Hangar 1 Vodka head distiller Caley Shoemaker originally wanted to be an artist. She studied photography and fiber arts at the University of Denver and planned to go to graduate school to study art history.
But then everything changed when she toured Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey distillery in Denver.
“I fell head over heels in love with whiskey making,” she said. “When I was haphazardly offered the job I was pining after at the distillery, I started with tours and tastings, and just started begging the guys to train me on the stills. Just over time, one thing led to another, and here I am. A decade of my life has been poured into this, and I love it.”
Now at Hangar 1, Shoemaker oversaw the release the brand’s buzziest spirit: rosé vodka. It’s an easy-to-sip, cocktail-friendly beverage, which combines the beloved wine imbibed at brunch and Hangar 1’s successful spirit. Hangar 1 and Shoemaker celebrated the release with a public party at the Alameda, California, distillery and an intimate dinner at The Workshop in San Francisco.
The dinner showcased the rosé vodka’s versatility in several delicious cocktails, such as the Cali Collins (made with the rosé vodka, Meyer lemon, Demerara sugar, club soda), the Alameda Sparkler (rosé vodka, sparkling rosé, and lemon), and the Rosé Vesper (rosé vodka, Cocchi Americano, and gin).
But Shoemaker prefers to drink the vodka straight or on the rocks with a splash of soda.
“You've got to be able to just sip it and enjoy it,” she said. “If you like it that way, you're going to like it in cocktails. It pairs with elderflower really, really well in a cocktail setting. From there, I think it is something that goes great with food.”
Shoemaker said the inspiration for the rosé vodka comes from California wine country. After working for Stranahan's for six years, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when she became Hangar 1’s head distiller in 2014.
“I originally got into the idea of doing some kind of wine vodka hybrid when I moved to California from Colorado because it was the first time that I was really exposed to the wine industry,” Shoemaker said. “I've just gone head over heels into the wine industry and learning about the wine industry and learning about the different ways that winemakers use their materials than say, a whiskey maker, or a beer maker, or someone would.”
Shoemaker is one of a few female distillers in the beverage industry. She is a member of an organization called Ladies of American Distilleries — and she was pleased to notice that membership has been increasing over the past few years.
“There are more and more women filling in all the different roles in this industry, and it is super inspirational and so exciting,” Shoemaker said. “Obviously there's still the same day-to-day challenges. It's people come in here and assume that I don't know how to drive a forklift or do certain things. But at the same time, we're seeing so much advancement in women in scientific, and manufacturing, and just male-dominated careers that I think it's a really cool time to live in.”
Shoemaker has brought a lot of her artistic creativity to Hangar 1 Vodka in the form of problem-solving. During the California drought, she came up with the innovative Fog Point vodka, which is made from the famous San Francisco fog.
“I often joke that distillation is the perfect collision between art and science because realistically, we're chemists,” Shoemaker said. “We're doing science all day long. But I don't have a science background, so I'm approaching things much more intuitively. And I think when people taste, and when people go through culinary experiences, that sort of tickles the same centers in the brain as looking at a nice piece of art or hearing music does.”
And Shoemaker hopes that the rosé and Fog Point vodkas are just the beginning for Hangar 1.
“This launch is a great springboard for us to continue to push forward with experimenting with totally new ways of doing things,” she said, “and exploring different approaches to how we can take things that we're very classically aware of, vodkas and wines, and how we can turn them on their head and create something totally new.”
Travel expenses for this article were paid for by Exposure. The product samples that are the subject of this review were provided at no cost to the contributor.