Bakersfield is thousands of miles away from Tennessee, but local curiosity about whiskey is starting to rival that Southern stronghold of spirits.

To wit: Last December, Wade Bowen of Bowen's Spirits announced he was moving into the old Vincent's Building to open a distillery, expanding his reach onto 18th Street.

But whiskey maker Bowen isn't the only link to the world of whiskey in a town on the edge of wine country. 

Bakersfield resident Timothy McNeely, who wanted to bring the excitement of whiskey appreciation to the Central Valley, created the Bakersfield Whisky Society last August.

"The Southern California Whiskey Club saw a lot of incredible events and I was getting tired of driving to L.A., but also knew that we could have something like that here," McNeely said.

McNeely isn't interested in profiting from his local whiskey group, but rather to facilitate educational opportunity to anyone who is interested. In fact, an interest in whiskey is the only requirement to become a member. 

"It started out as a hobby to make friends with other whiskey lovers," McNeely said. 

Almost a year later, the group has almost 200 members, which anyone can join so long as they have an interest to learn more about whiskey.

The group holds periodic events like the upcoming masterclass featuring Teeling Irish Whiskey being held April 26 at The Old Fashioned Social Drinkery.

Jose Ocampo, who owns The Old Fashioned Social Drinkery, said he's seen interest in whiskey rise since opening his California Avenue bar in 2016.

"Whiskey is American, it goes way back," Ocampo said. He chalks up the rising trend to a sense of nostalgia and a new perspective on drinking. 

Classic cocktails, like an old fashioned or Manhattan, are seeing a rise in popularity, according to Ocampo. He said that's a sign the local drinking culture is shifting from excess (pounding five or six beers to get drunk) to education (enjoying one or two drinks well-composed drinks). 

"Educated drinkers are about learning," Ocampo said. "People are getting back to the idea of enjoying a drink."

Whiskey is well-suited for those who want to explore the world of spirits and alcohol. With so many options for beer and wine, while still remain very popular, people may be too overwhelmed to sort out the good stuff, McNeely said.

"Whiskey is very manageable. There are 150 distilleries in the U.S., but there are 300 wineries in Paso Robles alone," McNeely said. 

Bakersfield Whisky Society continues to obtain rare whiskeys for everyone to taste. This local whiskey renaissance isn't about who knows the most — it's about fostering community. 

"Our goal is to drink whiskey, get together and have a good time," McNeely said.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.