Brian Christenson had a mischievous grin on his face when I recently visited Blinking Owl in SanTana, the distillery he and his wife Robin run. “Want to taste our bourbon?” he asked. In addition to already available vodka, aquavit, and gin, the couple are making bourbon and rye—the first whiskey legally made in Orange County since Prohibition.
“But I thought you guys were aging it, and it wouldn’t be ready in two years?” I replied, nursing a sample of their stupendous aquavit.
“Yeah,” Brian said. “But it’s quality control day, and we’re seeing how the aging is going!”
Soon, me, Brian and head distiller Ryan Friesen were in the production facility of Blinking Owl, their epic stills towering over us. In front of us were barrels tagged with the bourbon’s date of production (earlier this year) and a whole bunch of other facts that Friesen explained to me. I paid little attention, because I was still curious how we’d be able to taste the elixir inside.
“Easy,” Friesen answered. He popped open the cork in one of the barrels and grabbed a wine thief, a long, slender metallic tube used to pull samples from barrels. I had long been fascinated by them, figuring wine thieves to have all sorts of science, so asked Friesen to explain how they work.
“Easy,” he said. “You put it in the barrel, put your thumb on one end, then pull up. Like a straw.”
How did I get this job again?
Friesen put the contents of the wine thief in a glass for all of us to try. Blinking Owl’s bourbon, aged just a couple of months, already had a dark brown color—better coloring than some of the similarly young bourbons I had back in Kentucky. It’s technically white dog (“moonshine” to us Yankees) at the moment, so will settle into a rich, fine booze in 2019. I’m glad to say it’s aging mighty fine, and bought a bottle on the spot.
You, gentle reader, won’t be able to taste Blinking Owl’s bourbon until it’s ready to get bottled (I get a sneak peak because I basically live there—NORWEGIAN FISH!!!). But trust the Christensons—all three of their liquors so far have been fabulous, and Friesen knows his way around grains and stills. Better yet, support OC’s only distillery so that more may come, you know?
Blinking Owl, 802 E. Washington Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 852-3947; blinkingowldistillery.com