You’ve heard of Scotch whisky and you know all about Kentucky bourbon.
But what about Orange County whiskey, distilled and aged right in Santa Ana?
Enter the Blinking Owl Distillery on Washington Avenue. Established in 2016, this business is named after an old Santa Ana bar once at Third and Birch streets. In its short tenure, the new Blinking Owl has quickly made a name for itself as Orange County’s first-ever craft distillery. They call themselves a “grain-to-glass” operation that strives to use California ingredients for their vodkas, gins, aquavits and whiskeys.
On a recent afternoon, Blinking Owl debuted a new distinction to its liquor lineup: a 90-proof, single-barrel wheated bourbon whiskey. The proprietors believe their business is the only one around O.C. and L.A. to make this particular type.
“The fun/interesting thing about our wheated bourbon to me is that we are using the same organic California-grown wheat that we use to make our base spirits for vodka, gin, OC Orange vodka and aquavit, so it’s all in the family,” said head distiller Ryan Friesen in an email. “We’re making a bourbon with a more distinct wheat expression than we have before. It’s a unique and softer version of our four-grain whiskey which retains the spice of the rye. A little something for everyone.”
Blinking Owl co-owner Brian Christenson explained how under U.S. law, bourbon must contain at least 51% corn. The remaining 49% is up to the distiller to choose from corn, rye, wheat, malt or rye malt.
For Blinking Owl’s wheated bourbon, they added more wheat instead of rye grains, giving it a sweeter quality (as opposed to the spiciness of rye).
“It tends to be a softer, more elegant style of bourbon,” Christenson said.
Blinking Owl’s wheated bourbon uses wheat from the Imperial Valley and corn from the Sacramento Valley. It is aged for two years in American white oak from the Ozarks. For the expert noses, the bourbon gives off an aroma of vanilla, caramel, smokiness and chocolate.
The people who first tasted it at the distillery and bought some were members of Blinking Owl’s Parliament Club. The name is taken from the word for a group of owls. The club has around 110 on its roster, with 60 spots left. The $299 one-time membership fee grants you some swag, three bottles of spirits, first tastes and regular events.
If you’re looking to try Blinking Owl’s wheated bourbon but missed the exclusive kick-off event, don’t worry. A second batch is on its way in about a month or two for around $75 a bottle.
Blinking Owl is also releasing a blended wheated bourbon that will retail for $65, available in restaurants, stores and bars, likely in June.
IF YOU GO
What: Blinking Owl Distillery. Tasting and distillery tours are available.
Where: 802 E. Washington Ave., Santa Ana. Blinking Owl products are also available locally at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa and other bars.
Bradley Zint writes about food for TimesOC. Follow him on Twitter at @bradleyzint
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