One pesky little problem inhibiting the craft spirits movement is that it’s technically not legal to distill alcohol as an amateur. So, while hobbyists have been homebrewing beer legally four decades now, distillers aren’t allowed to work out the kinks at home before starting a business.
The guys behind a young San Diego spirit company have found an industrious way to work around that. Bottles of Pier View Gin debuted last fall, produced under contract at San Marcos distillery, the California Spirits Company. While a number of brands currently produce there, Pier View has another connection: co-founder Justin Wilkinson has been working for California Spirits as a distiller. Effectively, Wilkinson got handy with the still before Pier View produced its first bottled gin.
This patience seems to have paid off. Last weekend, Pier View Gin won a gold medal for traditional gin at the San Diego Fair’s distilled spirits competition.
The London-style gin features 13 different botanical ingredients — including the requisite juniper berry — the end result of 25 recipe iterations. The final botanical bill includes orange and lemon zest, coriander, cardamom, grains of paradise, and oolong tea.
Wilkinson joined North County natives Jordan and Ryan Kohn to launch Pier View. The three longtime friends had previously won a medal at the fair as homebrewers, but they’ve been plotting a spirits business going on five years now.
“We knew we wanted to do this for a long time,” says Jordan, explaining that, initially the brothers imagined something grandiose. “We started writing a full-sized business plan for this huge distillery.” Not very far removed from college, they realized their dream distillery was a tall order right out the gate, and got pragmatic instead.
While Wilkinson’s been working at the distillery, the Kohns have been gaining professional experience working other facets of the beverage business. Jordan with in craft beer distribution and sales; Ryan in service and production at Vista’s Mother Earth Brewing Co.
“I was lead beertender… then I went up to brewer,” says Ryan, “Now I’m in the warehouse, learning about logistics and warehouse management.”
They chose gin because, for a new business without the resources to age liquor in barrels, creating a custom botanical blend offered the surest way to demonstrate an artisanal sensibility, while refining neutral grain spirits. Now, with experience in hand and proof of concept in bottle, investors have taken notice, and the three partners have started searching North County locations to finally build their own distillery.
That would afford them the resources to pursue their true calling: brown liquor. While they hope to balance out their gin offerings later this year with dry and barrel rested versions, they really want their own place so they can make grain to glass whiskey.