How bartenders use Velvet Night Brandy in craft cocktails
Of course the Fresno area is known for the fruit and vegetables it grows. It’s also got a pretty good winery and brewery scene.
But did you know we make booze here too?
A handful of distillers in the Fresno area are selling whiskey, vodka, gin, even rum. Some have fun twists, like a bourbon made with local pistachios, or a vodka made from sweet potatoes.
Wine clearly makes a good gift, and we’ve included a couple of wineries that are doing something different. One makes a vermouth ideal for cocktails. Another ships wine with holiday-themed labels.
A nicely presented bottle of any of them would make a good gift (seriously, you don’t even need to wrap it, just slap a bow on it). So with that in mind, here’s who is making what and where to buy it.
Oakhurst Spirits is the biggest distiller around. It makes four kinds of whiskey (single malt, wheat, rye, bourbon), gin, rum, vodka, lemon vodka, lavender vodka, spiced brandy and more.
Everything is made in small batches and ingredients like the wheat and corn are grown in the Valley. Even the spent mash, the byproduct of making the alcohol, goes to a local farmer who feeds it to his cows.
The only place you can buy the bottles right now is at the distillery in the heart of Oakhurst.
The distillery hosts tastings. Customers get a tour of the little operation and can check out the attached art gallery. For $12, customers can taste three spirits, or taste four for $15. Owners Mike and Alley Benbrook usually have some specialty spirits they’re working on to try out too.
They also sell cocktails made with their spirits on site, including a lavender vodka gimlet, an Old Fashioned, a basil gin Rickey and hot buttered rum.
The distillery is selling engraved gift boxes with three 375-milliliter bottles for about $120. There are also T-shirts, hats and glasses. Bottles of spirits can be purchased individually, of course, with most ranging between $22 and $30.
At 40300 Greenwood Way in Oakhurst, it’s open from noon to 7 p.m. Fridays through Sundays or by appointment . Details: (559) 641-5400.
Wicked Harvest bourbon makes two kinds of bourbon: pistachio and hazelnut.
The pistachio bourbon is the one with the most local ties. It’s a six-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon aged in merlot wine barrels from the Central Valley. The pistachios that soak in the bourbon are also grown in the Central Valley and the owners’ nut business is based in Fresno.
The pistachio bourbon has “an extremely smooth approach” said owner Gloria Zion, and is ideal for beginner bourbon drinkers.
Wicked Harvest also makes a hazelnut bourbon with nuts and wine barrels from Oregon. Though it starts with the same bourbon as the pistachio version, they taste dramatically different. The hazelnut version uses diced and roasted hazelnuts soaked in the bourbon before filtering.
“People who are true bourbon aficionados tend to like the hazelnut better because it drinks a lit more like a true bourbon,” she said.
Cost: $46 to $60.
The popular whiskey is aged with three kinds of oak, but it’s the vodka that’s the best seller.
Bottles are for sale at Costco stores in the central San Joaquin Valley, area Save Mart stores and Total Wine & More.
The whiskey costs about $30 and the gin and vodka are priced between $12 and $15.
Speak Wines’ labels make it ideal for gift giving at the holidays. The labels have sayings like “making spirits bright,” “laughing all the way” and one that says simply, “2019.”
In addition to its holiday collection, Speak also has wines for other occasions like bachelorette parties, girls’ night out, Father’s Day and various celebrations.
A wine that says “cheers” is a red blend available at Cost Plus World Market stores in California for $14.99.
The other wines available online sell for $25 and ship to more than 40 states.
The four varietals (a rosé, Malbec, Torrontes white wine and a sparkling wine) are imported from Argentina, but the company is based in Madera.
Speak Wines managing partner Stephanie Steelman is the daughter of the owners of Fasi Estate Winery. Speak Wines can be purchased there too.
Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Spirits in Atwater sells spirits made from sweet potatoes grown on the family farm. The company makes vodka, gin and a sweet potato liqueur all made from sweet potatoes.
It also has a whiskey that is a made from rye and sweet potatoes, and another rye whiskey not made from sweet potatoes.
The rye whiskey and the sweet potato liqueur are the top sellers.
The liqueur doesn’t taste like a sweet potato that you roast in the oven. Instead, it’s essentially a whiskey infused with cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and a touch of brown sugar.
“It’s going to taste more like a dessert, more like a cookie,” said CEO and founder David J. Souza.
It has a low sugar content and can be poured on the rocks or used in a cocktail. It’s often used in place of a sugar cube in an Old Fashioned or poured over vanilla bean ice cream. Corbin Cash has recipes online.
Total Wine carries all of Corbin Cash’s spirits. BevMo! carries some and you can find individual stores selling it on the Corbin Cash website.
Expect to pay a minimum of $28, up to the $40 range for the whiskey.
You can also get tours and gift baskets at the distillery in Atwater. Details: 209/358-2966.
Velvet Night brandy, from In Distill of the Night Spirits is handmade by a Fresno man at the Atwater distillery. The brandy is made from grapes grown in the San Joaquin Valley and aged in oak barrels, said founder Ken Andrus.
“It’s bold in flavor,” he said. “It’s got a long smooth finish. It has a little bit of spice, (it’s) a little bit sweeter, there’s no additives to this.”
Vermouth is a wine that has alcohol added to it and is infused with about 15 herbs and other botanicals. It’s popular as an aperitif before dinner in Europe to stimulate the appetite, but not as well known in the U.S.
Quady makes three kinds of vermouth: sweet, extra dry and whisper dry.
The sweet vermouth is the most popular, with flavors like clove and cinnamon, and can be used in a Manhattan. The dry versions have more crisp mountain flavors like sage and lavender and can be used in a martini.
Quady has recipes for cocktails, desserts and entrees using the vermouth on its website.
Marian Farmhouse Spirits is based in Madera and specializes in brandy. The distillery is at Marian Farms, which has been growing grapes for generations and makes its spirits from grapes and oranges it grows.
They produce an Esperito Brandy and a pisquita, which is their version of a pisco brandy. Both can be consumed straight or mixed into cocktails.
The farm also makes a curaçao, an orange liqueur made from hand-peeled oranges simmered in alcohol and sweetened with simple syrup. It’s usually used as an ingredient in cocktails.
All are organic and biodynamically made, a sort “uber organic” form of farming that doesn’t use any chemicals or fertilizers, said owner Gena Nonini.
The spirits are available at Total Wine & More and the Marian Farms website. Expect the curaçao to cost about $35 and the brandy to run between $40 and $50.