San Diego Spirits Festival 2016: Eight Years Strong Award winning Vodka, Old School Bourbon Whisky , Gangster Rum


Michael Hepworth


San Diego Spirits Festival


By Peter Peterson



San Diego Spirits Festival – Eight Years Strong


San Diego(Spiritsman)9/4/16/–Sometimes part of the adventure is the ride to the event. Driving down to San Diego is always a joy. Sunny skies and coastal views. This was the eighth annual San Diego Spirits Festival. Many people arrived early to take in the sights and enjoy the dominant presence of the USS Midway located next to the Festival location. Upon entering the venue on the Port Pavilion Pier, there were many pieces of art and collectables for purchase. As you ventured further in you could see the hustle and bustle of over 3000 visitors and vendors. I was able to speak with many of them and enjoyed some really creative products. You can find additional information at

Magic Bullet – Hangover Prevention Beverage

John Edwards with magic bullet anti-hangover drink stated that “magic bullet is made of a nutritional proprietary blend of vitamins and minerals that are designed to flush toxins out of the body to prevent hangovers.” You drink it before you hit the clubs and you wake up fresh the next day. The beverage is designed to flush toxins out of your body as you drink. It’s not an energy drink. John said “you can drink this and go to sleep.” It’s a very healthy product and was developed over years with a lot of product testing a lot of bloody mary’s! The product is based out of San Diego California and available locally in San Diego. John is trying to network with liquor distributers to make the product more available. Currently, the product is only available online outside of San Diego. You can find them online at

 Old Forester 1870 – Old School Bourbon Whisky

Old Forster 1870 representative Matt Helms explained that Old Forster decided to bring back a batch from 1872 but a different variation using a different distillation process. This whisky is bottled in bond and the product was developed in 1870. During that time, the government got involved to regulate the barrels that were stored in aging warehouses. In those days you could buy whisky from anywhere but you never knew what you got. Some whiskys were killing people due to poor ingredients. The bottle in bond was a stamped approval from the government ensuring you got a consistent product, guaranteed 100 proof whisky. By 1897, all whiskies bottled for export were part of the bottle in bond program. This whisky had a nice caramel color and was very smooth. This single batch whisky is available at larger spirits distributers.


Tonya Teaz Vodka
Tonya Teaz, Peter Peterson

 Teaz Vodka – in an Award Winning Bottle

Tonya Grubb founder and CEO of Teaz vodka and winner of double gold for best packaging and design and a bronze for the vodka category. Very impressive for her first time competing against some stiff competition. Teaz vodka is distilled five times and aged in imported caskets from France. Vodka is wheat based and uses French water for a clean taste. It is common to see some creative bottle packaging and there is a reason why Tonya took double gold. This bottle is very unique; it has a woman leaning on what appears to be a poll with a disco ball on top. This bottle is sandblasted for effect and the attention to detail is impressive. It took three years of developing the bottle and Tonya is proud of the end result. The bottle also has a built in spot where you can put an LED disc on the base of the bottle and it will light up for affect. People will be drawn to the Teaz vodka product based on the bottle itself. But once you sip this vodka you will know why it won a bronze medal in the vodka category. I was shocked and impressed with this product considering it was just launched this January. The vodka is smooth and very clean with a nice subtle finish. The product is available online at Tonya is hoping to have her product available at fine sprits shops nationwide.

 Camus Cognac – Second Time is a Winner!

This was Camus Cognac’s second year at the San Diego Spirits Festival. Camus won a silver medal for their Camus VSOP Cognac. This winner touts using 100 percent Borderise grapes. Camus is one of the last five cognac makers in France that is family-owned for over five generations. It is one of the few cognac producers that are still exporting out of Europe. Most all other cognac houses are corporate owned. The Camus family has the largest acreage of the Borderies grapes in France so they get to handpick the finest groups to make their signature Borderies product. The taste of this cognac was wonderful, it had hints of chocolate, orange and a hint of violet. Try this with pineapple juice and ginger ale and garnish with a strawberry! Spoil yourself and purchase a bottle of this wonderful cognac. You can learn more at


Capone Spirits – ,John Haup with Capone spirits was not shy about spinning a tale of the nefarious Al Capone and his prohibition activities. As the story goes, back in 1932 there used to be a yacht club on the Coronado Islands off the coast of Mexico. Someone built a distillery and started making small batch rums. During the days of prohibition Americans used to drive down to Mexico to the Agua Caliente Casino and Racetrack to purchase the rum made in the Coronado Islands. Prohibition boats would go over to the Coronados and pick up rum and then bring it back to mainland Mexico. Further history reveals that Al Capone actually drove down to Mexico to procure alcohol during the prohibition times for his speakeasies. In Ensenada there’s a small distillery that was owned by a Mr. Capaldi and it is believed that they formed an agreement which allowed for Al Capone to actually bring product from Mexico to the United States. It’s also rumored that Al Capone built a house called El Castillo in Rosarito Mexico for when he was going down to get his rum. John went on and on about what happens next while living in Mexico, but this is a tale to be told another day.

