The Valley’s First And Only Distillery

By Kira Golden

Desert Distilling, located in Palm Desert, is an up and coming micro-distillery, producing small batch, hand-crafted spirits and liqueurs. Their logo, the hummingbird, symbolizes enjoyment of life and lightness of being—and what better way to celebrate joyful living than with fine spirits? Brothers Neil and John Lotz have been distilling as a hobby since 2010. Neil, the Head Distiller, explained that he had been around quite a few micro-breweries in the San Diego area and helped those businesses get started. Since distilling was already a passion of his, he and John recognized that the micro-distillery boom was just beginning—much like micro-breweries began to be popular and successful back in ’96—and they decided that now was the time to give it a go. “We wanted to do it out here in Palm Springs, just because it’s a world-class destination, and has its own charm and lure and romance of the desert—we thought it would be something the Valley would like. As the new breweries and stuff were coming in, we thought a distillery would make it full circle here.” That was back in September of 2013, and after a lot of hard work—building the whole plant in Palm Desert by themselves, not to mention the long process of obtaining federal licensing to produce and sell liquor—the Brothers Lotz have opened a tasting room.

“What we have to offer now is our original Vodka and our White Rum—these are the two bottles we have approved for distribution and sale,” Neil said. “Those were our flagship, our launch—something we could produce now and get out to the consumers. Whiskey you have to age for at least two, up to twenty-five years if you wanted to. So we do have some whiskeys and bourbons that we’re working on. We also have a gin—that will probably be our next release.” He went on to explain that if you go to the Tasting Room, you get six samples—and not just of their vodka and white rum. “We have tastings of our barrel-strength bourbon, we’ve got a spiced rum, a limoncello. So if you come to a tasting one weekend and come back the next, you’re not just going to taste our vodka, rum, and gin. We switch it up and have different concoctions available there that you may never see on the market.” Apparently, one of their most popular is a vanilla latte liqueur that tastes like a Starbucks drink but is definitely spiked!

The distillery is truly small-batch, producing only about 1000-2000 liters with each run, hand-crafted by Neil himself, and everything is done right at the plant in Palm Desert. When asked what he believes the difference is between his hand-crafted products versus the mass-produced spirits you can find in most grocery stores, he said, “You have to taste it.” He went on to explain, “A lot of the big manufacturers put adjuncts in there—they put sugar, glycerin—they add a lot of stuff to make it attractable to the common consumer. When most people think spirits they think, ‘It’s alcohol, it’s rough, it burns when it goes down.’ And that’s really not what spirits are about. Real spirits are actually just naturally really smooth. Everyone tastes our vodka, which is just 100 percent red wheat, and when you drink it, it has light notes of caramel, and then it’s just as smooth as can be. People say they normally mix vodka, but they’d drink ours straight. We’re trying to bring the real flavors out, instead of trying to mask it and just get alcohol out of it. It makes a superior spirit. Micro-brewing enlightened people to what beers could be. We’re trying to enlighten people to what spirits can be.”

Right now, the Brothers Lotz are still working on expanding. Their long-term goals for the distillery include finding a distributor and getting their product in stores all over Southern California. For now, their Tasting Room is the only place to find these hand-crafted, desert-born spirits. They’re open Fridays and Saturdays from 2pm-8pm and Sunday from 10am-2pm. $15 gets you six tastings and one of their hand-made shot glasses to take home.