Stark Spirits Micro-Distillery’s creation and continued existence is a testament to its founders’ dedication to artisanal craftsmanship, and their own strength of character.
By Cuyler Gibbons
The devastating economic downturn of 2008-2009 rolled over many lives like a tidal wave. If you were young and starting out, you might have simply marveled at the storm. However, if you were older, in your mid-50s say, and the deluge washed away your job and the prospects of another one, the desperation you likely felt would have been justified. A lot of folks who ended up downsized, found themselves far downstream, in economic straights they didn’t recognize, if not carried out to sea altogether.
Not Karen and Greg Stark however. When the downturn came for them and found both laid off from careers as a grant manager and software developer a few years on the wrong side of retirement, instead of laying down, they dug deep and turned to Greg’s proven expertise as a home brewer for a solution. Believing a distillery held more promise than a brewery, they launched Stark Spirits. Now the company, a product of personal passion and exquisite attention to detail, catalyzed by economic necessity, is the only micro-distillery in the City of Pasadena, and one of only two in all of LA County.
Stark Spirits, located in a small warehouse at 1260 Lincoln Ave., in the “Lincoln Corridor,” produces rum, gin, aquavit, single malt whiskey and a signature orange brandy, made entirely without added sugar. Their methods are traditional, little different than those employed 100 years ago. As Karen Stark says, “We have equipment, not machinery.” Open for business in December 2014, they have navigated a considerable regulatory thicket, but, with multiple awards now under their belt, the critical reception to their products would seem to indicate they are now hitting their stride. Stark Spirits motto is “Strength is in the character.” Both Karen and Greg Stark, as well as the spirits they create, validate its truth, as well as the truth of that old adage, “When life gives you lemons, make orange brandy!”
Stark Spirits is not open to the public except by appointment. But Greg and Karen would love to see you. Just log into starkspirits.com/tours/ and sign up for your tour and tasting adventure.
1260 Lincoln Ave Suite 1100, Pasadena
Single Malt Whiskey – Double distilled from a 100 percent wash of malted barley grains and aged in a combination of new American oak, and brandy barrels to achieve a full-body flavor with just a touch of heat.
Single Malt Peated Whiskey – A bronze medal winner in the “Smoked Whiskey” category at the 2016 Craft Spirits Competition, this distinctive whiskey combines a smoky character with the hint of vanilla bean.
California Gold Rum, California Silver Rum and California Silver Rum 151 – Using only molasses, along with pure cane sugar for the silver rums, never processed sugar, produces distinctive rums with individual attitudes. Individually delightful enough to see Stark Gold Rum awarded a gold medal for “Aged Rum Molasses” from the Craft Spirits Competition.
Sunset Gin – Sunset Gin is Karen Stark’s own recipe. A distinctive gin, that leans heavily on the traditional juniper berry which makes up the largest percentage of botanicals in her recipe.
Aquavit – A traditional aquavit with the characteristic flavors of rye and caraway seed, Stark Aquivit took home a Gold Medal from the 2016 Central Coast Craft
Sunshine Orange Brandy – Truly unique, Stark’s signature orange brandy is made from 100 percent oranges, no sugar added. Not sweet or cloying, Sunshine Orange Brandy brings the heat and smoothness of spirit made from grain, along with the essence of locally sourced Valencia oranges.