Capone Spirits are marketed by Local Choice; which is a group that helps young independent distilleries to market their products nationwide. This was Capone Spirits first show in San Diego. John explained that Capone Spirits is unique because they remove the methanol’s during distillation which causes hangovers. The Capone rum was very smooth with a nice spicy flavor on the back. This rum was very well-balanced and not too sweet. You can learn more at

Big Front Door – Upscale in San Diego

We stopped off to talk with Sheep Riley, owner of Big Front Door foods located in San Diego. He explained that he manages an upscale sandwich shop/deli in San Diego. Big Front Door has been operating for over four years and looks forward to continued growth. Sheep takes pride in smoking and roasting all their own meats and cheeses in house. BFD considers themselves a high-end deli because they make all of their own sauces and sides in-house. The only thing they procure from the outside is bread products. BFD has worked with a local bakery to produce specific products for their clientele. I sampled their in-house smoked pulled pork on sliced cabbage with carrots, green onions and a hoisin ginger sauce. The flavor of the smoked pork was subtle and well balanced. I wanted about ten more samples as the flavor combination was excellent. You can learn more at

Berlesque 4

Wedgewood Food Group – Making their mark

Wedgewood Food Group has been around for about two years in San Diego. They specialize in catering and are moving into the corporate food sector including law offices, insurance buildings and large corporations. I sampled their Carne Apache which was a raw beef style ceviche with onion, cilantro garlic, lime, lemon juice and seasonings. The process is similar to ceviche with seafood. I found this to be very different and could have used some more spice on the finish. The consistency was similar to rare beef and was easy to eat. Presentation will have to be paramount as it looks very similar to cooked crumbled ground beef.   Chef Christopher explained it takes twice as long to marinade to cook the meat properly. Chef Christopher Young is the owner and is trying to reach out to a crowd that likes strange but slightly different food. Christopher comes out of Tennessee and is from Chattanooga.

Campo de Encanto – Unique Pisco Gold Medal Winner

Paul Sanguinetti is the brand ambassador for Campo de Encanto Pisco. Campo de Encanto is a collaboration of San Francisco barmen including master distiller, Carlos Romero from Peru.

Pisco by law, can only come from two places Peru and Chile. Pisco is regulated by the government and uses copper pot stills similar to that used in single malt Scotch whiskies. Peruvian Pisco is distilled from many different types of grapes and is never diluted after it has been distilled and enters the bottle.

This group of barmen have created the selenium method by which they distill each variety of grape individually and then blend them together. They have different blends for different styles. Pisco is basically five bottles of wine going into one bottle. This process brings out the intense flavors of each grape variety. The grapevines that are used to make Campo de Encanto Pisco are over 100 years old and they estimate that the roots have gone down nearly 80 feet into the earth. This deep root growth extracts many more minerals and nutrients. What comes from the earth transfers those flavors to the grapes, so each harvest has a unique character.

I tried the Muscat Pisco which was very nice and very well-balanced. It was smooth and had an intense flavor that is Pisco. My sample was blended in 2014 and each bottle is hand numbered and hand labeled. This had flavors of white grape and nectarine.

The second sample, from the reserve collection, was blended from five different grapes. I tasted the Muscat, but Paul didn’t explain what other grapes were combined in this particular bottle. It was very fruity with a nice finish on the end. Just a pleasant experience. Flavors include notes of white grape, chocolate, plum, and perhaps a eucalyptus finish.

It’s been about 10 years since decent Pisco was introduced into the American market. The product is available at large distributors, Total Wine and BevMo. Price per bottle is between $40 and $50. Pisco can be enjoyed before dinner or after dinner. I suggest serving it in a chilled glass with a squeeze of lime. You can learn more at

Kentfield Marketing Group – Gold Medal Winner

I spoke with Valerie Crow of Kentfield Marketing group featuring St. Elder’s brand Elder Flower liquor, which won a silver medal and West Cork Irish whisky. The Irish whisky was produced by three rough-and-tumble Irishmen and their goal was to create a real true Irish whisky using tradition methods. The product is produced and distributed by these three friends and they take care of all of the business activity.

I tried the West Cork Distillery non-aged blended Irish whisky. This was very smooth and had a nice finish. I also tried their 10-year-old whisky blend which had a lot more character and was a bit darker in color. Overall very nice. I could taste the French oak on the finish. It also had a smokiness and hints of vanilla. This was a gold medal winner. They also won a silver medal winner with their Pogue whisky. Valerie stated “they injected a little rock ‘n roll into this blend.” The name of this particular whisky was named after the band of the same name. It was the mission of the three Irishmen to make their own distinct whisky with a flare and they achieved this with a gold and silver medal. I enjoyed the Pogue as this particular whisky had the color of a well-tanned Brazilian. This has a lot of flavor with smoky tones and a hint of chocolate. Pogue had a really nice smooth finish, something to be enjoyed. And it’s named after a cool band! On a parting note, Valerie suggested that people consider putting spirits in their body like they would consider putting food in their body and to remember all the work that these artisans put into producing these creative products.

