Cheers! Hi Michael, thanks for updating me on what’s going on at Old Harbor Distilling Co. We’ve been working through various stages of the pandemic for over two years. Things seem a little more optimistic at the moment. What have the pandemic years been like for you and your team, and how do you feel as an owner now?
Michel Skubic: We had to make a big shift from 75% onsite before the pandemic to around 75% offsite during the lockdown. One of the benefits is that people have started making cocktails at home. I believe online sales of cocktail shakers have increased by around 500% in 2020.
Cheers! OHD has been in operation since 2013, making you part of the old guard in terms of local distillers. What inspired you to start the business and how did you get into distilling in the first place?
Michael: I got into the alcohol industry helping to open Mike Hess Brewing, San Diego’s first nano-brewery. About three years later, I realized I was more of a whiskey and gin drinker. So I started researching what it would take to start a distillery. I’ve visited craft distilleries across the country in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado and found it to be quite similar to making beer, taking it to the next level. Whiskey is what beer wants to be when it grows up! I started developing the recipe for San Miguel Southwestern Gin in my backyard on a homemade pot still. When I located our East Village warehouse, I dove in headfirst and here we are nine years later.
Cheers! For someone unfamiliar with the OHD brand, explain the theme or vibe and what inspired you to pursue this style?
Michael: Old Harbor Distilling Co. has a respect for history and place. Our first spirit was named after San Diego’s original designation, which Cabrillo called “San Miguel” when he landed here in 1542. Hence the name “Old Harbor” since San Diego is the oldest port in the West Coast. In keeping with this, we make a 100% California Botanical Gin called 1542, because everything in it could have been from Cabrillo’s arrival at Point Loma. Our Barrelflag Rum is Navy Strength, which obviously has strong ties to the culture and history of San Diego, being (because it is a) Navy Town.
We launched the Adventure Series, which uses artwork that showcases California’s incredible terrains, whether it’s hanging out at the beach, hiking in the mountains, or hitting the slopes.
Cheers! You have a new speakeasy on the way. What is the status and what are your goals for the new space?
Michael: It’s now open! The Prop Shop is a “members only” speakeasy, the Commodores Club (east) located in our East Village warehouse. We offer three levels of membership.
- Level 1: Captain— You can make reservations or join the waiting list if it is full.
- Level 2: Captain— You have access to early bookings and we always keep a limited number of places for these members open for last minute bookings. Also, (you have) the first feedback on our latest release of spirits. A lot of whiskey in preparation!
- Level 3: Commodore“This one is special. You can “rent” one of our 5 gallon kegs and put bourbon, rye, single malt or rum in your keg! There are approximately 25 bottles of 750ML per barrel at cask strength. You can fire up to three bottles per day (California law prohibits more than that) until the barrel is dry. You can then fill it in if you wish. You also get Captain level benefits plus 10% off all purchases.
The space is very intimate and can accommodate around 20 people. It was handcrafted by myself and my good friend Mikey Eastman in our in house wood shop. (It has) a real turn of the century nautical vibe with a cast iron fire stove, gimbal sconces, vintage Tiffany lights. It’s a nice space to have a few cocktails.
Cheers! I can’t forget to ask about spirits. What should I know and what inspired the new Voyager and Adventure spirit series?
Michael: We launched San Miguel Southwestern Gin on September 28, 2014. …Since then we have created many fun spirits – Ampersand Cold Press Coffee Liqueur, Barrelflag Navy Strength Rum and 1542 California Native Botanical Gin.
Voyager is our series of barrel-aged spirits. So far, Blake, our master distiller, has released our San Miguel cask mezcal and a cask aged cabernet sauvignon rum.
The Adventure Series was our way of creating an affordable entry into craft spirits; they usually cost between $12 and $18.
Cheers! Finally, if you were to make a drink or a cocktail for someone who has never tasted your spirits, what would it be and why?
Michael: My go-to is a classic rickey gin with our San Miguel Southwestern Gin. Just 2 ounces of gin and ¾ ounce of lime juice over ice, then topped up with soda water.
It was known to be Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite cocktail and I think it’s perfect for a hot summer day. It really lets the Southwestern botanicals shine: cucumber, lime, cilantro, sage, cilantro, and juniper.
Cheers! What did we miss? Anything else you would like readers to know about OHD right now?
Michael: We are also in the process of opening a distillery pub in Seaport Village. Extremely excited for this! Old Port on the harbor in downtown San Diego.
Old Harbor Distilling Co. is located at 270 17th St. in downtown San Diego. Reservations for the Commodores Club are required.
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