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Gin and whiskey hoppers

Craft spirits for a West Coast palate in Vista

Just rum and gin for starters, but whiskey is the goal.
Just rum and gin for starters, but whiskey is the goal.

Back in 2012, decorated Tennessee distiller Darek Bell published the book Alt Whiskey, which offered recipes and techniques for distilling craft beer into nontraditional whiskies, including the addition of hops.

“It got my brain working,” says Justin McCabe. The 20 year homebrewer had always imagined opening a brewery someday. But McCabe’s also a PhD chemist, and realized it was a short leap to combine his areas of interest to become a craft distiller. “I understood distillation perfectly well through my chemistry experience,” he reckoned, and distilling offered a lot more room for innovation. “Why would I open a brewery when there’s a 150 some odd breweries in San Diego?” he figures, “The craft spirits world is still growing.”

McCabe teamed up with friends Eric Buchanan and Archie Kasten to open 117˚ West Spirits in the craft beer district of south Vista (which sits along the 117th western longitudinal meridian). Since its December opening, 117 West has yet to bottle any of the bourbons, ryes, or single malt whiskies it has gestating in oak barrels. In the meantime, the partners have been pouring rum and gin in their tasting room.

The rum has already earned a bronze medal at this year’s American Distilling Institute competition, and a spiced version features and infusion of orange and lemon peel, Madagascar vanilla bean, ginger, cocoa nibs, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.

But it’s the gin that openly introduces a craft beer influence. McCabe based it off a historical style, the gin precursor, jenever. Dutch for juniper, a jenever was distilled from a fermented malt beverage. However, due to crude technique, it was flavored with juniper berries to obscure undesirable flavors.

The English eventually switched to a non-grain spirit because it was cheaper. But they kept the juniper, and shortened the spirit’s name to gin. McCabe’s gin returns to its malt beverage roots. However, he points out, “It’s contemporary in the sense that we’re using west coast ingredients: like hibiscus and white sage.”

And hops. Specifically, citra hops. “The hops I would call a West Coast ingredient,” McCabe adds.

Gin is made with a gin basket, a still add-on that runs spirit vapor through a tube filled with botanicals for a clean herbal infusion. McCabe added a mix of pellet and whole cone hops along with the other ingredients, extracting their aromatics, but not their bitterness.

It’s the same process he’s used to craft batches of hopped whiskies. McCabe’s craft beer recipe goes into a 100 gallon still, including a hop-loaded gin basket, then sits in an oak barrel until ready for release.

The first release should be soon, as McCabe thinks 117 West’s first rye whiskey is just about ready. Dubbed Cherya, it’s made from a Cherrywood smoked rye IPA, and hopped with opal and mosaic hops.

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Just rum and gin for starters, but whiskey is the goal.
Just rum and gin for starters, but whiskey is the goal.

Back in 2012, decorated Tennessee distiller Darek Bell published the book Alt Whiskey, which offered recipes and techniques for distilling craft beer into nontraditional whiskies, including the addition of hops.

“It got my brain working,” says Justin McCabe. The 20 year homebrewer had always imagined opening a brewery someday. But McCabe’s also a PhD chemist, and realized it was a short leap to combine his areas of interest to become a craft distiller. “I understood distillation perfectly well through my chemistry experience,” he reckoned, and distilling offered a lot more room for innovation. “Why would I open a brewery when there’s a 150 some odd breweries in San Diego?” he figures, “The craft spirits world is still growing.”

McCabe teamed up with friends Eric Buchanan and Archie Kasten to open 117˚ West Spirits in the craft beer district of south Vista (which sits along the 117th western longitudinal meridian). Since its December opening, 117 West has yet to bottle any of the bourbons, ryes, or single malt whiskies it has gestating in oak barrels. In the meantime, the partners have been pouring rum and gin in their tasting room.

The rum has already earned a bronze medal at this year’s American Distilling Institute competition, and a spiced version features and infusion of orange and lemon peel, Madagascar vanilla bean, ginger, cocoa nibs, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.

But it’s the gin that openly introduces a craft beer influence. McCabe based it off a historical style, the gin precursor, jenever. Dutch for juniper, a jenever was distilled from a fermented malt beverage. However, due to crude technique, it was flavored with juniper berries to obscure undesirable flavors.

The English eventually switched to a non-grain spirit because it was cheaper. But they kept the juniper, and shortened the spirit’s name to gin. McCabe’s gin returns to its malt beverage roots. However, he points out, “It’s contemporary in the sense that we’re using west coast ingredients: like hibiscus and white sage.”

And hops. Specifically, citra hops. “The hops I would call a West Coast ingredient,” McCabe adds.

Gin is made with a gin basket, a still add-on that runs spirit vapor through a tube filled with botanicals for a clean herbal infusion. McCabe added a mix of pellet and whole cone hops along with the other ingredients, extracting their aromatics, but not their bitterness.

It’s the same process he’s used to craft batches of hopped whiskies. McCabe’s craft beer recipe goes into a 100 gallon still, including a hop-loaded gin basket, then sits in an oak barrel until ready for release.

The first release should be soon, as McCabe thinks 117 West’s first rye whiskey is just about ready. Dubbed Cherya, it’s made from a Cherrywood smoked rye IPA, and hopped with opal and mosaic hops.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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