As the host of Lick the Plate, I occasionally hear about new chefs hired or national accolades earned by an establishment that I’ve already covered that is worth providing an update. Such is the case with Pacific Coast Spirits in Oceanside, whose recent hiring of executive chef Louis Laterza and its award-winning American single malt whiskey was among some of the best in the country.
I recently sat down with Pacific Coast Spirits founder and head distiller Nicholas Hammond to get the whole story. I was also joined by chef Louis Laterza and events and marketing manager Lucia Schaldenko on the radio version of Lick the Plate, which can be heard at www.lick-the-plate.com.
Lick the Plate: Pacific Coast Spirits has been winning awards for your spirits for a while now, but a recent one was quite impressive. Tell me about it!
Nick Hammond: Since our inception, we have set out to make unique, handcrafted spirits without compromise. We enter our spirits into competitions to get feedback and create baselines for us to learn and build upon. We have been making spirits for eight years and are hitting our stride in our craft.
In the last two years, we have gained some fantastic accolades for our aged whiskeys, which confirms we are on the right path, but this last year really solidified this for us. Our American Single Malts and Bourbons are showing well, gaining Double Golds, Golds and Best in Category in multiple competitions.
Recently, two of our whiskeys gained high praise from one of our nation’s most respected palates, Fred Minnick. Each year he releases a list of his Top 100 American Whiskeys, and this year our American Single Malt ranked in his top 25 at #11 as one of only three Single Malts, and our Blue Corn Whiskey made the list as the only corn whiskey in the top 100.
For us, this is a high achievement; it is the notion that we can stand amongst the greats. When you look at the list, you’ll find 17-year-old bourbons, bottles costing four figures, and world-renowned names and legends such as George T Stagg, William LaRue Weller, and Old Fitzgerald. It is recognition that confirms our craft. We are excited about the future and the growth ahead of us.
LTP: You also recently brought some serious culinary talent to run your kitchen with Louis Laterza. Could you tell me about what his addition brings to PCS and a bit about his impressive culinary resume?
NH: When someone visits Pacific Coast Spirits, we want the experience to be well-rounded and encompassing. We have a great opportunity to enjoy the synergy between cuisine and libations. It is very important that we have culinary talent leading that experience.
Chef Louis Laterza understands that. Chef joined the team this last year and is only getting started. He has an impressive culinary resume, as he has worked with and alongside many of San Diego’s greatest chefs. His passion and innovation truly shine through.
LTP: I noticed several menu items had a good smoky flavor to them. Is the smoking element a new enhancement as well?
NH: I’m glad you noticed this; yes, the smoked element is a new enhancement to our menu. It’s important to note that we are not converting our whole offering to a smoked cuisine, but as you noted, it is enhancing a few of our menu items.
This is one of our first steps in growing our culinary offerings. We are excited about this addition, as smoked foods and BBQ go well with whiskey. The food/spirit collaboration is at our core. Look for more enhancements in the near future as the chef grows our culinary offerings.
LTP: I’ve always been a huge fan of your cocktails as they are inventive, delicious and have fun, creative names like “Good Morning Cowboy.” Tell me about your cocktail program, the talent behind the bar and some of your favorites.
NH: Absolutely! As a distillery, we strive to innovate in our mash bills and the products that we offer. There is no better way to explore these spirits than in the cocktail form. To make spirits, serve them as cocktails and offer food alike, we have an amazing synergy. It’s what makes us so different from anyone else around us or in San Diego.
As for our cocktail program, no one is responsible for the direction; we work as a team to create cocktails and names that play well with our brand. As we say, we are crafting adventure and foraging exploration; we aim to carry this through to every menu item.
Some favorites are the Farmerita, a carrot margarita, or the Black-eyed Rye, a play on a whiskey smash, both working with seasonal fresh ingredients. We consider our bar team liquid chefs and push for the exploration of ingredients that pair well with our spirits and cuisine.
LTP: During the radio portion of my interview with Lucia Schaldenko, she mentioned how popular your space has become for hosting events. Could you tell me about that side of the business and some of the attributes that make it such a popular event location?
NH: Yes, our space is very unique. We have a very open floor plan yet can section areas as needed for private events. We are a mix of lounge meets dining room meets communal space. For us, creating a vibe and experience is most important. A place to share stories, have good times with friends, celebrating a colleague’s achievement or have a family wedding.
Our space is just as much an element of the brand experience as our cuisine and beverage. This experience is due largely to our general manager Matthew Gosney’s focus on hospitality and a customer-centric experience.
Find Pacific Coast Spirits at 404 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside, CA 92054 www.paccoastspirits.com 760.453.7150