San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild (California)

San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild (California)

San Luis Obispo (or SLO if you’re looking to save on syllables) is renowned for the exquisite wine country that snakes along the coast and rural areas of the county.

But thanks to the efforts of the San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild, wine isn’t the only commodity popping off in this division of California.

Commonly referred to as “the happiest city in the country”, spirits are high in SLO county, in more ways than one — The craft distillery scene is booming right now! Something the SLODG has been nurturing for some time.

And today, we’re going to be shining a light on this noble organization, delving into what they do, how they do it, where they’re based, and more.

But before we dive into the guild of the hour, let’s discuss some of the basics of California legislation pertaining to distilleries.

San Luis Obispo & California Distillery Legislation

Local & State Fees

The big drain on revenue in some states across the US is excise tax, but thankfully, the Californian authorities are pretty easygoing with their rates.

Distillers operating within San Luis Obispo, or anywhere else in California for that matter, are only required to pay $3.30 per gallon of spirit produced, meaning The Golden State is the 10th most affordable location for distilling liquor in the entire nation.

And to put the cherry on top, San Luis Obispo’s local sales tax rates sit at a very reasonable 0.25%, meaning this county in particular is a good spot for craft distillers to set up shop.

Licensing Requirements

California’s government is also pretty easygoing where distillery licenses are concerned, charging only $912 a year for the right to produce and sell craft spirits to wholesalers.

What’s more, thanks to a recent amendment to the traditional three-tiered commercial system through which alcohol must usually trickle to reach the market, craft distilleries can sell a small amount of spirit directly to customers on licensed premises.

For license eligibility, all applicants must do is establish themselves and their premises as suitable to distill alcohol. Simple enough, right? But, as you’d expect, the application forms are quite thorough, requesting a number of documents and site photographs.

The applicant will also have to submit to an investigation before their license is approved.


The craft distillery license issued to California distilleries limits production to 150,000 gallons per annum, and holders of the said license cannot hold another form of California distillation license, such as Type 4 (distilled spirits manufacturer), simultaneously.

Additional restrictions can be requested by local authorities if they deem a prospective distillery operation a nuisance or dangerous within the area.

San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild (California)

Who Are The San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild?

What started out as the San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild has morphed into a more cooperative union under the banner of Paso Robles Distillery Trail.

Not too long ago, it was an organization formed by a few key players in the San Luis Obispo distillery scene, but now members include farmers, vintners, brewers, bartenders, chemists, and, of course, spirit enthusiasts.

It’s a collaborative, community-centric effort to promote the local alcohol production scene, thus continuing San Luis Obispo’s excellent craft booze reputation across county, state, and national lines.

As it stands, internally, the organization is split into three distinct controlling parties:

Executive Director

  • Lynette Sonne

Executive Board

  • Aaron Bergh (President) — Owner of Calwise Spirits Co., a family venture that spans multiple generations. Aaron draws inspiration from the rich history of his name, as well as the natural splendor of the county.
  • Lola Glossner (Vice President / Treasurer) — Owner of Pendrays, a distillery that specializes in port barrel-aged brandy, grappa, and various fruit-based liqueurs.
  • Max Udsen (Secretary) — Owner of Bethel Rd distillery, an operation based on strong community values and, of course, producing delicious alcoholic beverages. The Udsen-run brand offers brandy, grappa, gin, and small-batch wines made using estate-grown organic grapes.

Board Members

  • Steve Autry — Owner of Autry Cellars, a rustic winery and low-key tasting room that connects the actual creators of the wine with oenophiles tasting it. Autry’s establishment is all about unwinding and appreciating the small things and the finer things in life simultaneously.
  • Kevin Coulton — Owner of Willow Creek, a distillery dedicated to estate and locally sourced ingredients, and fine handcrafted spirits.
  • Jason Mamakos — Owner of Donati Spirits, a young spirit-focused offshoot of an established winery. In fact, their first foray into spirit-crafting was a pair of vodkas distilled from their wine.
  • Paul Quinn — Proxy for Rod & Hammer, a craft brewing operation that expanded to produce some of the finest SLO whiskey on the market.
  • Monica Villicana — Owner of RE:FIND Distillery, an operation founded as a means of reducing the waste byproducts of the associated winery. Monica and her team pride themselves on top-notch grape/grain-to-bottle craftsmanship using only the highest quality natural ingredients.

Where Is The San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild Headquartered?

As the controlling bodies of the San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild are spread throughout the county, there isn’t one central base of operations, but they present a united front over at the Paso Robles Distillery Trail website through which you can contact them directly.

What Does The San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild Do?

The San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild serves as a forum for those passionate about distillates to share educational and physical resources, and to support one another however possible.

A community has quickly developed around this nucleus of artistic integrity and desire to push boundaries in the craft distillery scene.

And to ensure that San Luis Obispo gets the recognition it deserves across the nation and beyond, this community works together to host amazing events such as the distillery trail.

Each member of the San Luis Obispo Distillers Guild pushes the others to strive for excellence in their craft, which has raised the bar for quality distilling in the county incredibly quickly, and now the guild aims to share its successes with the world.

Final Thoughts

The SLODG isn’t as proactive as many other distillers guilds across the nation, as it’s more of an artistic union than it is a legislation fighting force or a distiller protector, but it’s certainly managing to generate some interest both domestically and abroad.

In light of this, small member distilleries are getting the exposure they both need and deserve to grow into larger, more refined and artistically daring outfits capable of putting San Luis Obispo on the map, even amongst the many amazing craft distilleries of The Golden State.

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