For Ian Cutler, the art of distilling, chemistry and all things science-related are his love language and ingrained in his very DNA.
He is the owner of Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, Santa Barbara’s first distillery since Prohibition, and great-grandson to a 1920s underground moonshine whiskey distiller, Duke Cutler, who after World War I settled in Oakdale, a small town just outside of Yosemite.
Duke’s immediate plans of opening a bar were quickly dashed, however, when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed and the Prohibition era began.
After befriending a local farmer named Dan Donnelly, who quenched the thirst of many residents including sheriffs, judges and, as lore has it, the governor of California, Duke learned the art of making a smooth California moonshine whiskey.
Thus began the Cutler family legacy.
After Prohibition was abolished, Duke finally got his chance to open his bar, and expanded in 1936, opening Cutler’s Family Liquor.
Ian’s father, Chuck Cutler, began running the family business in the 1970s and opened additional stores, keeping the family’s name synonymous with fine spirits.
However, new laws that favored large liquor retailers and the recession of the 1980s closed the doors of the Oakdale businesses.
Today, almost 90 years after Duke Cutler’s humble beginnings, Ian is pushing the envelope with an innovative perspective on distilling methods and bringing the Cutler family name to Santa Barbara.
In 1999, after a piqued interest in home brewing began while attending Cuesta College, Cutler moved from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara, taking his first step toward becoming an artisan of spirits. He attended UCSB, where he earned a bachelor degree in chemistry and geology.
After completing his master's degree in geochemistry, he began work in the field of science, where he learned the ins and outs of setting up equipment for his own distilling hobby that was quickly becoming a life passion.
During this time, he began his own research about distillation, attending conventions throughout various parts of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scotland and the United States for six years, learning from master distillers and ultimately walking in his great-grandfather’s footsteps.
A couple of years ago, while building a business plan for his own distillery, Cutler attended a convention in Kentucky, where he met The Lark owner Sherry Villanueva.
Villanueva was building a business plan of her own to start a new food and beverage community in the heart of Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. She was looking for a distiller to occupy one of the stores in the building adjacent to her restaurant and he was looking to make his dream a reality.
And as Cutler says, it was fate. On July 7, he officially opened his doors for business.
Cutler’s true love of the spirits game comes alive to his visitors, who will not only enjoy a sample of the spirits in his gift shop, but will learn a thing or two about the history of spirit-making.
Cutler’s Artisan is offering samples of a GMO-free corn based vodka, 6-year-old straight bourbon whiskey and Grandma Tommie’s Apple Pie — a vodka-based liqueur.
As all vodka drinkers know, there is good vodka, bad vodka and no kind of vodka in between. Cutler’s vodka, seven times distilled on-site, is filtered through charred coconut husks, thus removing any trace impurities.
For all you serious vodka imbibers, your throat will thank you for making the $29 investment. And for all you casual drinkers, you’ll appreciate not feeling as though you’ve swallowed a blowtorch.
Grandma Tommie’s Apple Pie, named after his grandmother, is a Cutler family recipe adapted from an old moonshiner’s trick used to mask bad moonshine.
However, Cutler has taken premium vodka and transformed it into a liqueur that conjures memories of my own grandmother’s Thanksgiving apple pie, and is sure to become a tradition on many tables this holiday season.
With a smoky flavor reminiscent of a fine scotch, Cutler has crafted a sophisticated, $39 bourbon that made me yearn for a high-back leather chair, smoking jacket and an infinite supply of Cuban cigars.
Keep an eye out for a gin and silver whiskey to be released in late 2013.
If you plan to drive to Cutler’s Artisan to purchase sophistication and vodka worth investing in, you should know that all spirit manufacturers are still under constraints of a lengthy selling process, and are restricted to a two-middlemen system that prevents direct sales.
So, for now, you can find Cutler’s Artisan spirits in a number of stores and bars in Santa Barbara.
Click here for a complete list of local sellers and bars, or walk into the gift shop at 137 Anacapa St., Suite D in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone from 1 to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday for a free sample.
— Tara Jones leads Eat This, Shoot That! and welcomes reader tips and ideas for future columns. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.