Founders of Liberty Call Distilling, Bill Rogers and Steve Grella decided that they wanted to do something a little different. They always talked about what they wanted to do whilst having a beer at Island Beer Club. There were enough micro-breweries in San Diego, they didn’t need to start another one. Short of opening up a bar, what could they do that involved alcohol and that would be fun and profitable?
One of Bill’s friends, Mark, hit him up with an idea for making spirits out of a small still that they could put in a garage. Bill pointed out that not only was that idea highly illegal, it wouldn’t really make enough spirits to make the effort and expense worthwhile. If Bill was going to distill something, he wanted to make a lot of it. That’s when Steve pointed out that he was from Tennessee and actually knew people that had made moonshine. Phone calls were made, texts were exchanged, Facebook friends were linked together, and a plan was hatched.
The first step in the plan was to talk to as many distillers as they could. Bill and his wife Frances flew to Kentucky for the 2013 Bourbon Festival in Bardstown. They brought along Mark who had come up the idea in first place. Lucky for them, he is a process engineer with a background in biochemistry. They toured Kentucky and hit up as many distilleries as their blood alcohol level would allow. The distillers in Kentucky were fantastic. Everyone was very welcoming and answered all of Bill, Fran’s, and Mark’s newbie questions with a wink and a grin. Even the folks in Kentucky knew that opening a distillery in California would be a challenge.
The second step was to find the answer to “Why was California such a hard state to work with in regards to micro-distilleries?” Beer and wine laws in the state had come a long way in a short time, what about distilleries? Unfortunately, spirit producers didn’t have the political clout needed to get the laws changed the way beer and wine did. Microbreweries and wineries could practice their craft at home legally while distillers could not. This has led to more people opening up wineries and microbreweries. Unlike wineries and breweries, in California a distillery cannot sell directly to the public and cannot self-distribute their own products. Tasting rooms were not allowed until January 1st, 2014. Unbelievably, the liquor laws in Utah are less restrictive than in California! It took a leap of faith for distillers to open up a distillery.
The next step was the leap of faith. Still working full time for Snapon Equipment, Bill started by incorporating the business as Liberty Call Distilling, LLC. He then started buying equipment, and found a place for the distillery to call home in Spring Valley. Steve was still active duty in the Navy and had to take a hands-off approach until he was officially discharged. The CA ABC, and Federal TTB licenses were applied for in March of 2014. Then came the waiting game. In the interim, Bill had to outfit the distillery, get it plumbed, signed off by Fire Inspectors, get County Approvals, and then have background checks run on him and his wife. The ABC license came through on September 16th, 2014. The TTB license came through on October 15th, 2014.
This was also about the time Steve was finally discharged from the Navy, and he was able to take on more responsibilities at the distillery. Steve and Bill brought in a 3rd partner, Addison, to help with the brewing aspect of the operation. Addison was the head brewer at a micro-distillery in Albuquerque, and got a job at Acoustic Ales as an assistant brewer after he moved to San Diego. The team was finally complete, and they got to work brewing and distilling.
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