From traditions to a Californian spirit adventure

Craft distillery

As craft distilleries are becoming more and more of a trend, a lot of big players have been using this term to market pretty, but poor-quality products. On the contrary, Stark Spirit is a strong and true craft liquor. In fact, Karen and Greg Stark, co-founders of the first Pasadena micro-distillery, have chosen “Strength is in The Character” as their motto. It reflects the way they imagine and create their spirits since the opening of their company in December 2014. You will be surprised to taste their California Gold Rum, a true West Coast Rum aged for 6 months in new American oak barrels. It is a robust flavor with just the right amount of sweetness, setting it apart from the typical Caribbean Rum.

A family distillery

At Stark Spirits, it all started with a Bavarian Schnaps, a pear brandy, that drove Greg to hunt for an equally powerful brandy in California. Eventually it led the Stark couple to begin a micro-distillery themselves. They embarked on a new adventure, promising each other to remain a local, quaint distillery. As big as the investments have to be to start a distillery they stuck to their commitment and self-funded their venture.

Principles StarkThe family business is run by Karen, Greg, and their son, Michael all year-round, producing eight different types of spirits, each one more surprising than the next. Suffice it to say, there’s rarely a moment of downtime or boredom for them. Their one-of-a-kind, Sunshine Orange Brandy is made fruit-to-bottle “during the day”, thus its name. The Californian oranges are hand-squeezed, giving the alcohol a zesty finish you can only find at craft distillery. The machinery and logistics of the distillery were imagined and designed by Greg himself, and the bottling is done all in-house. The natural ingredients, small batches, and care put into each step define their three main standards. Even their Dragon, a fifty-gallon column and substantially larger batch than their others, provides no short cuts. In fact, the Dragon is a much slower distillation, so that each flavor can express itself in the final product.

A craft distribution

Marketing is often challenging. Yet unlike many artisanal distilleries in California, the Starks cannot sell on site due to city regulations. Indeed the Californian Craft Distillers Act of 2015 (AB1295) has allowed the creation of a new type of licence for artisanal distilleries, producing less than 100,000 gallons of distillate a year. This gives them privileges such as the sale of up to 2,25 liters of spirits per day per consumer on site. At Stark Spirits, no sales can be direct. Like every distillery in California, the couple has to go through a distributor for every single one of their orders. However, distributors have the power to slow the process . Therefore, they spend a lot of time on the road to market their products to bars and restaurants.

A Scandinavian spirit made in USA

The regulation barriers have not deterred this small, but mighty distillery. Others have begun to notice the unique product they have to offer as well; they won six medals in 2016 in various craft spirit competitions. Their traditional Aquavit, for example, received the Gold Medal at the California Craft Spirits Competition 2016. The Aqua what? The Aquavit, meaning “the water of life,” was our biggest discovery at Stark Spirits; it is a traditional Scandinavian spirit. The Starks explained that an Aquavit is usually consumed with a fish and a pint of beer. It is the quintessential spirit made with traditional ingredients in an effort to bring European roots and memories to the Californian adventure.

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