“We just expanded into the place next door,” says Drift Distillery’s Ryan Winter. The plan? To install a small kitchen that will serve up some down-home BBQ treats to go along with the cocktails. “We’re from Kansas, so we’re going to do some small plates, maybe a couple of ribs, some cornbread, some brisket, and some salads.”

The other plan? To work around California’s weird distillery tasting room rules. See, if you’re a distillery, you can only serve a few tastes of house-made hooch per guest…unless you also serve food, then you’re basically a restaurant. In the mean time, you have to become a member, which involves signing up for their email list and paying $10, which includes your first drink.

Drift’s tasting room is full of family heirlooms; the walls covered in a petina-corrugated siding that was used on their family farm back in Kansas. Photos that line the back-bar wall are actual pages from an old 1800’s family photo album, and some of the red wheat that they use to make spirits is grown at their parent’s farm as well. Bluegrass, some old country, and occasional reggae fits the vibe nicely.

Flight of house-distilled Vodka, Whiskey, Rum, and Gin. Photo by Greg Nagel.

“On Sunday’s, we do bloodies from scratch,” says co-founder Lesli Winter. “It’s my own personal recipe,” she continues.  My wife sucks one down while I do a flight of the spirits that have been made since my last visit.

You can get a pour of their vodka, rum, white whiskey, or gin – on the rocks or in a highball – for only $6. Cocktails are $8, and include various drink concoctions like a mule, old fashioned, and what I ordered, the root beer float.

Drift’s vodka is surprisingly full of character for a neutral grain spirit.

“We use IBC root beer in this…I tried four different kinds when I was coming up with this. I thought A&W would be the one, and it just didn’t work,” says Lesli. The float includes their flavorful vodka, some vanilla simple syrup, rootbeer, and a healthy topping of whipped cream.

I can’t remember the last time I had an $8 cocktail that was so simple and satisfying. “The straw is also corn-based and biodegradable as well,” says Ryan, reassuredly.

“Come back in July, for sure…we’ll hopefully have the kitchen going and our barrel-aged whiskey, rye, and rum,” says Lesli.

But for now, I’ll be going back to have another root beer float.

Drift Distillery is at  940 Calle Amanecer Ste K, San Clemente, (949) 337-2318; driftdistillery.com.

Ryan Winter