It was an idea that fired the imagination of not just whiskey drinkers, but others interested in seeing the continued cultural evolution and economic growth of downtown Bakersfield.
Wade Bowen, local distiller of handcrafted American whiskey, last year bought the old Vincent's Building on 18th Street where the whiskey maker had plans for a micro-distillery, a bar, and a place to enjoy a bite to eat.
But clues have begun appearing suggesting the development of the idea may not be as smoky smooth as the whiskey itself.
"Mr. Bowen last met with the city in April to discuss permitting, and staff offered to assist him in any way that we could to help the business move forward," city Development Services Director Jacqui Kitchen said in an email.
"However, Mr. Bowen indicated he was not sure if he was going to move forward," Kitchen said. "We have not heard anything more from him since that time."
Bowen has not responded to multiple emails and a phone message seeking comment.
A California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control notice of license application that had been taped to the window at the 1723 18th St. location is no longer there. A search of the ABC's website shows a license to operate as a craft distiller is still pending.
But is it?
McKinzie Nielson Real Estate now has an “available” sign on the window of the building. A message left at McKinzie Nielson also was not returned.
Bowen, president and founder of Bowen’s Whiskey, has been crafting whiskey for nearly a decade. Many thought the local whiskey maker would have made a great addition to the downtown area.
Until recently, setting up business in downtown Bakersfield as a spirits maker or a beer brewer would have been next to impossible. For decades, distilleries and breweries were viewed as inconsistent with the needs of the downtown business district.
"The original concept of a brewery was something with a huge footprint, like an Anheuser-Busch," Bakersfield City Councilman Bob Smith told The Californian back in December when Bowen's plan still seemed very much alive.
But craft beer makers and distillers are not giant industrial operations, Smith said, requiring heavy truck traffic and generating unpleasant odors.
That's why the city took action last year to streamline the permitting process for “micro-breweries” and “micro-distilleries” in the downtown area, Kitchen said.
So far, no permits have been granted for a micro-brew or micro-distillery downtown, she said.
"We hope to see some open in the near future."