Whiskey Review Round Up: San Diego Distillery - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review Round Up: San Diego Distillery

San Diego: known for its miles of beach, its great craft beers, and now as a home to a budding distilled spirits scene. One of the newest distilleries on the block is the succinctly named San Diego Distillery, which opened its doors in early 2016, and is the focus of today’s whiskey review round up.

Started by beer homebrewing aficionado Trent Tilton, the San Diego Distillery hopes to capitalize on some of the creative processes used in backyard beer-making, combining all sorts of innovative ingredients to produce whiskeys with interesting flavor profiles.

“People become loyal to a brewery,” he explained in an interview, “but they don’t necessarily go back for the same beer — they go back to see what new beers that brewery is making.”As a result, the whiskeys offered by San Diego Distillery are all babies: the longest aged are only several months old. He does this by storing the liquor in small casks, about 5-20 gallons, to maximize interaction with the wood. It’s one of a number of ways craft distilleries are using to speed up the maturation process.

San Diego Distillery

Some of the whiskeys at San Diego Distillery (image via San Diego Distillery)

One of the more interesting offerings from San Diego Distillery is their “membership” package. By signing up as a member, one can receive bottle samples,  whiskey swag, access to limited edition whiskey runs, and even blending classes. It’s certainly an innovative way to build loyalty, and to bring customers coming back year after year.

In this review we’ve taken a taste of all four of San Diego Distillery’s current offerings, a single malt, a rye, a bourbon, and a peated whiskey. Let’s see if a homebrewer’s skill in making beer transfers over to whiskey…

Tasting Notes: San Diego Distillery Single Malt Whiskey (Cask Strength)

Vital stats: San Diego Distillery’s Single Malt Whiskey is made with seven different types of malt, and the batch I had came in at 106 proof. A 375 ml bottle will cost you $45.

Appearance: A toffee-brown color in the glass, with slow, thin legs.

Nose: The nose is woody, bringing to mind walnut and mahogany, with an added bit of a cherry-flavored cough medicine.

Palate: It hits you with a sharp – but not overpowering – bite in the back of the throat that quickly levels off to a wood smoke sweetness. The flavor actually builds when you breath out your mouth: a spicy licorice aftertaste that left my lips tingling!

Final Thoughts and Score:

stars-3Definitely an interesting whiskey. With subsequent drams, an unpleasant bitterness began to build in the back of my throat. It was worth it for the experience, and I happily finished my glass… but while it makes for a good conversation whiskey, I don’t see myself buying a full bottle of the stuff.

Tasting Notes: San Diego Distillery Rye Whiskey (Cask Strength)

Vital stats: The San Diego Distillery Rye Whiskey is made with 75% rye, while the other 25% “changes with each batch.” The sample I had was 104 proof. The Rye comes in a 375 ml bottle and retails for $45.

Appearance: A dark amber in the glass, with very thin and fast legs.

Nose: A subtle, sweet nose, like honey and rosewater. Quite nice.

Palate: Very tasty. If there’s ever been a whiskey that’s perfectly captured the flavor of those candied nuts sold hot from a cart in a big city, this is it. A lovely mixture of caramel, roasted peanut, and almond with a hint of cracked black pepper, which then tapers out into a smooth cashew finish.

Final Thoughts and Score:

stars-5Really a fine rye. It’s so easy for those sweet notes to become overpowering, but San Diego Distillery has got this one just right. Here’s to hoping they keep the notes on this particular batch somewhere safe!

Tasting Notes: San Diego Distillery Bourbon Whiskey (Cask Strength)

Vital stats: The San Diego Distillery Bourbon Whiskey is made with a 51.5% corn mash, and 48.5 “Vienna mash.” The sample I tasted was 105 proof. It retails for $45 for a 375 ml bottle.

Appearance: A honey oak in the glass, with thin and very slow legs.

Nose: A medium-bodied nose, with hints of cloves, wood polish, and roasted apples.

Palate: Sweet and smokey. The flavor comes on strong, with a heavy wave of malt that really overpowers the rest of the flavor profile. The aftertaste leaves a rather cloying sweetness on the back of the tongue.

Final Thoughts and Score:


Not a big fan of this one. The sweetness of the malt really doesn’t leave room for much complexity, and the aftertaste had me get up to rinse my mouth out. I can see this as an okay mixer for a drink that you want to be sweet – or perhaps drizzled on some ice cream – but on it’s own, it really doesn’t do it for me. In an interview Tilton is quoted as saying, “Kentucky makes the best bourbon in the world, they always will. You really can’t compete with them. What I try to do is something totally different.” But in the case of this batch, unfortunately different doesn’t equate to good.

Tasting Notes: San Diego Distillery Peated Whiskey (Cask Strength)

Vital stats: The San Diego Distillery Peated Whiskey is made with “100% Islay heavy peated barley, approximately 50ppm.” The sample I had came in at 109 proof, and retails for $55 for a 375 ml bottle.

Appearance: A red-tinted gold, with thin, mid-speed legs.

Nose: Ah, the smell of peat. Slightly spiced, and earthy, with a sweet mustiness that reminds me of my great grandfather’s closet.

Palate: Very smooth. Cherry dark chocolate with wild stevia and a strong note of worn leather. A very subtle aftertaste – a little rubbery – lingers on… mild, but noticeable.

Final Thoughts and Score:

stars-4A fine peated whiskey, which is not something you see produced all that frequently in the U.S.; San Diego Distillery has done justice to the island of Islay. This is a good one to sip slowly by the fireplace. The mild aftertaste knocked a bit off of my final score, but still – a very solid whiskey.

Editor’s Note: Samples of these whiskies were provided to us by those behind them. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, keeps full independent editorial control over this article.


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