story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/16/16
“Hello,” says Jeff Lockwood, as he passes a small snifter under his nose and then pulls his hand away. He brings it back slowly, and says, “How are you?” He repeats, in teasing fashion, and says, “Nice to meet you.” And then he sips.
Lockwood calls the rather flirtatious method for tasting spirits, “Approach and Retreat,” and he likens it to meeting a pretty woman at a bar. It’s a technique he learned from a Scottish distiller years ago – a way to acclimate the nose and pick up aromas. And he’s passing this bit of wisdom on to me, as I sit with brothers Jeff and Jay Lockwood inside an airy storage space in a Buellton industrial park that they’ve transformed into an elegant tasting room.
The Lockwoods admit that the majority of tasters who come into their distillery are wine drinkers – admirers of grapes-turned-beverage who come here in search of new ways to enhance their taste buds. But in many ways, including the way you sniff smells out of a glass, the way spirits are enjoyed is different, often requiring extra time and extra attention. “And when you taste, you keep it a while on the tip of your tongue,” Jeff adds, as we sip on barrel samples of cognac.
|The Brothers: Jay and Jeff Lockwood with their still|
The Lockwood siblings opened Brothers Spirits three months ago, making it the third distillery in Santa Barbara County. Their career backgrounds are in the construction and real estate industries: Jay, who’s three years older, built custom homes for nearly four decades, while Jeff saw success in property development. But the younger Lockwood turned his attention to viticulture about a decade ago, when he and his wife, Joanne, founded Bella Cavalli Farms and Vineyard in nearby Solvang. The 50-acre ranch specializes in equine training and rehabilitation, complete with show barn and half-mile track. But the onsite vineyard fuels a boutique wine business, too, with an exclusive label sustained by a club-only approach with close to 800 members.
The approach to Brothers Spirit mirrors that of the Bella Cavalli wines: hand-crafted, small yields, high quality.
The idea of partnering in a spirits business was born in 2012, when Jeff began looking at the financials and the potential of the burgeoning craft distillery industry. These days, “spirits sales are where beer sales were 15 years ago, and where wine sales were 20 years ago,” he tells me.
It took two years to get the proper permitting, and an entire year of daily experimentation by Jay, who exited retirement to become the project’s master distiller, to get Brothers off the ground. “Equipment matters,” Jay says, as we stand to admire the slender but towering copper flute still that they purchased from Mile Hi Distillery in Colorado And then there are Jacy’s recipes.
The Brothers spirits are sophisticated, consistently smooth and delicious all on their own. The Vodka, made from albarino grown on Bella Cavalli, is distilled five times and filtered through coconut shell charcoal. “A thousand gallons of albarino juice yields just 100 gallons of vodka,” Jay tells me. It comes out of the still at 190 proof and then cut down with distilled water to the industry-standard 80 proof, or 40% alcohol. An exotic nose of tropical aromas leads to a velvety, somewhat vicious mouth feel and long, clean finish.
|The Brothers Distillery tasting room|
|The tasting room features original local art for sale|
The Blanco Tegave, a tequila made with organic blue agave grown in the Mexican state of Jalisco, has a caramel nose and lovely citrus flavors, with a lengthy finish. The White Hawk Malt Whiskey is beautifully perfumed and its mouth feel – I’m sipping on it as I write this – is wonderfully creamy. Technically, it’s a Scotch, but Jay’s recipe uses mesquite-smoked barley, in lieu of peat, creating subtle oaky notes and a beverage that’s complex and approachable all at once.
The Limoncello is made with Bella Cavalli grenache and the zest of organic Santa Paula lemons. Its nose is bright and alive, its flavors bursting and refreshing.
All the Brothers spirts come in stylish, sturdy glass vessels and retail for $42. They also come with tasting notes, because they are as satisfying on their own as they are with the right match: “Smoked meats” and “creamy or salty cheeses” for the Vodka, for example, “light seafood, like tilapia” for the Tegave and “pear tart, or drizzled over vanilla ice cream” for the Limoncello. As I sip the Whiskey some more, the Brothers suggestions make even more sense: “BBQ… nuts and cheese… or your favorite after-dinner cigar.”
|The current Brothers lineup|
Much of the charm in discovering these spirits stems from the relaxed setting Brothers creates. “We are going for a real experience, a real professional and educational tasting,” Jay says, “because this is a whole new experience for a lot of people.” Dark leather recliners, elegant rugs and barrels-turned tables create a private club feel and a space that promotes unhurried, relaxed sipping. Guests can taste through the four spirits ($8) or order from a short list of five custom cocktails ($10), including Manhattans, Martinis and Margaritas. Brothers is open seven days a week and until 8pm on Friday and Saturday.
Experimentation defines the Brothers vision moving forward, a clear advantage of producing super small batches of super premium product. The label is launching a barrel program this summer. Jay is finalizing recipes for grappa and an 80-proof “adult” lemonade. And there’s a tempranillo-based cognac in the works, aging in oak casks right now .
Brothers Distillery, 201 Industrial Way #D, Buellton, 805-691-9259. www.brothersspirits.com.