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Pacific Coast Spirits founder and distiller Nicholas Hammond talking craft spirits, food and music with David Boylan. Photo by David Boylan
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Lick the Plate: Pacific Coast Spirits is getting crafty in Oceanside

While hardly an expert on distilling and the craft distillery movement, having a nephew in the business with Detroit City Distilling I have a general understanding of the challenges and rewards involved. That and craft spirits have been gifted and re-gifted at our family annual name drawing present exchange at Christmas for the past five years.  That said, I was surprised that this movement had not happened in North County until the recent arrival of Pacific Coast Spirits in Oceanside.

First a bit of background on the craft spirits movement. California bill  (SB-1164) was passed into law in 2018 called the “Craft Distillers Op-pour-tunity Act” (a crafty pun in itself), that expanded the capacity allowed under existing Type 74 craft distillery licenses from 100,000 to 150,000 gallons of spirit production per year while also making it easier for consumers to get their hands on bottles made my small producers.

Under previous law, visitors to California craft distillery tasting rooms had been required to participate in tasting events before purchasing bottles of distilled spirits. For craft distilleries without the capacity to run tasting rooms, sales were outright impossible. The bill allows people to purchase directly from artisanal distillers, three bottles per purchase. This is what’s happening at Pacific Coast Spirits along with their ability pour their spirits in cocktail form to all visitors. They can also operate a restaurant on premise, more on that in a bit.

Speaking of the space, Pacific Coast Spirits occupies a former 12,000-square-foot furniture store that was in terrible shape. Most of the work renovating the space was done by the people behind the effort, led by founder and distiller Nicholas Hammond. They built the entire place — from the super cool communal table, benches to planters along with new I-beams so it was not a weekend endeavor. Part of the hands-on approach was directly related to being funded by family, friends, and small business loans.

Pacific Coast Spirits is the vision of founder and head distiller Nicholas Hammond. Raised in a winemaking family in Northern California, he spent the last decade traveling and training in the spirits industry, from studying pisco production in Chile and tequila in Mexico to working at distilleries in Texas and Los Angeles. The former mechanical engineer is currently pursuing a master’s degree in distilling and brewing through Heriot-Watt University in Edinburg, Scotland. So yeah, this is not some yahoo who fancies himself a distiller, Nick is as prepared for this venture as anyone I’ve met.

During our conversation both his knowledge and passion were evident and from what I know about spirits, the bourbon in the old fashioned he served up proved to be tasty and the perfect elixir for my cold and as an added bonus brought my radio voice back long enough to power through the recording.

Pacific Coast Spirits is currently making American Single Malts, California Bourbon, Heirloom Corn Whiskey, Vodka, Gin, Brandy and Agave spirits. Plans for local schnapps, amaro and other very small batch products are in the works. Nick wants to secure an alternating winemaking license at the same location, in part to bring back his family’s wine label called Climbing Monkeys that is currently on hiatus. In the near future he hopes to install a 1-ton malting floor, which will allow him to malt his own barley enabling a single malt for whiskey production that is truly grain to glass. 

Their cocktail program has three sections that include Classics, Adventurous, and Seasonal along with four cocktails on draft. And trust me, these are drinks taken to another level with the freshest ingredients.

Their vision for food was to not make it a second thought but highlight cuisine and beverage in an elevated manner. They are calling it California comfort with a slight southern twist while taking advantage of and exploring the opportunities of the food and spirits synergy.  The menu consists of shareable plates that I had the chance to sample during a recent visit and it was all spot on. Some highlights included the House Hummus Dip, Housemade Sausage Skillet with sauerkraut, bacon and potatoes (my favorite), Shrimp & Grits with spent corn grits, bourbon bacon butter, pickled sweet peppers and pickled herb salad. We also sampled the Charred Broccoli Salad with Green Goddess dressing, aged cheddar and toasted seeds and a very fabulous Hamachi Crudo with yellowtail, fresno kosho, citrus granita, jicama and shiso. That last one was one of the best crudo’s I’ve had a long time.

Cocktails average around $12 and food from $8 to $24 and considering the quality of ingredients in both those prices are very reasonable. They have bottles for purchase, very cool merchandise, and a spirits tasting menu to get familiar with their offerings. It’s a beauty of a space and another reason to put Oceanside on your list of food and cocktail destinations.

Find them at 404 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside or