If you've ever really believed in something, then you know how we're feeling. From the spirits to the head distiller to the founders, we firmly support the Blinking Owl. Conceptualized in the minds of Brian and Robin Christenson roughly four years ago and brought to life by Ryan Friesen, they are putting the final touches on their Santa Ana headquarters. We stopped by this week to wish them well and have a peek at the operation.
We learn how practice makes perfect, according to Owl Spiritual Leader (Head Distiller) Ryan Friesen,
The first mash is always unnerving; so many unknowns. The recipe is a great starting point, but it doesn't have answers for the myriad variables each new untested system possesses. One just pushes forward, keeping an eye out for what needs to be learned to make the next mash live up to the potential in each mash bill. It's a bit of a "wash, rinse, repeat" situation, and you get better at it each time. Case in point, Day One mash took about 15 hours, start to finish. Today, we can accomplish the same task with 30% better results in one normal work shift. It's a matter of learning from your mistakes quickly and having a short memory for how you think things are supposed to turn out.
And now a few words from Chief Executive Owl, Brian Christenson on sourcing local ingredients,
I was intrigued to use hibiscus in our spirits once I learned that it was the flower of Santa Ana. We use "Award Winning" Santa Ana water, and the next obvious thing in developing a local flavor was to use some hibiscus. We searched for local growers, and even contacted the Southern California Hibiscus Society, but no one had any idea or resources for anyone growing hibiscus flowers. While we source our organic hibiscus from Pacific Botanicals, we have been talking with the OC Heritage Museum (from whom we source locally grown Valencia oranges) to see if they might be able to grow some for us in the future. It is very exciting to think of making spirits and using micro-local sources for some ingredients.
The orange-flavored vodka will be available sooner than you think. Also, a bourbon aged in toasted and charred New American oak will begin its process later on this month.
Robin Christenson, Chief Financial Owl, explains her inspiration for the tasting room's vibe [Editor's Note: We purposely didn't show the entire room, because you gotta experience it for yourself. She nails her intended theme!],
When designing the distillery vibe, I felt that people were expecting a rustic or Prohibition-themed decor (i.e. reclaimed woods, Edison bulbs). For this project, I kept Diana Vreeland's guiding principle in mind, "Don't give people what they want; give them what they do not know they want YET." I think this principle carried through from the dramatic, unexpected entry, to the Art Deco-meets-the-70's furnishings. From the crazy marble bathrooms, to the way we are crafting our spirits.
Grand opening weekend is September 24 (noon to 7 p.m.) and 25 (noon to 5 p.m.) at 802 E. Washington Ave. in Santa Ana. Blinking Owl Distillery will be releasing their Vodka and Aquavit. Tours of the facility will also be available via their website for $25 and include a tasting. After that weekend, operating hours will be Wednesday and Thursday, 3-7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, Noon-7 p.m. and Sunday from Noon-5 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.