Last month, I headed to Oakhurst Spirits with two of my Oakhurst friends. I’d seen the place a few times as I drove past on my way to hike nearby. Craft distilleries are a growing trend with about 180 licensed in California. Oakhurst Spirits is the first in the Fresno, Madera, and Mariposa region, and 411 Ales & Spirits is working on their license to open a brewery and distillery in downtown Fresno this spring.
Oakhurst Spirits opened on July 1, 2017 and is located at 40300 Greenwood Way, across from the Yosemite Visitors Bureau. They are open Friday through Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. or by appoint. They also host special events and private tasting parties.
Owners Mike and Ally Benbrook are from San Diego but they’d been visiting the Oakhurst area for over 15 years. Mike had been a long-time beer maker and then joined a group of people doing distilling. Ally Benbrook is an internationally acclaimed artist. Her work captures the spirit and character of animals, and her series on homeless people with their dogs is especially poignant. Oakhurst Spirits combines both of these passions into a tasting room and art gallery/studio.
Local ingredients make for unique spirits
On our tour through Oakhurst Spirits, Mike guided us through our tasting of the spirits and the philosophy he brings to his craft. He really enjoys using unique local ingredients, a practice that makes craft distilleries very interesting. As they focus on sourcing local products, it means you won’t find these flavors anywhere else, and that they are also supporting others in the area.
The first taste was an apple jack—an apple cider that has been distilled. The cider comes from local Sierra Cider, which is in Mariposa where they even grow their own apples. It has been aged in rum barrels to give it a real depth of flavor.
Another locally sourced product is a gin made from wild juniper berries sourced from within Yosemite’s Olmsted Point area. You can legally harvest up to one pound of the berries, which is more than enough for Mike’s recipe that also includes cardamom, coriander, and bay leaves.
Another locally sourced treat is the lavender vodka made with lavender from Sandy Schaefer, known as the Lavender Lady, who sells her locally made products on From My Garden. The aroma of the vodka is beautiful and the flavor is smooth and warm.
Of course, Mike makes many other wonderful beverages. He sources his grain locally and grinds it on site in his 2,000-square-foot distillery. He makes a white wheat whiskey, which is the purest form, and a barrel-aged that rests in oak barrels for 20 months. He also makes a rye whiskey that has peppery overtones and is a little sweeter than the wheat whiskies. He also makes a bourbon, which was my favorite. Another favorite in the tasting room that day was his spiced rum, which has orange peel, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and vanilla.
You can buy tasting flights and bottles to go, or you can stay and enjoy the atmosphere at Oakhurst Spirits. Take some time after a hike or a snow outing. The tasting room and gallery are really beautiful and have a relaxing mountain charm. If the weather is nice, they also have a beautiful backyard to enjoy. They are also dog friendly (Mike and Ally regularly foster local dogs). You’ll meet some nice folks while you’re there, both international visitors who are there to see Yosemite and locals who now have another great place to be proud of.