To say that Pacific Coast Spirits (PCS) is award-winning doesn’t properly describe the Oceanside distillery’s success. In August, PCS won eight medals from the American Distilling Institute, including Best in Class for their California Dry Gin along with various silver and bronze medals for the rest of their line-up of bourbons and Agave spirits.
Nicholas (Nick) Hammond, founder and head distiller of Pacific Coast Spirits, has created a well-regarded community hub along South Coast Highway, despite the company’s entire existence being dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. I reached out to Nick to get a better idea of how things at the distillery are coming along in the moment.
Cheers!: Hey Nick, thanks for getting me up to speed with what’s going on at PCS. We’ve been in a pandemic for…seemingly forever. What has the past 16 months been like for you, the PCS team, and how are you as an owner feeling now?
Nick, PCS: The last 16 months have been a roller coaster and the only way I can describe it is that we are just riding it as best we can. We, like many, have had a lot of transitions. We pivoted to hand sanitizer to support our community but also support our small business. We have turned over staff, and in the process made enhancements to the organizational structure to support our people and customers.
We have launched a new menu with a new chef that elevates our cuisine to the level of our cocktails and brings a synergy to utilizing the spirits in our farm-to-table recipes. We have expanded production, and taken on contract distilling for brands that represent similar vision and values.
One word that continues to come to mind: “grit.” We have worked hard to elevate all aspects of the business through one of the hardest times for the hospitality industry, and we have persevered!
Oh, and we are winning accolades and awards for our spirits. Our Dry Gin won Double Gold, Best in Category and Best in Show at American Distilling Institute. 9/10 of our spirits are award-winning over the last two years. This isn’t the norm in the first two years [of a distillery], and something we are all proud of for the community as well as PCS.
Cheers!: It seems that one key to surviving COVID is the ability and willingness to adjust and pivot quickly. How has PCS adapted, and are any of those adaptations going to stick around for the long haul (for example, cocktails to go or in a can)?
Nick, PCS: Yes, yes and yes, Pivot is the name of the game. In addition to launching hand sanitizer which is FDA approved and sticking around, we have launched “crowlers,” which are canned growlers (5 drinks in a can), for on the go and we will be looking to launch additional canned cocktails like our draft paloma, gin and tonic and whiskey ginger.
Overall we are supporting the “to-go” environment as it feels that element of life will not be going away. We are adding a market to our tasting room. “The market” will include offerings such as packaged meals, snacks, canned cocktails and locally made products. This is an opportunity to not only expand our offerings but showcase local products of the community.
We also want to support our patrons that want a night out in person in a safe and comfortable environment. So we will continue to maintain and enhance as needed our safety protocols to ensure an enjoyable experience.
Cheers!: You have a new chef (Daniel Elliot) and a new menu. What does that mean for the restaurant, and what’s the direction of the new menu?
Nick, PCS: Oh man, exciting times for us as a restaurant and our food. Chef Daniel’s passion for food and creativity is really shining through. At PCS, we promote creativity and collaboration. I know everyone has enjoyed this process of creating a new menu as well as incorporating our spirits and not to mention their opportunity for feedback and “testing the products.”
In addition, his collaborative style really has helped us to develop a menu that supports all foodies–from our carnivores to our vegans, to our crews out for appetizers and cocktails or our families that want to share some good, cooked meals. We recently brought on Chef Alex Martinez, as well, and are really excited about integrating his style and flavors into the menu. We have a great team!
Overall, I appreciate the range of menu options we have without straying from our vision of farm to table and grain to glass.
Cheers!: For someone who isn’t familiar with the PCS brand, will you explain the theme or vibe, and what inspired you to pursue that style?
Nick, PCS: PCS is a lifestyle spirits brand. We like to say, “The adventure is in the craft.” From the mountains to the ocean, imagining enjoying a glass of whiskey in mountains or craft cocktail at the beach. It’s a lifestyle of enjoying the finer things in life.
Our restaurant and tasting room have a unique vibe, it’s your backyard, it’s your campsite, it’s a natural environment for enjoying adventurous spirits and food. We want visitors to enjoy that time, that adventure and be ready to plan the next!
Cheers!: I can’t forget to ask about the spirits. Is there anything exciting or interesting coming out of R&D right now?
Nick, PCS: Oh man…there is always something. We are working on canned cocktails as I mentioned. We also launched a coin club and a barrel club, where members can join, take barrel samples and sip ‘n savor. One project we are really excited about is our chef collaborations. We are making rice whiskey, pachuga and liqueurs driven by local chef collaborations. We really get to experiment with the types of spirits we are creating, but also staying true to classics.
Cheers!: Every month you do a Give Back Cocktail. This month you’ve collaborated with Kate Boards. How does the program work, and why is it important to the mission of PCS?
Nick, PCS: Part of our core ethos is giving back. Bringing the community together for a good cause is the best way to celebrate. We believe community drives collaboration. Collaborating with non-profits that are important to us and our community really helps to build a strong bond. In today’s world, it is vital to our children’s future to lead by example. I want my kids to know the value of giving back and “filling their bucket.”
Cheers!: Finally, if you could only drink one of your own spirits for the rest of your life, which one do you choose, and why?
Nick, PCS: Oh man. This is a hard one. I love whiskey. I love the opportunity to experiment with whiskey recipes. It’s hard for me to just pick one. We have some fun stuff laid down. One that stands out is a six-year-old single malt aging in ex-bourbon barrels that is absolutely delicious. This is an art of patience, but when you taste it, it truly makes it worth it.
Cheers!: What did we miss? Anything else you want readers to know about Pacific Coast Spirits right now?
Nick, PCS: PCS is all about family and enjoying experiences. Whether it is a private event, a tour to learn about our craft or tasting some of the items we have on the horizon (i.e. 100% blue corn whiskey), we want you to come try us, learn something new and just experience an adventure.