Dec 2, 2015

Cutler's Artisan Spirits

densely packed still room
Nowadays every city has its very own hipster neighborhood... In this case it's called "The Funk Zone" and located in the old warehouse district of Santa Barbara. The whole area is filled with new fancy restaurants, dozens of wine tasting rooms, brew-pubs, art galleries, you name it. But last Friday night we were there to look for a particular address in the neighborhood: Cutler's Artisan Spirits

The owner and the head distiller Ian Cutler started the distillery in this tiny place in The Funk Zone in July 2013 but his story goes back way further than that and it is a good one: His family has been in the business for four generations. The Cutlers had 2 liquor stores in Oakdale, California. The first one, "Cutler's Family Liquor" (You can actually see the original wooden sign on the distillery's wall in the picture) opened in 1936 and ran until 1985. Bob Cutler (Ian's grandfather) took over in the late 1940's after returning from World War II where he served as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot. His story inspired Ian to add the wings to Cutler's Artisan Spirits logo. Later in the early-mid 1970's Ian's father Chuck Cutler joined the family business. The second store was called the "Bottle Shop" and was located about a quarter mile down the road from the Family Liquor Store. The Bottle Shop opened in 1943 and closed in 1968. 

Cutler's Artisan Spirits line-up
Cutler's Artisan Spirits has three different kind of stills in the distillery. Two of them are currently operational: A small Jacob Carl 20L, 3-plate hybrid still and a larger 150 gallon still Ian designed and built by himself. The third small still is in the tasting room and is for display purposes only. This is where Cutler Family's story gets even better: It is the original farmhouse still from the prohibition era that his great-grandfather used to distill whiskey and brandy with his good friend Dan Donnelly who ran the moonshine operation in Oakdale, CA. Pretty crazy...

During our visit we tasted Ian's entire line-up. He has a vodka and gin he is distilling by himself, an American Blended Whiskey and Bourbon he is sourcing from other distilleries till his whiskey aging in casks is ready to be bottled and a quite yummy family recipe Apple Pie liquor. I am not a vodka drinker but I have to say that we were very impressed with his gin. It is very citrus forward with strong bergamot, tangerine, lemon and pomelo notes balanced with floral additions like elderflower, jasmine and rose. Highly recommended...


Cutler's Artisan "33" Straight Bourbon Whiskey
I also personally appreciated a lot, him trying to bottle a high quality American Blended Whiskey created with Bourbon and Light Whiskey only. It is a great attempt to save the very bad reputation of a unique American Whiskey style which suffered in years from the use of neutral grain spirits in many of the blends. His blend is smooth, easy going and would work perfect in cocktails.

The bourbon he bottles is branded as "33". It is a rye heavy straight bourbon sourced from an undisclosed distillery. As an outsourced whiskey it actually gives a pretty good idea what Ian's wants to see as his own whiskey on the shelves in a year or two.

But the surprise of the night came at the very end... When we walked into the distillery part, to the back room, we had the chance to sample his brandy straight from the cask. It still needs a little more time in barrels like his whiskey but it is a great product coming and I am sure that he will create quite a buzz with it. He calls it "Mission Brandy" and produced from the Mission grape varietal. The brandy is created in collaboration with Gypsy Canyon Winery and Ian believes that this particular brandy has not been produced in nearly 200 years since the missionary period of California. However he also admits he still have some research to do to confirm this.

So, if you happen to be close to Santa Barbara area this place is definitely worth the effort to visit for a spirit enthusiast. Don't forget to contact Ian before you show up and make sure that he will be there to host you. He is proud of his family's heritage, very excited about distilling and so much fun to spend time with.

Ian Cutler himself with his line-up in the tasting room