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Tara Jones: Ascendant Spirits Serves Up Slice of Americana

Buellton distillery offers a full lineup of vodka, moonshine and bourbon

Ascendant Spirits, with its wide variety of vodka, moonshine and bourbon, offers a slice of Americana in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Ascendant Spirits, with its wide variety of vodka, moonshine and bourbon, offers a slice of Americana in the Santa Ynez Valley.  (Tara Jones photo)

Ascendant Spirits, at 37 Industrial Way, No. 103 in Buellton, is a little slice of Americana located in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, on the border of Buellton and Solvang.

With a full lineup of vodka, moonshine and bourbon and situated between Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. and Avant Tapas and Wine, Ascendant Spirits is the perfect place for those looking for an alternative to a wine-tasting weekend.

Or as owner Steve Gertman says, “This is a place where men who love bourbon will say, ‘Finally! Something for me!'"

At 18 years old, Gertman visited Scotland, where he first discovered whiskey. Within two years, he was on a plane back to Scotland to explore all the distilleries he could find.

However, after attending college in Los Angeles, Gertman, a native of Boston, stayed in Southern California, and soon found himself in the entertainment industry as a television producer, a career that spanned 13 years.

After finally landing a dream job in the entertainment industry, Gertman discovered that it wasn’t his dream. He packed up and headed to Northern California where he followed his first love, whiskey, and attempted his first distilling.

While in Northern California, Gertman attended the American Distilling Institute, an intensive five-day course working with master distillers, and continued his distillery visits from California to Colorado in search of his new life.

Gertman’s travels soon landed him in Colorado, where he apprenticed with a friend at his Colorado operation, Breckenridge Distillery.

Grateful for his experience in Colorado, but ready to start his own distillery, in 2011 Gertman began a new search for a place to call home.

Following in his family’s footsteps, he found himself in Santa Barbara County on a quest to find the perfect space for his new business idea.

Breaking for lunch one day at Avant Tapas and Wine, after visiting multiple rental locations, Gertman found the space next door was available for rent; it looked to be the perfect location to start his distillation process.

And on March 1, 2013, his doors were officially open for business.

Steve Gertman operates the Ascendant Spirits distillery in the Santa Ynez Valley. (Tara Jones photo)

The hand-bottled Ascendant Spirits line of moonshine, bourbon, and vodka is a true hidden treasure in the land of Central Coast wines.

In staying true to his American roots, most of Gertman’s line of spirits bear patriotic labels such as American Star and the soon to be released, Semper Fi.

The American Star vodka, referred to by local bartenders as The Straight, is a perfectly neat, clean vodka with a very slight sweet finish.

Also in their vodka line-up are a couple of infused vodkas.

The American Star strawberry vodka is made with Santa Maria strawberries, and screams of summertime after the first whiff entered my olfactory system. The second is the mildly spicy caviar lime vodka that would pair perfectly with any Thai food dish.  

The Silver Lightning moonshine was perhaps the biggest surprise of all, with its scent of blanco tequila on the nose. It juxtaposed an incredibly smooth taste.

The Breaker Bourbon, which Gertman calls The King of his spirits, was exactly what one would want a bourbon to be. Aged 5-6 years, this bourbon was the perfect smooth blend of smoke and sugar.

And as an extra special treat, I got to taste a couple of libations that weren’t on the menu.

One little sip of the new gin that should hit shelves later this year, and I was sold. It was the quintessential gin I’ve been searching for my whole adult life.

Next came an infused vodka that Gertman handed to me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Take a sip and then I’ll tell you what it is.”

As I poured the clear liquid down my throat, I instantly felt my internal temperature spike to levels usually reserved for extreme embarrassment and wintertime flu season.

My stomach churned while beads of perspiration instantly formed on my brow and upper lip. And with as much coolness as I possessed in that moment, I heaved a raspy exhale and blurted out, “Haaaaa! Oh god! What is this?!”

With a hearty laugh and a toss of his head, Gertman replied, “It’s a smoke ghost chili vodka!”

I couldn’t help but join in the laughter of the room, enjoying what one could call a whole new hazing experience, as I shakily jotted down my tasting notes.

If you ain’t afraid of no ghost and you’re looking to spice up your Santa Ynez Valley wine-tasting weekend, this is the place for you.

Info about special events, including their exclusive bottling party, which includes lunch and a bottle of hooch to take home, can be found via their newsletter sign up. 

To find where Ascendant Spirits is sold, visit its website by clicking here.

Tara Jones leads Eat This, Shoot That! and welcomes reader tips and ideas for future columns. She can be reached at [email protected]. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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