Using a mix of “math, science and precision,” a spirited University of San Diego (USD) graduate is gearing up to open her own local distillery in an industry historically dominated by men.
Laura Johnson graduated from USD in 2014. For the past few years, she has been working on conceptualizing and launching You & Yours Distilling Co., an urban distillery and tasting room located at 1495 G St. in downtown San Diego’s East Village.
After many hurdles, the business is set to open its doors on Thursday. It will be among the country’s few female-led distilleries -- the first in Southern California -- and Johnson is completely comfortable with that. In fact, she welcomes the challenge.
“Historically, the distilling industry has been a Boys’ Club,” she told NBC 7 on Tuesday. “I’m excited to teach people about distilling and bring people into this world."
“At the end of the day, I’m a distiller with a passion, who just happens to be a female. There are several of us around the country already distilling. We are the minority but already, I’m seeing a lot of women pop up in the industry.”
Growing up in North Texas, Johnson said she developed an appreciation for spirits early on – more specifically, the science of what makes a good drink. In college, she took a road trip and made a pit stop at a distillery. From that point on, she felt she had found her calling.
“I was fascinated by the care, art and process of distilling – enthralled by how spirits are made,” she recalled. “It is difficult – nitty-gritty – the math, science and precision of it all."
After college, Johnson took a few master distilling classes and tried to get a job at several distilleries across California. No one was hiring, so she set her sights higher and began to formulate plans to open her very own distillery.
Her vision came at a good time, just as the craft cocktail trend swept the restaurant and bar industry, including San Diego’s dining scene.
“I think craft spirits are the final frontier in the craft cocktails trend,” she explained, adding that craft spirits have craft brewers to thank for paving the way, especially in San Diego.
When You & Yours Distilling Co. opens, the cozy 2,300-square-foot space will feature a production area in the back, where she will do the distilling, and a bar and tasting room area in the front, where patrons can order cocktails and taster flights of her concoctions.
To start, Johnson said her distillery will serve one type of craft vodka and one type of craft gin – and a variety of cocktails featuring the spirits.
She described the vodka as 100 percent grape-based – distilled from fermented grapes – featuring “fruity, floral and vanilla notes” with a smooth finish. The gin, called "Sunday Gin," which Johnson hopes will become You & Yours’ flagship spirit, is also 100 percent grape-based and “citrus-forward and fresh,” while also keeping in line with the traditional qualities of gin.
“It’s my baby – my passion project,” she explained. “I want [You & Yours] to be known for gins.”
Johnson said it took her just under a year to develop the recipe for each spirit. A batch of each – which makes about 4,000 bottles – takes about 10 days to make.
Her process includes starting with what those in the industry refer to as a “distiller’s beer” – fermented fruit wine or beer – and putting that into a still for “stripping runs,” which removes the organic material and heightens the alcohol content. The number of stripping runs depends on the type of spirit she’s distilling. After that, she adds water.
“It’s a very detail-oriented job,” Johnson added. “I love it.”
When the distillery opens, patrons will have a chance to quench their curiosity about the spirits-making process with tours of the back room. Johnson said she plans to offer tours on the weekends that, of course, end with a tasting.
"Come on in, grab a cocktail, we’ll bring you back through to the distillery floor, kind of give you a mini distilling 101 – tell you about the story, the products, the process," she told NBC 7. "We’ll come back to the tasting room and I will lead you through a guided tasting of our current offerings."
Patrons will also be able to buy bottles of spirits on site that they can take home and mix up however they so choose. For now, the distillery will be open Thursday through Sunday, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., and from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Johnson hopes the warm, living room-inspired space quickly becomes a place for people to gather, laugh, learn and share a toast.
“A place and experience – a moment – where people can come together and enjoy and elevated, inviting experience, get to know one another.”
Her team has poured their hearts and souls into the products, and she said they will do the same on the hospitality side.