Calwise: Offering liqueurs and a peek behind the scenes

Distillery founder Aaron Bergh showed off the new space for Calwise at an Open House on Nov. 17. (Photos by Camas Frank)

Readers last got a look inside SLO County’s newest distillery in June, as Calwise Spirits opened their doors on Ramada Drive, in the newest development in the corridor just inside Paso Robles north of Templeton.

Ahead of their opening, company founder and Ventura-native Aaron Bergh had already been selling craft California-themed rum and gin in local stores for some time, specializing in mixing herbs from Big Sur into the gin basket for a unique flavor. But the new space gave Calwise a central production facility on the Central Coast to house their new equipment, and a restaurant kitchen to go along with their stylish tasting room and cocktail lounge — centered around a hand-finished redwood bar.

On Saturday, Nov. 17 locals (and a few visiting supporters) got to see what Calwise has been up to since, with five packed tours for the afternoon and a lot of educational sensory experience on offer.

The Open House was the official launch of the company’s Orange Liqueur from their new liqueur line, Western Fruit Exchange.

Bergh explained using locally grown oranges to infuse the spirits for a dessert liqueur, but first took tour groups through the fermentation, distillation, and aging practices as well as showing the individual flavoring ingredients, which prove quite aromatic on their own.

For those unfamiliar with how methyl and ethyl alcohols are created, and importantly, separated, in the distilling process he showed how vapors are routed through the steampunk-esque copper and steel tubing that makes the heart of the operation and noted the laboratory environment for the literal experimentation that goes into craft products.

Just as a human wouldn’t be very happy living on sugar alone without others nutrients (despite the temptation) he explained they need to keep the yeast cultures responsible for distillation “happy” with just the right feedstock and environments.

Unlike brewing, however, he added, any mistakes they make provide “character” to one-off batches rather than being catastrophic for the finished product.

The evening also kicked off the official debut of the distillery’s new spirits and cocktail club, similar to a wine club but offering some exclusive hootch.

Since they’re not allowed to ship purchases through the club — ask your Assemblyman, says Bergh — the February and August pick up dates will prove more important on local calendars.

Some of the first members, who have also counted themselves as regulars in the few months since the tasting room opened, Paso Robles residents Kathy and Pedro Benabides, said they’ve had a lot of fun getting to know Bergh and his partner Rebecca Graham, Calwise’s primary bartender and server, as the place has grown more popular.

“It’s been a lot of fun coming it to see what they’re up to next and it’s such a great use of the grape castings too,” Kathy said. “Adding that their approaches to sourcing ingredients was a great way the company had set itself apart from the crowd.

A special treat for new club members, and to remind them to stop in more often, Bergh noted, are “mini barrels” stored at the tasting room with each member’s name and filled with their favorite cocktail. The barrels can be taken home as a souvenir when empty.

For more information ahead of a visit, the tasting room telephone number is 805-369-2662 or go online to www.calwisespirits.com.

Distillery founder Aaron Bergh showed off the new space for Calwise at an Open House on Nov. 17. (Photos by Camas Frank)


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