Cheers!: Hi, Sean. Thanks for getting me up to speed with what’s going on at Shadow Ridge Spirits Co. We’re in the heart of our third COVID summer. What’s the current status of the distillery, and how has this summer been different from 2020 or 2021?
Sean: We are fully open for tours and tastings. We’re also in full production almost every week. This summer, we’re focusing on tours and tastings. Summer of 2020 and 2021, we were able to ship Direct-to-Customer, but the State of California allowed the temporary COVID law to expire in March of this year. We always love doing tours are tastings. We are available by appointment only on evenings and weekends.
Cheers!: You are a Navy veteran and still work with the military in another part of your life. How has your military experience influenced you as an entrepreneur and in running the business?
Sean: In the military, you are always part of a team. I was a Navy surface warfare officer, and you quickly realize you must rely on and trust everyone that you work for, work with, and [who] works for you.
If you try to do everything yourself, you will fail. I took the same approach when starting my business. I made a list of what I could do and what I couldn’t do. I hired a solid graphic designer and developed a strong network of confidants.
The great thing about distilling in San Diego is the incredible network of distillers and brewers. Their lessons learned have become my standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Cheers!: What inspired you to take on the challenge of starting a distillery in the first place?
Sean: I was a homebrewer for many years and completed the UCSD Professional Brewing Program. While in the program, I had the opportunity to steward at the first San Diego Fair Distilled Spirits Competition started by Yuseff Cherney (Ballast Point/Cutwater).
I met quite a few local distillers and was able to pick their brains. A couple of years later, Sultan wanted to go down this road, and I agreed. Unfortunately, he had to back out, and my wife stepped in as my business partner. This is truly a passion project.
Cheers!: What is it about working with small batches that appeals to you, and is there anything in R&D right now?
Sean: One great thing I love about small batch is the ability to experiment with different grains. We can leverage the San Diego Brewing infrastructure, access to multiple grain warehouses and yeast labs. Small batch gives us the freedom to change our mash bill anytime we like for limited release.
For example, our bourbon has maintained 53% corn by law, but the other 47 percent of grain has changed. I love working with barley, especially German malts. I change the percentage and types of barley, rye, and wheat in my bourbon and rye whiskey. I currently have two different single malts, a peated version and un-peated [version] with roasted malts.
I just finished distilling a new single malt recipe. I love trying out different raw sugars in my rum. I believe if we weren’t small batch, I wouldn’t have the latitude with my recipes. I believe that customers looking for craft spirits like the little different nuances from batch to batch.
We have some cool stuff going on at the distillery. I have a 100% blue weber agave spirit (we can’t call it tequila). We did a blanco and ex-bourbon, barrel-aged agave spirit. I just barreled a blue corn bourbon that we’re super excited about. We also have our 1893 Navy Strength Rum that changes every batch. I have some leftover 100% that we use for gin. I am making another batch of gin and may use some for absinthe.
We just released both Cask Strength Hallman Single Barrel Bourbon and Cask Strength Hallman Single Barrel Rye. The Agave Spirit and Cask Strength Whiskey are currently only available for sale through the tasting room.
Cheers!: If you were to suggest a drink or a make cocktail for someone who had never tried any of your spirits? What would it be and why?
Sean: I really don’t make a lot of cocktails, but our bourbon is great for a traditional Bourbon Smash. This past April, we were given an incredible opportunity to conduct a Cocktail Seminar at the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival.
We taught people how to make our bourbon smash with fresh muddled lemon, fresh mint, and simple syrup. Using muddle lemon releases the oil in the rind as opposed to just using the juice. The mint adds a freshness that is brightened by the lemon, and the simple syrup adds just a little sweetness.
It’s almost like a minty Whiskey Sour or citrusy Mint Julep. We received great feedback from the seminar participants. Our bourbon at 90 proof is robust enough to shine through the other ingredients and be the star of the cocktail.
Cheers!: You run the company with your wife, Lisa Ireland. How have you navigated working together, and are you taking the work home together?
Sean: It’s been great. My wife LOVES whiskey, especially bourbon and scotch, if it’s not too peaty. We bounce ideas off each other and spend a lot of quality time together at the distillery. At home, we do themed whiskey tastings at home to expand our palate.
One night it might be high wheat bourbons, another night it might be Speyside Scotch, etc. We talk about why we like a whiskey or maybe why a whiskey isn’t for us. So, I guess we do take our work home. The good thing is we went into this to have fun, and we’re still having fun.
Cheers!: What did we miss? Anything else you want readers to know about Shadow Ridge right now?
Sean: Shadow Ridge Spirits is a private label of Oceanside Distillers. Our products and Oceanside Distillers Steinmetz Spirits are available in our tasting room. When you come to visit, your tour and tasting are conducted by the distillers. Either owner, Dieter Steinmetz, or I will lead the tour and tasting, but usually, it’s both of us.
We are very proud of the fact that we both produce 100% grain-to-glass spirits with all in-house fermentation. There are a lot of tours and tastings conducted by the distillers.
Cheers!: What is the best way for SoCal residents to try or buy your spirits?
Sean: We would love to have SoCal residents come visit us in our facility for a tour and tasting. We are also available in all Keg N Bottle locations. Our spirits are also available through the Keg N Bottle online store. We are also in the onboarding process with the San Diego area Total Wine and Spirits locations. Hopefully, we will be available at their San Diego area stores by the end of summer or early fall.
Shadow Ridge Spirits Company and Oceanside Distillers are located at 3044 Industry St #107 in Oceanside, California. Tastings and tours are by appointment only. Call 858-633-7146 to book your tour, or order Shadow Ridge whiskey, rum, or gin online from barbank.com here.