The Spirits of Paso Robles

Heading North for Booze Rather than Wine

Fish Gaucho’s pork chop al pastor goes with a variety of cocktails made with Paso Robles-based liquors.

Gareth Kelly Photos

Fish Gaucho’s pork chop al pastor goes with a variety of cocktails made with Paso Robles-based liquors.

Picture Paso Robles and you probably think of bold and brash red wines, cowboys riding off into sun-drenched vistas, and rock legends at the Mid-State Fair. What you probably don’t think of are spirits — no, not the ghostly kind, but the distilled.

To help navigate this emerging niche is the Paso Robles Distillery Trail (pasoroblesdistillerytrail.com), which was founded by Krobār, Re:Find, Calwise, Foggy Bottom, Azeo, and others passionate about making world-class distillates. Like the wine industry before them, they’re inviting you to come to see their process, check out their equipment, and, of course, sample their wares.

Where to Taste: Krobār Craft Distillery (2174 Hwy. 46 West; krobardistillery.com) is the place to go for barrel-aged gin, brandy, rye whiskey, and even house-made bitters. Founded by Stephen Kroener and Joe Barton — who spent four years researching the trade, often firsthand in Louisville, Kentucky — returned to Paso Robles with a Vendome Copper and Brass Works still, which they selected for its lower water and energy use, closed-steam system, and efficient mechanics.

In their small, 1920s-themed tasting room, which is open Thursday through Monday (and next door to Barton Family Winery, Joe’s original gig), one can try their signature Krobār Rye Whiskey. Made from 90 percent rye and 10 percent malted rye, it’s distilled once to 125 proof before being placed in charred American oak barrels for two years. It’s then put in a tank, cut to about 92 proof, and bottled. It’s smooth, mature, and bloody good.

They also make the Krobār Original Gin, aka the “O.G.” It’s made from 100 percent wine grape distillate — run through the 100-gallon Vendome pot for over eight hours before being vapor-infused through a side stand gin basket — and comes out at a whopping 170 proof. Luckily, they cut it down to 90 before sticking it in bottles for our enjoyment. Lavender, juniper, black pepper, and bitter orange are just a few of the botanical flavors on offer.

Where to Eat: All that spirit tasting can work up an appetite. Stop by the lively, upscale cantina Fish Gaucho (1244 Park St., fishgaucho.com) for modern Mexican fare, tequila, and craft cocktails made with Paso Robles’s raised spirits. Order the Ahi Crudo, with spicy pickled grapes, shaved red onion, Morro Bay avocado, cabbage, Fresno chiles crema, cilantro, and lime vinaigrette served on warm corn tostadillas. Pair that with the Spill the Wine cocktail, in which Azeo’s grape-based vodka (azeodistillery.com) is mixed with Manzanilla Sherry en rama, white balsamic vinegar, cardamom syrup, a splash of sparkling wine, and butterfly pea flower tincture. You’ll be very happy.

For the main course, speed your cocktail up to the Mach One, a tequila-mezcal-cucumber cocktail made with cilantro, serrano pepper, lime, agave, and a house-made chorizo/chili salt rim. It’s the perfect complement to an oak-grilled pork chop al pastor. The pineapple- and brown-sugar-brined pork chop comes with heirloom cauliflower succotash, jalapeño mashed potatoes, pineapple pepper salsa, a mezcal-infused apple butter, and a red and white grape mint salsa, all served on a decadent piece of slate.

Where to Wind Up: Finish the night at Eleven Twenty-Two (1122 Pine St; eleven-twentytwo.com). This upscale speakeasy cocktail lounge is hidden behind a secret door and requires a password for entry. Inside, waistcoat-clad mixologists take you back to the good old days of Prohibition with drinks curated from this new industry’s finest offerings.