OCEANSIDE — The spirit of the Southern California coastline is the impetus for one of the best gins in the country.
Since opening two years ago, Nicholas Hammond has created an award-winning distillery in Oceanside. But his vision began about five years earlier after Hammond solidified his dream of creating a unique distillery inspired by the California coast.
Hammond launched the business, incorporating social responsibility and philanthropy into his model and locking down more than a dozen awards for his gins, whiskeys, bourbon, agave, vodka and brandy.
In 2020, the company more than 12 awards with California Dry Gin winning double gold and its Agave Spirit winning best in category at the American Distilling Institute’s competition in Louisville, Kent. Additionally, Pacific Coast Spirits took home six awards at the American Craft Spirits Association’s competition within the past year.
“Tequila got me into distilling,” Nick Hammond said. “I started going down there and taking trips to Jalisco to learn about the process. I fell in love with the process and what they were doing down there.”
Hammond’s path began as a mechanical engineer, but another passion was creativity in spirits. He began with brewing beer in college, then taking time to visit Jalisco, Mexico, to learn how to distill tequila.
He then started working at a family-owned winery in Napa before moving south. He met Nicole, and the couple eventually married in 2015 and a year later is when Nicholas Hammond began planning out his vision.
Yet another obstacle was state laws on distilling, which meant most operations were outlawed, he said. But year after year, the laws were peeled back, and craft distilling has since taken off.
“You could make spirits but then you’d have to go through three-tiered distribution and play with the big boys,” he explained. “All they would do is buy your product, put it in the back warehouse and you could never sell it, so they would kill your business because they were afraid of craft (distillers).”
It took two years to craft the business plan and secure funding and then their application to operate in Carlsbad was rejected by the City Council, as just a few people objected to their plans. Regardless of the setback, they found a 12,000-square foot site at 404 S. Coast Highway in Oceanside.
He was able to open in Nov. 2019 and four months later, the pandemic exploded. However, he was able to secure approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make and sell hand sanitizer.
Despite the barriers to entry, the Hammond stuck to their plan. He distilled numerous barrels of bourbon, which take three to four years to mature, along with the other spirits, which have a much quicker process.
“It all stems from Nick’s passion for all things liquid,” Nicole Hammond said. “When we got married, he had created some products, I tasted them and they were amazing. So, I encouraged him to just go full-speed ahead with it.”
Despite the challenges, Pacific Coast Spirits is thriving, the couple said. They have about 25 employees, are producing award-winning spirits and have also included internal practices to be good stewards, Nicole Hammond said.
About 90% of the distillery’s ingredients are sourced in California, with the agave coming from Mexico, Nicholas Hammond said. While it is a bit more expensive, he said sourcing locally and around the state is important to support those industries as well.
Being an engineer, Nicholas Hammond said sustainability is important along with constructing a water recycling system, and the spent ingredients are donated to farmers and ranchers to feed livestock. Finally, the company also contracts distilling operations from other companies that don’t have the ability.
Their philanthropic efforts include partnering with a non-profit, creating a special drink to sell for one month and giving back a percentage of the proceeds.
Nicole Hammond, meanwhile, said the journey has been worth the effort, even as the couple raises three kids under 5 years old. While Nicholas Hammond “can’t afford” his wife’s expertise quite yet, Nicole said she still plays an active role when she’s not working for a tech startup.
Regardless, she said she is happy with how the business has taken off, along with the growth of her husband.
“I think there’s been a lot more opportunity or just exciting things that come from this than he could’ve imagined,” Nicole Hammond said.