(Photo courtesy First Light)
Ryan Espinoza and David Elizondo are the family members behind First Light Coffee Whiskey.
Coffee and bourbon fans take note: a new flavored whiskey brand hit the shelves in San Diego in August. First Light Coffee Whiskey debuted in local shops with two bottled flavors of coffee whiskey: original and dark roast.
Cousins David Elizondo and Ryan Espinoza are the dudes behind First Light — a name inspired by daily surf reports, where first light time has more relevance to dawn patrollers than when the sun actually creeps over the horizon.
San Diego native Elizondo has some background in making booze, having spent time as an intern at former San Marcos distillery, Cal Spirits. Though Cal Spirits now operates in Poway as a beverage co-packing facility, during its three years actively producing booze in San Marcos, it became the birthplace of a slew of San Diego spirit brands. Pier View Gin and Misadventure Vodka got their starts there, as did Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, which is now sold nationwide and reports exponential growth since launching locally two years ago.
SDSU alum Espinoza has a background in marketing and bartending and says when the cousins joined forces in late 2018 to develop the First Light concept, his experience in making cocktails was a guiding factor. “One thing I noticed in the category was that it was lacking in consistent quality, and things were too sweet,” Espinoza says. “They were flavored with things I don’t like in my diet, like artificial sweeteners.”
With this in mind, the cousins developed flavor profiles using organic agave syrup and natural coffee extracts. It was important to him and Elizondo that their flavored whiskey would mix well into classic cocktails, such as Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs. So they spent a year and a half sampling their way through dozens of combinations of whiskies and natural flavors before settling on their flagship coffee whiskies, which are made using a new make corn-based distillate — sort of an un-aged bourbon.
“We found that the charred oaky flavors you get with aged spirits was competing too much with the coffee,” says Elizondo. The results of their experimentation received a top, platinum rating at this year’s SIP Awards, a consumer-judged tasting competition.
Though their ambitions include growing into a national brand, the cousins behind First Light are off to a modest start, producing their product on a contract basis with small batch whiskey and craft spirit producer, San Diego Distillery, out in Spring Valley. Bottles began appearing in eleven local liquor stores on August 10, and (for those isolating during the pandemic) via delivery from SipWhiskey.com.