, and the American and British version of “Top Gear” before entering the world of craft distilleries.
He spent a winter in Breckenridge, Colo., at a distillery learning the craft hands on.
While looking for a possible spot in Santa Barbara County more than a year ago, Gertman stopped at Avant for lunch with his father and saw the vacant space between the brewery and winery.
Since moving in a year ago, Gertman said the community has been welcoming and he’s proud to bring his business to the Santa Ynez Valley.