It's been a long road for Blinking Owl Distillery. After nearly three years in planning, three different architects, and years worth of governmental navigation, what will most likely be Orange County's only active distillery when it opens next February broke ground last week. They're aiming for a three-month build out for their space at the Logan Creative in Santa Ana (located right next to the 5, almost exactly between the 17th Street and Santa Ana exits), after which they'll start producing their whiskeys, vodka, gin, and aquavit.
After the ground breaking, Blinking Owl co-founders Brian and Robin Christenson took some time to talk to the Weekly about why SoCal's craft distilling scene lags so badly behind the rest of the country's, staying in Santa Ana, and.. why aquavit.
OC Weekly (Charles Lam):So, why open a distillery?
Brian Christenson: I've always been into home brewing and wine. I studied wine making. It goes back to hearing stories about my great great grandfather. He was a dairy farmer and bootlegger. I following the craft distillery movement, but was shocked that no one in SoCal was embracing it. I had worked in advertising, I was ready for a career change, something that I could put my name on, not just sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day.
I approached Robin with this crazy idea, but she was like 'oh that sounds great'.
Robin Christenson: One hundred pages later and after touring the country to visit distilleries, it's crazy but we're doing it.
Why do you think Southern California hasn't embraced craft distillery as much as the rest of the States?
Brian: A lot of distillers [in other parts of the country] are pushing to get their product in our market.
Robin: I think legally, there were so many challenges from California law. Before AB 1295 passed last week, we wouldn't be able to sell bottles out of our tasting room.
Brian: Even until a year ago, you couldn't sell tastings. California was one of the last states where you could produce, but you couldn't sell tastings, you could give them away for free and people would. But now, it's going to make [the production space] more of a destination.
Why open in Santa Ana?
Robin: We're long time residents of Santa Ana. I've lived here for over a decade and seen its ups and downs. We fell in love with the community that resides in the area.
Brian: First and foremost, there's a really strong culture of artists and businesses. They bond and support each other.
Robin: We were going to buy our own building, then we met Jack Jakosky through Gil [Marrero] and told him about our project. We said didn't want to be in the downtown, but more towards the train station. That was a Monday, on Friday, Jack called and said 'I found a great building that you might be interested in'. We walked through this hallway that leads to a balcony that overlooks, and said 'this is our space'.
Brian: It's a beautiful space he created called the Logan. It used to be a staircase manufacturer. There's vaulted ceilings, corrugated metal. A major airplane hanger feeling.
Tell us about the spirits.
Robin: We're going to be doing both white and brown spirits. Vodka, gin, aquavit — it's like a Scandinavian gin flavored with caraway, dill, and cardamom — and various whiskeys.
Brian: Our aim is to use as much of our grain grown in California as possible. It's proving to be tricky, because there's not many farmers who can supports our needs when we start full production. We want to do California spirits. We'll make bourbon, but our aim isn't to make it like Kentucky. The products tastes like the area they're from, so it'll be a natural California thing — the yeast occurring in the air, Santa Ana water.
Robin: We just love food and wine and spirits and beer. There's a time and a place for each one, as long as it's well crafted. Gin during summer, or aquavit for a digestif.
Brian: We have a certain appreciation for all of the spirits we're going to be making. We're drawn to aquavit because there are some that aren't really available in the United States currently — aged aquavits, some in new sherry casts.
Robin: Aquavit's kind of our baby.
Brian: We want to be an awesome addition to Orange County. We're very excited to get up and operational and share our product with public.