Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Spirits: Family Farmers First, Award-Winning Spirits Second
Jan 27, 2017 02:26PM
By Melanie Heisinger
Souza family: David Souza Sr, Corbin Cash & David Souza. Credit Chris Deford
Did you know that just around the corner in Atwater, California there is a sweet potato farm and distillery? Did you know that it's a family farm that only just recently started creating their own spirits?
The Souza Family is what makes up Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Spirits as well as their California sweet potato farm. Not only have they been successful sweet potato farmers for 5 generations, they have also won many awards for their spirits. This is a direct result of their very high standards for their products. 10 pounds of raw sweet potatoes, made up of 8 unique varietals, aged up to 16 months, are required to make just one bottle of Corbin Vodka.
It was clear from a little bit of research that love and care is something that this family puts into everything, including their sweet potatoes and its products. Luckily, we were able to get ahold of David Souza, founder and Master Distiller, and Colin Baugh, their PR manager, to learn a little bit more about them and their successes.
Tell us a little about Corbin Cash. When and how did it get started?
The first drop of liquid came off the still six years ago, November 13, 2010. I know the exact date because it was my son Corbin’s birthday and the company is named after him.
Looking back, it really was a pivotal time in my life. I’d been working in the promotions and restaurant franchising businesses in Las Vegas and chose to come back to my roots, so to speak. Make no mistake about it, farming is and always will be a part of who I am, but I wanted to have experiences outside the friendly confines of home knowing I could always come back. Those experiences informed how I was going to approach things on the farm the second time around. After some soul searching and experimentation, I knew I was onto something with distilling. Part of the satisfaction I get from it is in bringing my two worlds, farming and nightlife/hospitality, together in perfect harmony.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your role there?
I come from a long line of farmers, dating all the way back to before my great grandfather emigrated from Portugal over 100 years ago and built our family’s farm in Atwater. That’s really shaped how I approach the hard work of building the company.
As just about any business owner will tell you, the role of the principal is multi-pronged and my role on any given day depends on that day. Today, for instance, I’m repairing our chopper, which grinds the sweet potatoes. Tomorrow I’m going to put on a suit and meet with potential investors.
What's one of your most memorable moments while working there?
There have been a lot of them, as you can imagine. But tasting the first drop of liquid, knowing we were creating a product unlike any other made before or since, was pretty gratifying. I mean, who distills spirits from California sweet potatoes?
I’m also kind of a tinkerer by nature, so I’ve gotten a big kick out of the moment with each of our products – rye and American blended whiskies, vodka, gin and sweet potato liqueur – that I realized I’d perfected the recipe and we were ready to go into production.
What is your most popular spirit?
The answer to that question depends on the context. We’ve gotten fantastic reviews on our Barrel Reserve Sweet Potato Liqueur. People are always surprised when they taste it because it’s not nearly as sweet as they expect a liqueur to be. The barrel aging actually makes it drink like a whiskey so you can enjoy it straight up.
What would you recommend? Do you have a favorite drink that you make?
I know it’s a cop out, but I love them all for different reasons and I’m proud of what we’ve created in each of them. That said, Corbin Cash Barrel Reserve Sweet Potato Liqueur fits in so many different applications. It works in a wide range of cocktails, is amazing when served straight up and is delicious as an ingredient in food.
My go to drink that I enjoy at home is simple: three ounces Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Liqueur topped with Ginger Beer and garnished with a lemon peel. (Editor's Note: Yum!)
Where can someone find Corbin Cash spirits?
At retail, we’re available all over California.
For fans outside the state, we’re pretty accessible through online ordering. Readers can visit www.CorbinCash.com to find a retailer nearest them.
Anything else we should know about the farm?
Everything from the population and planting of sweet potato plants to harvesting is done by hand. Believe it or not, it takes over 100 hands to produce one bottle of a Corbin Cash product. And although a machine brings the sweet potatoes up from almost two feet below the surface, each sweet potato is hand picked off the vine. There are approximately ten people on each of our 14 harvesters which harvest a maximum of one acre per day. This is just a part of the labor force as it takes five forklift and truck drivers each to move the product from field to storage.
The business is also completely sustainable. Each sweet potato harvest season, after the sweet potatoes are harvested, we plant the Merced rye in their place from which we make our rye whiskey and an American blended whiskey. Spring water used in production is recycled back to the farm for irrigation and the spent mash is used as fertilizer or cattle feed.
Awards2011 Double Gold Medal- San Francisco World Spirits Competition- Spirits Tasting - For Corbin California Estate Grown Sweet Potato Vodka
2012 Bronze Medal- San Francisco World Spirits Competition- Individual Package Design
2013 Double Gold Medal- Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America/Tasting Panel Magazine- Spirits Tasting - For Corbin California Estate Grown Sweet Potato Vodka
2016 Silver Medal- San Francisco World Spirits Competition- For Corbin California Estate Grown Western Dry Gin
2016 Silver Medal- San Francisco World Spirits Competition- For Corbin California Estate Sweet Potato Liqueur
2016 Gold Medal- San Francisco World Spirits Competition- For Corbin Cash Merced Dry Whiskey