The Tasting Panel magazine

February 2014

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february 2014 / the tasting panel / 59 Ascendant Spirits opened in March of 2013 and is located in an industrial complex in Buellton. "I realized there was a huge void—hundreds of miles along the Central Coast and no distillery," says Gertman, who believed that void needed illing with craft spirits. The decision to set up camp in Buellton had less to do with joining the club of neighbors—some custom-crush wine operations and a brewery—and more to do with the weather. "Buellton's climate is perfect for aging whiskey—hot days and cool nights, which allows our 53 gallon barrels constant aspi- ration—and we're in the heart of a great agricultural region." There is no denying that Santa Barbara carries a notable cachet in terms of wine and beer production, and Ascendant is lanked by the Santa Rita Hills and the Santa Ynez Valley, two wine regions with a proven track record. "I think our real competition is the big boys—getting people to try craft spirits over the large brands," Gertman says. To that end Gertman utilizes local ingredients more effectively than the spirits behemoths—strawberries from Santa Maria and caviar limes from Goleta are both used in vodka production. Though legally the distillery cannot sell directly to consumers (although they can charge for tastings), the demand Gertman is experiencing caused him to upgrade from a smaller distributor to Southern Wine & Spirits' new Artisanal Group. "We're racing to keep up with demand," Gertman says. That demand means that Ascendant Spirits will soon be distributed throughout California, and that expansion may be a welcome inevitability. American Star Vodka ($38.99) Clean and smooth with a minimal burn, the nose is neutral with a slight mint, inishing with sweet citrus, allspice and cracked pepper. Breaker Bourbon ($48.99) Caramel and cedar on the nose with a spicy heat and resin on the inish, a slight burn on the palate but a rich bourbon lavor. Silver Lightening Moonshine ($27.99) Floral notes with musk, mint and slight sweet corn and a silken texture, this is surpris- ingly integrated. American Star Caviar Lime Vodka ($38.99) Modest yet pronounced lime and smooth viscosity (the locally sourced caviar limes are fermented whole); the lime punches through at the end with a burst of citrus over a clean base of vodka.

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