Category Archives: distillery

Left Turn Distillery

left turn distillery

Left Turn Distilling is the first distillery in Albuquerque, based on the research I’ve done. They’re making La Luz Vodka and Brothers Old Tom Gin right now, with plans for much more in the future.

The distillery is in an industrial part of Albuquerque and is a decent-sized facility with custom stills made by owner and distiller Brian Langwell. Brain was a welder in his former life, but has been home distilling since he got a chemistry set at 15. In the distillery, there’s a small tasting room where you can taste and buy their vodka or gin, with cocktail options too.

I’ve tried both of their current liquors, and they’re excellent. Yeah, maybe there’s 5% hometown pride in my taste buds (I blog from Albuquerque), but I’ve had a lot of booze, and these have a flavor that can rival top-shelf products.

La Luz Vodka is corn-based and sourced locally. I’m really fond of the syrupy sweetness a corn vodka can have, and La Luz is no exception. It has no harsh alcohol burn and is sweet on the tongue. This can easily take the place on your home bar shelf as a sipper or a mixer.

Brothers Old Tom Gin is one of less than ten Old Toms that are commercially distilled in the world. the Old Tom variety of gin hearkens back to the Gin Craze when folks drank gin out of wooden cats on the sides of bar walls. Gin of those days was sweet and high-citrus, usually to mask sinister ingredients like turpentine or acid. So how do you create a quality gin that’s based on its “bathtub” cousin? Ask Brain Langwell at Left Turn, because he did a great job.

I personally prefer a high-juniper gin and love the piney bite of a London Dry. I was admittedly nervous when Brian described Brothers as higher in citrus, less juniper, and basket vapor infused (like Bombay Sapphire). I was relieved to taste a quality gin with a nice bite, with just a touch of sweet that lingers on your tongue. The balance of flavors is great – this is a botanical-driven gin, and Brothers Old Tom has a flavor that a gin lover would appreciate, but it’s very unique – remember, there’s less than 10 of these in the world. This is an easy gin to drink straight, but the bottle also hails it as a “fine cocktail gin” too.

Left Turn is off to a great start, and Brian told me to expect whiskey and rum soon. With Left Turn Distilling’s products only available locally right now, the only bad news is that you have to come visit Albuquerque to try them.

New Mexico Vodka All-Stars

There are 3 distilleries in New Mexico, offering a gamut of products from 15-year-old rye whiskey to gin to vanilla extract.  All three, however, distill vodka.  Don Quixote offers Blue Corn Vodka, KGB Spirits has Vodka Viracocha, and Santa Fe Spirits has Expedition Vodka. Don Quixote and Santa Fe use corn as a base grain and KGB uses potatoes.

New Mexico Vodka

I thought a blind taste test was best since I have some personal ideas and allegiances to each of these distilleries.  Two of us sampled the vodkas, and here are the results:

Vodka #1: bright, citrusy, minty, alcohol burn, not a great mouth feel.

Vodka #2: desert and cherry aroma, sweet, malty, finishes a bit harsh.

Vodka #3: smooth, flavorless, no alcohol smell, feels good in the mouth, clean finish.

I knew right away when I had tasted the Don Quixote Blue Corn Vodka (number 2). The sweetness that comes through is the result of the blue corn that’s used.  Don Quixote calls it the “sweetest of the 4 varieties of corn.”  Also the desert aromas instantly reminded me of their Spirit de Santa Fe Gin, which I wasn’t a fan of, but the vodka fared much better. Vodka 1 was Vodka Viracocha from KGB Spirits, and Vodka 3 was Expedition Vodka by Santa Fe Spirits.

Each of these New Mexico vodkas is a worthy addition to your home bar and certainly better than 90% of what you’ll find at the grocery store.  The three are $25-35 per bottle, depending on where you purchase them.  Don Quixote sells through their website, Santa Fe at the distillery and online, and KGB products are available at several New Mexico stores.

Don Quixote Bourbon and Gin

“Clear alcohol is for rich women on diets.” ~Ron Swanson

Don Quixote Distillery in Los Alamos is one of only 3 distilleries in New Mexico right now (Santa Fe and KGB are the others).  Don Quixote makes 5 spirits, some ports, several wines, and even vanilla extract.

Don Quixote Bourbon

Don Quixote Blue Corn bourbon is “the world’s only bourbon made from New Mexico blue corn” and there’s no other way to say this: it’s outstanding.  I prefer gin most of the time and generally don’t like whiskey much, but this is by far the best bourbon I’ve ever had.  The sourness I usually dislike in whiskey (is it the “malt”?) isn’t there, and when you swallow, it’s cool and fresh tasting with very little alcohol burn.  This bourbon is smooth and sweet and I’m not going to use it in cocktails because it tastes too good on its own.  This will be perfect in a frozen glass with just an orange peel in it.

