Taking a Saturday afternoon to travel 60 miles to Claremont was worth it: Citrus Grove Distillers is making some awesome spirits and liqueurs with veteran master distiller Ray Digilio – “One of the shining lights of this industry” – serving up uniquely created cocktails by Head Mixologist Lisa Copenhaver and the entire staff, including marketing director Matthew “Matt” Martin Hall, are 100% dedicated to sharing a completely unique experience to their guests. We call this the trifecta!
It started when Eddie and I met Matt and Lisa at the LA Food Fest, serving samples of their spirits and cocktails. They invited us to the distillery for a tour and visit and, of course, more tasting. I was smitten. Contacted my sister-in-law Ann and asked if she and her husband Jake would like to join us as the distillery was close to their home in Ontario. They agreed.
When we arrived we met with Matt first, to talk about how the operation works. We learned that they had been in the for building three years and open to the public for the last 10 weeks. The LA Food Fest was their first event.
There are several laws between the city, county and state – that date back to prohibition according to Matt – that dictate how a distillery can be opened to the public. And a $20 lifetime membership fulfills one of many hurdles they had to jump. Guests come in for a taste – remaining only in the front section of the distillery – and then if they become members, they can come into the bar for more tastes and/or cocktails. VIP members also benefit from classes and an opportunity to fill their own 5-gallon barrel.
There are currently 22 spirits on the menu, 17 on average and they also serve wine and beer. The industrial park also houses a cidery and brewery. On some evenings food trucks are available to guests that would like to linger a little longer.
Master Distiller Ray Digilio
In meeting Ray I might have instantly insulted him when I asked what makes a Master Distiller in comparison to a Master Cooper. Turns out he has a decade of distilling experience and awards under his belt. (I googled him and found the article linked above, with the quote about him being a shining light in the industry.) Ray recently won the Double Gold from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition with a vodka made from La Coachella Valley dates.
Ray began his tenure in San Diego, has run six distilleries, consulting…but this was his first to work with a distillery that also operates a bar. He especially likes the “artsy concept” at Citrus, the feedback and monthly surveys from their members allows for a “tailored fit” and “premium spirits.” Ray said it wasn’t about “frosted bottles” but what’s inside that truly matters – and what’s inside their spirits is all from local farmers, and agave from Jalisco, Mexico.
We did a short tour of the still and learned a bit about the distillation process, how Ray works through so many different spirits, saw a Hybrid still system that incorporates a pivot system with plates for each new distillation, the big gin basket for the different botanical for different gins – and everything is electric. Ray can “touch, taste and feel” everything from fermentation to finish. The final machine to check out was a “roto evaporator” closed unit where flavors can be added to create spirits like their clear chocolate vodka.
To finish Ray commented, “The craft industry is all about a unique spirit.” I had to agree, and began thinking about the unique spirits we would soon be tasting.
I had a plan: taste as much as I could do, reasonably, and buy a bottle of what I liked to take home and try again. Just like tasting at a winery where you could purchase bottles after sampling them, Citrus had the same excellent plan.
Between the four of us we tasted and shared: Clareville vodka (smooth), Clearly Cucumber Vodka (refreshing), Clearly Chocolate Vodka (think dark chocolate, nutty and clear), Clareville London Dry Gin (classic, bought it), Lavender Gin (lovely lavender and slightly sweet, perfect for sipping, ordered that), Old Thyme Gin (wonderful dried citrus, ordered it), Clareville Old Thyme Bourbon (bought two as everyone is so into Bourbon these days), Clareville Rum (white and clean), Clearly Mary Vodka (think Bloody Mary flavors in a clear spirit, I’d only add ice and a cucumber stalk), Chai Spiced Rum (dark and spicy and perfect for a winter holiday dinner), Eau de Vie Brandy (balanced use of California oranges), Orange Liqueur (like a fine Orangecello, clean and crisp)…and the few we missed or weren’t available? Ray said they are working on a cocktails-to-go concept! Definitely returning for that and to taste any other spirits they’ve got on hand!
I have two social media posts with 18 photos in all. If you want to just skedaddle over to look at those see here and here. My sister-in-law Ann commented on one to say, “It was enlightening and educational to tour and taste the great spirits at Citrus Grove Distillery. Thanks for having us.” We agree!
Awards: Silver Medal for West Coast Style Gin at the LA Spirits Competition
Silver Medal for Watermelon Brandy at the LA Spirits Competition.
Follow on Facebook and Instagram: @CitrusGroveDistillers
Search: The Distillers Corner on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, etc.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.