Today, we’re stepping inside one of the most beautiful bars in Southern California. But more than a pretty place to sip, Blinking Owl is making a bit of history too: it’s the very first craft distillery in Orange County. They launched with three spirits: Vodka, OC Orange Flavored Vodka, and Aquavit. All are made with California-sourced ingredients (love that!) and for now will only be sold and distributed in California.
Opened by a super-cool husband and wife duo, Robin and Brian Christenson, and their partner, Kirsten Vangsness (you may recognize her from “Criminal Minds!), the Santa Ana hotspot offers tours and tastings. The space is quite chic, and is a big departure from what you might expect a distillery to look like. This is in large part to Robin’s fashion-forward eye for interiors. Drawing inspiration from iconic cocktail culture, the space is luxe and the details really shine. We wanted to know more about this unique venture, and chatted with Robin about everything from the unique name to the most exciting part of the process. And in the slideshow, you’ll find a recipe for one of their signature cocktails. Cheers to that!
Hi Robin! First, we’d love to know what sparked the idea for a distillery?
Brian followed several craft spirits companies and saw craft distilling was following the trend that craft beer took in the 90’s. We soon realized there were no craft distilleries in Orange County and this was the perfect opportunity to get in now.
How did you come up with the name?
The Blinking Owl was an old bar from downtown Santa Ana in the 1970’s. Friends of ours used to tell us about the large sign with an eye that would blink.
Tell us about the experience: where is it located, and what can guests expect?
We are located in the middle of a mixed-use industrial/ residential area but when guests walk through the gate, up the long walkway, and through the doors, they suddenly find themselves in a chic tasting room. Guests can take a seat at our bar or in the lounge area and gaze through the 12-foot high windows to the stunning copper still and 22-foot high columns and distilling area. While visiting, they can try a sample flight of Blinking Owl Spirits and have a small craft cocktail, or returning guests can opt for a full cocktail (we get creative with the 1 1/2 oz. we are able to serve). Guided tours are also offered.
The design is gorgeous! What was the inspiration?
Thank you! My guiding principal was Diana Vreeland’s mantra: ‘Don’t give people what want, give them what they don’t know they want yet.’ I wanted an unexpected room (especially for a distillery) where the star of the show was our still, but all of the surrounding elements were an eclectic mix of ‘cocktail art deco era meets the sexy 70’s’.
Any noteworthy pieces that you feel “made” the space?
I’m in love with the tiniest details: the gold fillings in the concrete cracks that run randomly in our floors, the texture of the Mongolian lamb stools, the subtle gold glitter in the grout in our floor to ceiling marble bathrooms. But, that bar just turned out better than I had imagined and I’m dying over the stunning pattern in the Turkish marble countertops, which is accentuated by the brass encasement. The black leather (DeSede inspired) couches I designed turned out so sexy and cloud-like, I want to have more made for my own home!
What has been the biggest challenge since opening?
The biggest challenge is time! We are essentially running three businesses: manufacturing the spirits, running a bar/retail/event space, and now selling our spirits. We hope to get our systems down soon so we have the time to do some of the unique ideas we had for new items.
And the most exciting part?
The most exciting part for us is watching people get so much fulfillment out of their experience at the distillery. We take tremendous pride in the way we craft our products and our space, and it is a beautiful feeling to see our guests fully embrace the intention and every detail of the brand. Plus, you can’t beat being surrounded by friends, drinking the spirits we made, sitting at our own bar, staring at that beautiful shiny copper masterpiece.