Don Quixote Spirit de Santa Fe Gin

Don Quixote Distillery also makes two types of gin, and I tried the Spirit de Santa Fe Gin, with “natural botancials; including juniper, pinion, chamisa, sage, and rose hips.”

This gin surprised me.  It’s extremely aromatic, and has a unique “desert” quality to the flavor, I think maybe the sage stands out the most.  The issue I had with this gin was the fact that the alcohol overpowers the initial flavor of it, only to be followed by a big aromatic, botanical finish.  This really prevents it from being good for sipping straight, as it’s just not smooth enough, so I tried it in some cocktails.

A Gin Old Fashioned is one of my favorite drinks, so I mixed the Spirit de Santa Fe Gin with simple syrup, aromatic and orange bitters, a splash of club soda, and an orange and cherry garnish.  This is a cocktail where the aromatics of the bitters and fruit tend to be the first thing that hits you, but not with this gin – that aromatic-desert-pungency remains the primary smell and flavor, just like when you drink the gin straight.

I finally got the idea to try this gin as a substitute for tequila in a margarita, and because of that aromatic-desert-pungency, that combination worked pretty well.

Don Quixote Blue Corn Bourbon is available for $30 at the Don Quixote Store online, or you can buy it at the distillery in Los Alamos.  The gin is sold in half or full bottles for $20 and $30 and it’s certainly something to try because of its unique flavor, though it may not be for everyone.

Don Quixote Distillery and Winery

Santa Fe Spirits Distillery Tour

santa fe spirits sign

I had the pleasure of taking the VIP tour at Santa Fe Spirits in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Santa Fe Spirits distills unaged Silver Coyote Whiskey, Expedition Vodka, and SF Spirits Apple Brandy.  They have been in business since Spring of 2011 and plans are in currently the works for gin and single malt whiskey, too.  On the day I went, I had the pleasure of meeting everyone: the owner Colin, their distiller Nick, and their all-around good guy Sean.

santa fe spirits distillery

Sean served as my tour guide and showed me the distilling equipment and warehouse.  Everything is distilled at least twice, with the vodka going through 6 cycles of distillation.  Malt is the basis for their whiskey and corn is the basis for their vodka and both are distilled very traditionally.

The first batch of Apple Brandy is sold out there at the distillery (though you may still be able to pick up a bottle at a New Mexico Trader Joe’s) and they were in the midst of aging batch #2.  It’s made in the traditional calvados style and the genesis of it was in Colin’s backyard apple orchard.

santa fe spirits tasting room

I did, however, have the opportunity to try Silver Coyote Whiskey and Expedition Vodka (both are great).  Sean is very knowledgable and between him and SF Spirits’ distiller Nick, I had all the information I could want.  Nick told me about their future plans for distilling gin and gave me tastes of some botanicals for that, too.

It’s important to note that their Silver Coyote Whiskey is unaged, which means it’s a clear whiskey, and very unique.  It tastes like whiskey for sure, but as Sean described it, a whiskey drinker may or may not like it, and folks who usually like clear spirits tend to like it quite a bit.  I agree as it’s the best whiskey I’ve had yet, and I’m a gin lover.

Sean also served me a bit of their barrel-aged Manhattan, which they can serve you when you go to Santa Fe Spirits for cocktails.  Bitters, sweet vermouth, and Silver Coyote in a little mini-barrel makes an outstanding cocktail and I made myself one at home, too, to make sure I was right about how good it was.

All in all, it’s a treat to visit SF Spirits, and the team there is stellar at what they do. I have found their whiskey and brandy at Trader Joe’s in Albuquerque and you can search nearby places to buy their products by clicking here.

206 Distillery in Seattle

206 distillery

I had the opportunity to visit 206 Distillery in downtown Seattle recently, who make Counter Gin and Batch 206 Vodka, and got a tour from Rusty Figgins, their master distiller. Rusty let us start with a small (1/2 oz) colder-than-freezing taste of their vodka, which was good but not particularly different for other mid-range vodkas I’ve tried.  After my palate was cleared, I had an ice-cold sip of their gin.

Rusty then showed us the distilling chambers and some of the new projects they’re working on, which were aging in barrels at the time (hint: whiskey and brandy) and let us see the clean red wheat that their vodka is distilled from.

206 distillery

All in all, it was a fun day, and Rusty is a lot of fun to hang out with. I bought a bottle of Counter Gin for $25, and it’s been well worth it. The gin is great, a good strong taste, very botanical. Rusty showed me the various botanics that go into the gin as part of the tour. To give it a review, it’s got plenty of juniper flavor and some burn, and I’d call it a gin-lover’s gin, which is to say it’s not as smooth and friendly as Hendrick’s is to the common man.