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Navigating the Spirit Trail of Paso Robles with Aaron Bergh

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25/02/2024 The Spirit of California: A Conversation with Aaron Bergh, President of the Paso Robles Distillery Trail and Master Distiller at Calwise Spirits Co.

Nestled along the stunning California coast, Paso Robles is not just a haven for wine enthusiasts but also a rising star in the craft distillery scene. At the helm of this spirited revolution stands Aaron Bergh, the President of the Paso Robles Distillers Trail, and the master distiller and owner of Calwise Spirits Co. In this interview, we delve into the essence of the trail, its impact on the distilling community, and Aaron's instrumental role in elevating SLO County to a premier craft spirits destination. From legislative nuances to the unique offerings of Calwise Spirits, this conversation uncovers the vibrant tapestry of California's distilling culture.

As the President of the Paso Robles Distillers Trail, could you shed light on its evolution? How has the trail's mission expanded to include a diverse array of members?

The Paso Robles Distillery Trail is putting Paso Robles on the map as California's premier distilling region. Every spirit class is represented in the offerings of our 13 members - whiskey, brandy, gin, vodka, and even agave spirits.

Image Source: (Paso Robles Distillery Trail) - The Map of Paso Robles Distillery Trail

San Luis Obispo County's distillery scene appears to thrive under favorable legislation. How has the Paso Robles Distillery Trail contributed to creating a conducive environment for craft distilleries?

The Paso Robles Distillery Trail has active and direct communications with legislators at the county and state levels to advocate for policies that stimulate the economic growth of our industry. Our advocacy has directly resulted in zoning and land use changes that will allow distilleries to continue to proliferate throughout San Luis Obispo County. We also work with and support the California Distillers Association in their efforts to win us the right to ship directly to our consumers.

What unique contributions do members bring to the Paso Robles Distillery Trail? How does this collaboration foster a distinct identity for SLO's craft spirits?

There's no doubt that Paso Robles' esteemed wine industry has influenced our distilling industry. Most of our member distilleries began as (and still are) winemakers. As a result, many of our spirits are made from the same premium wine grapes used to make the award-winning wines Paso Robles is known for. We also have a burgeoning restaurant and craft cocktail scene. When we go out for dinner and drinks after a day of working in the distillery, we find inspiration in the experimental flavors being used by the chefs and mixologists in the establishments in our community.


In your role as the President of the Paso Robles Distillery Trail, you've been vocal about advocating for legislative changes, especially regarding online commerce. How do these legislative efforts contribute to the growth and sustainability of craft distilleries in the region?

Our advocacy for direct-to-consumer sales boosts consumer choice not just in our region, but throughout the state of California. It also gives distillers another option beyond participating in what many view as a broken three-tier system that restricts innovative new ventures.

The Distillery Trail Weekend has been a notable event for showcasing craft spirits in SLO County. How do events like these contribute to raising awareness and promoting the unique offerings of the distilleries along the Paso Robles Distillery Trail?

During Paso Robles Distillery Trail Weekend, all of our 13 member distilleries put their best foot forward in an open house-style collaborative event that includes distillery tours with the distiller, food pairings, new spirit releases, and live entertainment.

Image Source: (Paso Robles Distillery Trail) - The Paso Robles Distillery Trail’s Annual Member Meeting, all 13 distilleries along the trail in attendance.

Distillery tours often play a significant role in engaging the community. How do these tours contribute to educating the public about the craft distilling process, and what kind of experiences can visitors expect when exploring the distilleries along the Paso Robles Distillery Trail?

 Most of the general public knows how wine and beer are made - yeast is added to grape juice or grain and it ferments. But distilling is still a mystery to any. Distillery tours give the public an up-close and personal look into how distilling works and remove the mystery while simultaneously increasing appreciation and interest in the art and craft of distilling.

As the master distiller and proprietor of Calwise Spirits Co., can you share the inspiration behind your creations? How do you incorporate the essence of California's Central Coast into the spirits, and what distinguishes Calwise in the competitive craft spirits landscape?

All of the most renowned, unique spirits in the world take inspiration and ingredients from the natural landscape that surrounds the distillery. For example, Scotland's peat bogs and salty ocean air are responsible for the unique flavors found in Scotch whiskey, and agave, a plant native to Mexico, is the key ingredient for making Tequila - a spirit so distinct that it has earned its own class. Similarly, I have looked to my natural surroundings for inspiration. This is showcased in my Big Sur Gin - I distill it from the plentiful high-quality wine grapes found growing throughout the hillsides of Paso Robles and flavor it with herbs that can be found growing in my favorite place in the world - Big Sur. 

Image Source: (Calwise Spirits Co.) - Big Sur Gin


As Aaron Bergh continues to pioneer the craft distillery movement in San Luis Obispo County, his leadership and passion are shaping the region into a craft spirits haven. From the collaborative efforts of the Paso Robles Distillery Trail to the distinct offerings of Calwise Spirits, this conversation unravels the layers of California's distilling landscape, proving that SLO County is indeed not just for wine anymore.

In conversation with Malvika Patel, Editor and VP, Beverage Trade Network

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