Red Tide Drifts into San Clemente 6

Drift Distillery & KonaRed generate Red Tide

The opening of Drift Distillery has been a long time coming. More than 20 years ago, while Ryan and Lesli Winter were still engaged, they visited San Clemente.

“One day, we were sitting on the pier, eating lunch and talking and we were like, we gotta move here,” recalls Ryan.

Ryan was born in Monterey, California and relocated to Kansas with his mother and brother when he was about seven years old. His parents went separate ways, but Ryan and his brother were able to continue visiting family and friends who lived in Arcadia at the time. A few times, they also visited a beach house in San Clemente that belonged to a friend of a friend. Ryan loved San Clemente as a kid.

Ryan went to college in Kansas, which is where he met Lesli. After that fateful day on the pier, the two were set on living in San Clemente. After they got married, they used their wedding money to pack up their car and make the move. Then around 2003, Ryan was offered a job back in Kansas, and they moved back, this time as a family. Ryan and Lesli had one child at that point, and Lesli was pregnant with their second. After moving back to Kansas, it didn’t take long for them to realize they wanted to be in San Clemente. Within a year and a half, the Winters moved back to San Clemente, and have made it their home ever since.

After working in design and marketing with Boost Mobile and other agencies, Ryan was able to go out on his own. He and Lesli started in a garage and built up a small agency called Concept 73. Their main client base was in the tech space, and they had the opportunity to work with Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine. In 2014, Ryan got to the point of wanting to create his own liquor brand. Through research, Lesli discovered there were no existing craft distilleries in San Clemente, so the Winters decided to open one.

The first thing the Winters had to do was secure a space. They took a risk and signed a three-year lease on a building. Their landlord approved the building to be used as a distillery, but they had to jump through some hoops with the city to get a Conditional Use Permit for a tasting room. Ryan says along the way; they just had to trust and keep moving. The Winters then had to apply for a basic permit with the government – a process that can take anywhere from 6 months to a year. It took them ten months to secure the permit.

Ryan also had to figure out how to distill. He hired a consultant from Kentucky who came out and helped with planning. He then connected with a distillery in Spokane, Washington that had a private school. He attended the school and did grunt work. He cleaned the tanks and learned everything about the distilling process. He says it was a big investment, but in the long run, it was a smart move.

The Winters have been in the current space that is Drift Distillery for a year now. Ryan did freelance design work while they were ordering the equipment and beginning the distilling process. He says working with the city was not easy. Much like the meaning behind the name, they’ve had to just keep moving along, however slowly. Ryan says the name Drift is associated with the idea of continual, purposeful movement. His advice to employers and designers is to keep moving with purpose, no matter how slow the process.

As for ingredients, Ryan initially considered using corn and rye. Then he realized that the wheat his mother and step-father grew in Kansas was something he could use. His parents agreed to donate the first few bags, so Ryan drove a truck out to Kansas to pick up the wheat. He also brought back some wood from their barn to use for the interior of Drift. When you visit the distillery, you will see the warm, wooden accents throughout the space, including on the barstools.

Things are drifting along well for the Winters. They started producing two months ago and have been selling bottles of whiskey and vodka to interested buyers. There has been plenty of interest from local restaurants, bars and grocery stores and once the Winters lock down their distribution, San Clemente residents will start seeing their very own bottled liquor on the shelves. Theirs is the first bottled whiskey in Orange County. Drift Distillery is the first distillery in San Clemente and only the second in Orange County since prohibition.

Ryan says it’s not beginner’s luck. He says it’s been a lot of planning and hard work. Now the Winters must keep working hard so they can connect with the community even more. They look forward to providing tastings in their tasting room, and to put on more private events. They have also started to collaborate with other local businesses, such as KonaRed. Currently, the two companies are working on a liquor-juice drink.

KonaRed is a local San Clemente company founded on an interesting concept of coffee fruit. President and COO of KonaRed, Kyle Redfield says some people may not know that coffee is actually a berry that grows on a bush. The seed inside of that berry is the coffee bean, which is the part that’s loaded with the caffeine and flavor of coffee. The fruit has traditionally been discarded. Redfield says because coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, coffee fruit is the largest untapped food source on planet earth.

Because of the moist, tropical climates in the coffee belt – where coffee is grown across the earth – the coffee fruit goes bad quickly. The coffee seed, or bean, can be dried and preserved but it does not work the same way with the fruit. The climates make it difficult to dry and preserve the coffee fruit. Redfield says this has been the greatest barrier to entry for coffee fruit. The coffee bean is a cash crop for coffee farmers, and there has traditionally been no process in place to dry the coffee fruit.

Founder of KonaRed, Sean Roberts of Newport Beach has been living in Hawaii for the past 15 years. He found out about coffee fruit, started meeting with coffee farmers there and expressed interest in doing research with the fruit. He wanted to see if there was any value to the fruit. He wondered if there was something in the fruit, such as iron or fiber, that would be useful for the human body. Through testing, Roberts found antioxidants and vitamins in the coffee fruit that would be safe for human consumption, so he started to develop a drying process.

Through a separate business, KonaRed started buying the coffee farmers’ fruit. It was basically like buying their trash, which Redfield says they loved. KonaRed was able to dry the coffee fruit and ship it from Hawaii to San Clemente. At their local facility, they’ve been able to create a liquid extract or concentrate, with the coffee fruit. The concentrate is then used in all of the KonaRed products.

KonaRed has been in operation for nine years. Redfield says the flagship product was an antioxidant juice. The company did pretty well, but there was so much education around the coffee fruit. He says people were hesitant to pay for a red coffee juice because there was not enough knowledge or substantial science around the coffee fruit.

At that time, Redfield was working for The Wonderful Company. He had known Roberts for a long time and decided to join KonaRed. He brought his knowledge and skill from the practices he had learned with Pom Wonderful. He says one day, it dawned on him and Roberts that they had relationships with some of the top coffee growers in the world, yet they didn’t have a single coffee product. They started doing their research around coffee.

After researching, they started experimenting with different products using both the coffee bean and the coffee fruit. Redfield says some of it worked, and some of it didn’t, but they kept refining. At that time, cold brew coffee was becoming popular, which was a concept that made sense to them. They made their own play on a cold brew version of Kona Coffee and started bottling it in 12-ounce bottles.

Redfield says, of course they had to bring coffee fruit back into the mix. He says they then developed a phenomenal cold brew coffee product that has a great flavor profile. KonaRed was one of the first companies to start bottling cold brew coffee and taking it to the grocery stores. Now the company is doing quite well. You can find KonaRed products at Hanson’s Market, Vons, Albertson’s, Ralph’s, Bristol Farms and other markets.

Redfield says the company is still working on new ways to bring coffee fruit to different products. He says it lends itself well to tea and sweeteners, and there are a lot of other things you can do with it. Globally, the use of coffee fruit is having an effect. Redfield says the coffee farmers, whether in Kona or South America or Africa, are starting to get more revenue because they’re selling their trash.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that’s taking place,” says Redfield.

KonaRed is also doing their part to care for the environment. Every piece of their products are recyclable: the plastic, glass and burlap sacks. Redfield says the team realized burlap sacks are great to use for beach clean-ups, and they’ve been donating their sacks to Surfrider Foundation for this very purpose. Redfield says at KonaRed, they’re cognizant of what they do and they’re always striving to come up with better ideas.