by Vanessa Sapino
When our new intern, Brandon Smith, mentioned there was a new distillery in Auburn, my ears perked up – I just moved to Auburn and, while I am well aware of the many craft breweries and tap rooms popping up, I hadn’t yet heard about California Distilled Spirits. Much to my surprise, CDS has had a ton of press in recent months, earning accolades throughout the region and beyond. So I took a little jaunt to meet Ed Arnold, owner of CDS, to check things out. Here are my notes from the visit, “distilled” into the real essence of how Darjeeling Gin is made.
Darjeeling Gin – from tank to bottle and from label machine to the shipping box – is hand-crafted by Ed, he is a one-man operation. His wife and 20-something-year-old kids are there for support and his son developed the CDS website. But, all had a good laugh over his success as it relates to the “family totem pole” when it comes to cooking, as Ed explained that he is the “consumer” of the household and at the bottom of that totem pole. But now, with classical music always playing while he works, this former HP executive, has put all his efforts into cooking, ‘er distilling, the perfect gin.
It all starts with the kettle, a hybrid still, sitting in the back of the warehouse in an inconspicuous industrial park. This is where the magic happens. Dry botanicals go in the upper, copper part and are held there during the process. Alcohol vapor then travels up the kettle steaming the botanicals and picking up the aromatics along the way, which is how the final product takes on the flavors of nine different botanicals.
“A lot of experimenting went into the recipe until I finally got it right,” Ed says. Hints of juniper come through – and we know from the name that the blend includes Darjeeling tea, which happens to be Ed’s favorite tea – but I couldn’t quite put my finger on any of the other “proprietary” botanicals. The goal was for the flavor to not be “so intensely floral” and he has perfected a wonderful balance of spices and citrus, with just a hint of floral, for a very smooth and flavorful finish.
Ed says his Darjeeling Gin is made for drinking neat over ice, but it’s also very versatile and, mixologist or not, you can experiment with different flavors by adding a variety of syrups or juices, such as elderberry and lavender, lemon or orange, and seltzer for a refreshing gin fizz. And, if you are a traditionalist, Gin and Tonic will never be the same (in a good way) with Darjeeling Gin.
Another key to the smooth flavor: “We have very good water in Auburn,” Ed says. “That, and I was lucky to hit upon something that people actually like.”
Scratch that, Ed, people are not only liking your gin, they are loving it, and giving it rave reviews. In fact, Ed’s Darjeeling Gin won “Best in Show” in the 2014-2015 World Beverage Competition. Yes, world renowned, but currently only available for purchase here in California and, thankfully for us, in many retail locations, bars, and restaurants around the greater Sacramento region. Click here to find out where to buy Darjeeling Gin.
“Word of mouth, press, and other reviews have really helped me spread the word,” Ed explains. “Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers was my first sale. And, I started with Save Mart here in Auburn and now it’s in every (Save Mart) store.”
Word of mouth will help Ed even further when he opens his distillery for tastings and sales on Saturdays starting this summer, thanks to new California law that now allows craft distilleries to sell on premise just as breweries and wineries do. He’ll also debut his first small-batch whiskey this summer.
In the meantime, Ed will be serving up tastings at the Taste of Excellence, benefiting the Sierra College Foundation this Saturday, April 23, at Sierra College in Rocklin. And, on June 16, he’ll be poolside at Thunder Valley Casino for the Rocklin Chamber of Commerce event Glitz Glamour Girlfriends.
Visit Darjeeling Gin’s Facebook page for more upcoming events and tasting opportunities.
California Distilled Spirits