Paso Robles News|Sunday, February 17, 2019
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Calwise Spirits to open distillery near Tin City 

–Up-and-coming distiller Calwise Spirits is set to reach a new milestone with the opening of a flagship distillery in the Paso Robles wine country. The Calwise Spirits distillery is scheduled to open near Paso Robles’ Tin City neighborhood by mid-June, and will feature a custom still, tasting bar, cocktail service, light bites and other visitor amenities.

Founded in 2016 by Aaron Bergh, who at age 25 is one of the youngest master distillers in the world, Calwise Spirits specializes in gins and rums that are infused with native California ingredients. Fittingly, the labels depict illustrations of iconic California wildlife.

In just two years, Calwise has gained widespread retail distribution. Retailers carrying Calwise Spirits in California include Bristol Farms, Whole Foods, Bevmo and Vons, as well as California Fresh Market in San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach. Calwise’s spirits can also be found at leading bars and restaurants around California and locally, including Fish Gaucho (Paso Robles), Flour House (San Luis Obispo), Novo (San Luis Obispo), Benchmark Eatery (Santa Barbara) and Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach (Santa Barbara). They are also available online via Hi-Time Wine Cellars and others.

Big Sur Gin & ‘Liquid California’

Calwise’s signature offering is the “Big Sur Gin” ($35), which is distilled from locally sourced wine grapes and infused with 12 organic wild herbs that are largely native to the iconic Big Sur coastline, including sage, yerba santa, bay, fennel, and elderberry.

Bergh was destined for this adventure. During Prohibition, the Feds shut down his family’s moonshining operation—but not for very long. A century later, the law came knocking again, because the college authorities didn’t appreciate Aaron making hooch in his dorm. Calwise Spirits is Aaron’s ode to this renegade heritage, and a nod to his homeland of coastal California. As a Central Coast native and an outdoorsman who studied plant sciences at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Bergh alighted on the idea of Big Sur Gin while hiking in the region’s oceanfront mountains.

“I’ve been hiking around the Central Coast for years, and wanted to capture the aromas and flavors I found in the wild,” he said. “I wanted to remain true to juniper being the classic central gin ingredient, but in addition to the other traditional botanicals such as coriander and citrus peel, I decided to explore using these native herbs. After a multitude of test batches, I finally found the perfect blend for creating this taste of what I call ‘Liquid California.’”

The results have been immediate, as the Big Sur Gin has already earned a Best of Show medal at the 2017 Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America’s Annual Convention & Exposition, and a gold medal at the 2017 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition.

Another signature Calwise offering is the “Blonde Rum” ($33), which is fermented with U.S.-grown raw sugar cane and matured in retired wine barrels used in local Chardonnay production, resulting in a rum that is “as bright as the sun and as crisp as an ocean breeze.”

Buoyed by the success of his inaugural creations, Bergh is now confidently moving forward with the buildout of his new 6,000-square-foot distillery and tasting room. To date, he has been producing his spirits in collaboration with a distillery in San Diego.

The centerpiece of the distillery is a still that has been customized to Bergh’s specific modifications. In addition to tasting flights of rum and gin, the tasting room will serve proprietary Calwise cocktails. A small menu will feature light bites such as locally made flatbread pizzas and bacon-wrapped dates. The visitor area will include a redwood bar and seating at copper tables. In addition to signature Calwise offerings, the distillery will feature special-batch spirits including a barrel-aged gin.

“This is going to be a hub of creativity and experimentation, and it is going to drive the next chapter for Calwise Spirits,” Bergh said. “I’m stoked to finally have my own home.”

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About the author: News Staff

News staff of the Paso Robles Daily News wrote and edited this story from local contributors and press releases. Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Connect with him on , Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or follow his blog. He can be reached at