There’s nothing Ugly about their moonshine, except the name – Kill Devil Spirits Co.

Kill Devil_Ray

Ray Digilio, with his shiny new still

If you drive through a small industrial complex, replete with roll-up doors and concrete, you might wonder what’s behind each door.  If you drove through the one Kill Devil Spirits Co. calls home, I can tell you what’s inside: a fun, informative tour and some great spirits – and oh, they make tasty moonshine and vodka, too!  Meet Ray Digilio, the founder of Kill Devil Spirit Co. and his head distiller, Luke Oskam.

The space may be small, but the things that are coming out of Kill Devil’s distillery are big. With the new change in California law in January, distilleries can now do tastings (but still can’t sell directly – booo) and Kill Devil is taking full advantage of that.  They’ve got a small tasting bar (built from the previous tenant’s weird ceiling thing), so you can try out their spirits about 20 feet from where they’re made.

Inquiring minds wanted to know – where did the name and that funky logo come from? Kill Devil is what the English used to call the rum that was smuggled into traded with the young American colonies – and it sounds cool, so there we’ve got the name. Check.  The logo was the product of a long night’s delirium. The ceiling is high and slightly unfinished in their warehouse – maybe there was a bat making squeaky noises, maybe it was seeing the local jack rabbit population, maybe it was the ringing in the ears of a sleep-deprived Ray… Whatever it was, it all was all combined by his subconscious and he rough-sketched it out the next morning, had some folks clean it up and voila! The Kill Devil logo was born. I must confess, I’m a little curious to see what it looks like after a couple glasses of moonshine, but I digress.

Craft distilling is relatively new, on any kind of scale.  There have been a few small-ish guys around for the last 15-20 years, but nothing like the numbers we have now.  Back in 2011, Ray did what successful entrepreneurs do: recognized a need and found a way to fill it. What better place to introduce a handcrafted, individually bottled and signed liquor, made from natural ingredients, than San Diego, home of more than 70 craft breweries and an army of treehuggers?

Kill Devil Spirits is the first distillery inside the San Diego city limits since Prohibition. Even though we seem to have fully embraced the craft beer movement, craft distilling is getting a slightly slower start.  But Ray and Luke are doing what they can to help that, too.  They’re part of the San Diego Distilling Guild and are also offering apprenticeships at Kill Devil. Just because you’ve got the idea to start a distillery, there’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears and waiting that goes into starting a distillery.  Helping others navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of the TTB (the government folk that approve labels, what’s in your hooch, all that kind of stuff) not only helps Kill Devil, but benefits the industry as a whole. Unlike the cutthroat world of big booze, craft distillers still have that friendly, enterprising spirit – and Ray is no exception.

Kill Devil_Luke

Luke Oskam, getting the shiny new still ready to go!

Right now, Kill Devil makes Rx Vodka and Ugly California Moonshine, though gin (Ray’s favorite) and rum (Luke’s favorite) aren’t too far into the future. They’re also going to grow their own botanicals for the gin, though one of the casualties of last week’s heat wave was their mint.  Oops! I asked where the name “Ugly” and “Rx” came from, if an “ugly prescription” is what you give someone if their date isn’t cute so they can drink til they are – which earned me a laugh.  Ray said, “I’ve never thought of it that way – but it works!” Their standard answer to, “Why Ugly?” is “Why the hell not?” and I think that works, too.

The local mixologist community has been very receptive to Kill Devil’s spirits. Getting craft liquor into the glasses of consumers isn’t as easy as you might think. Distributors need to pick it up, then bar managers need to order it, then the mixologist needs to use it – all dominos that Ray has been able to successfully line up. A local place called the Southpaw Social Club features Ugly Moonshine at the top of their drink menu in a cocktail called the Moonshiner’s Daughter (muddled jalapenos? Yes, please!). If you’re in San Diego, I’d suggest stopping by!  (Check out the full list of Kill Devil’s current retailers here).

The great thing about being a boutique distillery is their flexibility to try new things. Guys like Ray and Luke don’t quit day jobs and sell their cars for the sheer love of ordering take-out and spending all their free time in a warehouse.  They do it because they love to try new things – something a distillery 10x their size is a little harder pressed to do. Honestly, when your pay is sometimes your R&D project (gin, anyone?), you’ve gotta love what you do.  And spending even a little time with these guys, it’s very apparent they love what they do.  If you’re in San Diego, go online and schedule a tour and tasting with Kill Devil Spirit Co. and tell them that LikeYourLiquor sent you (and make sure to ask Luke about being an Aries and having an unnatural love of mopping!). Cheers!

Have a taste, a tour and a t-shirt!

Have a taste, a tour and a t-shirt!

About Jeanne Runkle

Jeanne Runkle currently lives in San Diego, and is a certified bartender and craft liquor expert. Her specialty is the brown stuff, whether it's bourbon, rye or good old American whiskey. She can sometimes be found stalking the aisles of a liquor store near you, answering your random whiskey questions.

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