Edible Monterey Bay

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You wouldn’t exactly expect to find a former sheriff toiling over a makeshift still, making moonshine in his back yard. Yet, such is Fog’s End Distillery. Amidst the vegetable fields of the Salinas Valley, adjacent to the rail line that runs right through downtown Gonzales, distiller, owner and former deputy sheriff for Castroville Craig Pakish carefully tends his nascent batch of fermenting rye, shepherding it on its way to contention for another medal at the next Fifty Best Rye Whiskey Competition. He scored Double Gold in the New York-based competition last fall—and his spirits are served in the bars of such picky local establishments as Bernardus Lodge and Mission Ranch.

With a certain amount of pride, he shares that the moonshine recipe comes from an old Kentucky whiskey-running family, care of the former business partner who talked him into installing the still in the first place. After buying out said partner in 2007, Pakish has been getting up at 2 a.m. four nights a week to make his signature Moonshine and Rye.

“I’m actually not making moonshine, I’m making dayshine, be- cause I pay all the taxes on it!” Pakish quips. (And that’s not all — the regulations book he has to follow as a bonded distiller would break your foot if you dropped it; the number of forms he has to fill out each month is enough to try the patience of even a veteran of the law enforcement world.)

Aside from being aboveboard, Pakish’s Moonshine differs from the Kentucky original in that it’s made from organic white maize, rather than yellow corn. Perhaps imparting a sense of regional terroir, the flavor is quite distinctive and strongly reminiscent of white hominy—100 proof hominy at that. Consuming the stuff straight will neatly remove your nasal hairs, but it’s quite peppy and if you’re looking for something indigenous to enliven your punch, this is it. The bottle, which is graced by a colorful California poppy and says, “Made right on the left coast,” is about $24 retail.

If you want something a bit more refined and sophisticated, put your money on the Monterey Rye, which is made from organic rye grain, yeast and a bit of sugar, lovingly distilled and aged in Flextank vessels for nine to 11 months. Such a long aging period bespeaks a level of patience not normally associated with a moonshiner, but with a moonshiner’s libertine sensibility, Pakish forewent being able to legally call it “whiskey” so he could add the sugar. The rye is Fog’s End’s current bestseller, and retails for about $30.

Sometimes, Pakish pauses to reflect on the choice he made as a retirement “hobby.” His other temptation was an ice cream shop, which would have offered a chance to play with endless flavors. But then he never would have had the chance to put his own moonshine in his coffee, or create anything as grin-inducingly delicious as the Limoncello-type liqueur he’s crafting for a new client, from local Meyer lemons.

Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” spends a lot of time in vineyards, fields, cellars and kitchens, observing the magical process of turning earth’s bounty into heavenly delights. She writes for several Monterey and San Francisco Bay Area publications and blogs at myvinespace.com.

Fog’s End Distillery • 831.809.5941 • www.fogsenddistillery.com

Fog’s End’s liquors can found in area markets that emphasize local products, like Nielsen Bros. Market, Star Market, Shopper’s Corner, Hollister Liquors and The Whole Enchilada Marketplace.

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At Edible Monterey Bay, our mission is to celebrate the local food cultures of Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties, season by season.