Compass Box Products – Three Continent Company

Compass Box products were started by an American, living in London and blending in Scotland. He is the welcome rebel of the scotch world. Bradley Mum of the Kentfield Marketing Group represents Compass Box products. Compass Box whisky company is located in Edinburgh Scotland. Compass Box is the brainchild of Mr. John Glazier. Mr. Glazier is a 5-time whisky innovator of the year award winner, which is three more times than anybody else in history. Compass Box is teaching people to open their arms and their pallets back to scotch. This is not your granddad’s old scotch anymore. The blends nowadays are handcrafted and custom blended. Everything Compass Box produces has a distinct signature and a creativity behind each blend. They are reinventing the scotch world.

I tried the Artist’s Blend and found it to be soft and full of fruit with flavors of apple, vanilla and toasted oak. My next sample was called Hedonism and this had some character. This is an all grain whisky with corn and/or wheat. For being 100 proof it was very smooth. With hints of caramel, vanilla and a hint of oak. This was aged in American oak barrels. Of the two samples, I enjoyed the complexity of the Hedonism.

Another unique product I tasted was their proprietary Honey Ginger Syrup. Produced by John Glazier, bartenders from all over will want this syrup. This is a major ingredient of the popular whisky drink “Penicillin” Ingredients include 13/4 oz. Artist Blend Whisky, ¾ oz. Lemon Juice, ¾ oz. honey ginger syrup, 1/3 oz. Peat Monster Whisky. The Peat Monster Whisky won a Silver medal!

Compass Box is dedicated to bringing back high quality blended scotches. You can find these products at Total Wine or BevMo. You can learn more at

Specialty Cellars – Dry Fly Port Whisky

Maddie Magnuson with Specialty Cellars is representing the product called Dry Fly Port Finished Whisky out of Washington. Dry Fly is a wheat whisky which is smooth and soft with a hint of huckleberry port. The whisky is actually aged in old port wine barrels. During the aging process the port gives a little berry flavor on the end. The Whisky is produced in Spokane Washington. My sample was 120 proof and was actually very smooth considering the high proof. It did have a hint of berry on the back.   You can find these products at Total Wine or BevMo or online at

GB Treats – Great Chocolates

GB Treats owner and chocolatier Gil Badilla was serving samples of some of his handmade chocolates. These chocolates were inspired by tequila white chocolate margarita’s. The outside dark chocolate shell was filled with caramel milk chocolate and honey ganache. Together the chocolate and honey were a joy to my palette. GB Treats works out of Temecula, but their main shop is located in Santee in San Diego. Everything they offer is available online at

Mestizo Mezcal – Authentic Artisanal Process

Julio Palencia of Mestizo Mezcal is out of Oaxaca Mexico. They won all bronze medals for their Mezcal Reposado and Mezcal Anejo and Mezcal Joven. Julio explained their 100% espadin agaves take 8 to 10 years to reach maturity. Local mesquite wood is used to fire the pit. An underground earthen pit is used to slow roast the agave for about five days and that’s what brings out the smoky flavor. Cooked agave plants are then crushed using a “Tahona” pulled by their horse, El Dorado. The roasted agaves are then fermented in large wooden vats with wild yeast for about two weeks. The fermented agave juice is double distilled in a copper still and then balanced to 80 proof.

I sampled the Mezcal Reposado. This was aged between 2 and 12 months. Mestizo ages the Tequila for eight months in American white oak, that have been lightly toasted. There’s already a smoky flavor so they feel they don’t need to add any additional smoky flavor this particular Raposado. This had no real bite like other Raposados, very subtle and very full flavored, with a hint of smoke. Julio and his staff grow their own agave so they have full control of their product. You can learn more at



Wine Barrel Smoker – Smokers Done Right

I spoke with Gustaf Rooth of – Design Haus and Event Space. Gustaf is primarily a furniture designer and artist that has recently included designing cooking platforms for BBQ and smoking. Gustaf has a very unique wine barrel cooker/smoker. By placing the heat source in the center of the barrel Gustaf has achieved something similar to a Kamada Gril, where the intense heat is stored within the design and shape of the barrel. It takes about 20 minutes to cook the product and Gustaf uses wood from old tops of wine barrels to get a certain flavor and smoke. Once the heat source dies out the lid is placed on the barrel and the convection process takes place. This step takes another 20 minutes. When the product has reached the proper internal temperature the yield is a very tender, slightly smoky product that is very juicy. Gustaf recently sold one of his wine barrel cooker smokers to famous celebrity Chef Guy Fieri. He’s been trying to reach out to see how he likes it but as not heard back from him. I look forward to maybe seeing Guy use this particular cooker smoker on one of his shows. I was able to taste the barbecue smoked chicken wrapped with bacon. The product was great! He served it on a tortilla with just basic lettuce and a mild salsa. The flavor of the product and the juiciness and tenderness were exceptional. Again, it reminds me of my old Kamada BBQ. My compliments to Gustaf! You can reach him at www. Planet

Photography Leslie Peterson, Tom Wright



Michael Hepworth

287 S.Robertson Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211


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