Valley News -

By Jeff Pack

Galway Spirits Distillery mixing the right ingredients for success


Last updated 11/29/2018 at 9:54pm

Shane Gibson

Galway Spirits Distillery in Temecula produces blends of whiskey, bourbon, vodka and gin.

Ken Smith once had a roommate who made craft beer in their apartment; the problem was Smith didn't much enjoy beer at the time. But it was something that his roommate told him at the time that stuck with him ever since.

"I didn't even like beer; I didn't like what he made," Smith said. "But he distilled and made beer, and one time he says, 'You know, we could make whiskeys and bourbons.' And it just stuck in my head forever, and I thought that would be fun."

Fast-forward more than 40 years later, and the idea of making distilled spirits came rushing back to him while he was walking his newly acquired property, Galway Downs.

"That one building, it's now called the paddock house in the village area; it has a high peak roof," Smith said. "I remember (my roommate) showing me pictures of stills back in the day and that you had to have a high roof. And I said, 'I want to put a distillery here at Galway Downs.' But in 2010, the laws wouldn't allow you to have a distillery on a property like that and do tastings."

In 2016, Smith said, the laws adjusted.

"So, I was talking to these different distributors and see if I could buy into their businesses," Smith said. "It turned out that that looked like and acted like a nightmare. It was just, it was a bunch of businesses that are already had things in partners and a lot of confusion."

He turned to a man named Mike Brewer who had helped Smith get a liquor license for Galway Downs.

"I call him and say, 'Look, this is torture this other ways, and this just looks like a nightmare,'" Smith recalled. "'I don't want to go this way. Does someone have a license, and I could just buy from them?'"

As it turned out, Brewer did know someone.

"I was willing to put the money up to fund it and get the stills, because it costs money to get this thing going," Smith said. "And he still wanted to build a still, the two of them. and I said, 'Well good, you can still because I don't know how to still, and frankly, I don't want to know how to distill.'"

Enter Dale and Jacqueline Peck. After 25 years in the flavors industry, Dale Peck decided to jump into distilling and moved to Temecula with his wife. Today, Dale Peck is the head distiller, and Jacqueline Peck is his assistant.

"We had all the licensing and permits, but we were not going to pull the trigger until Ken came along," Dale said.

"The rules changed along the way. It was getting bigger and bigger, and we were like, 'Okay, we were supposed to be retiring, not working five days a week,'" Jacqueline said. "And we decided, you know, maybe there's somebody in our wildest dreams, someone in the region who would come and want to do this. To our amazement, Ken Smith came into our life, and he was right here in town."

"Two days later," Dale said.

"I was going, 'Oh, perfect.'" Smith said.

"We said the same thing," Dale said.

From that quick meeting, a new business was born. Galway Spirits Distillery opened its doors for tastings in August.

One of the more interesting ingredients that Dale and Jacqueline Peck use to make their vodkas is a fruit very familiar to everyone in the Temecula Valley.

"It wasn't my idea to make vodka out of grapes, that was their idea when I met them, and I said, 'That's a brilliant idea,'" Smith said. "In this town, that's a perfect fit. In fact, we even have some property with eight acres of grapes."

So far, Galway Spirits offers seven different spirits, including small batch whiskey and bourbon to go along with a grape-made vodka, as well as a mango, coffee, passion fruit and blood orange-flavored vodka.

Currently, guests can visit Galway Spirits Distillery in Temecula's business park area for tastings that come with some restrictions and rules. It's best to call ahead and inquire about tastings and purchasing their products.

General Manager Brian Ledford walks each visitor to the distillery through the process of how the spirits are made, pours tastings and even hosts tours with a reservation. The distillery can also be rented for private events and hosts a number of events throughout the month.

While they can sell up to three bottles of their product to consumers during their visit, they have yet to start distributing the liquor outside of the building.

Don't worry, Smith said, distribution is part of the plan.

"We're working right now, as the owner of the distillery license, which is a 74 license," Smith said. "We're in the process of going to get both. We already had our consultant providing the list of things we've got to do, and we've got most of the things in order. We're down to the last couple of items and then we'll get a distribution license."

But there's no rush, Smith said he's willing to do this the right way and grow the brand and keep building.

"This has got a long way to go, and it's going to take a few years," Smith said. "What's good is that we've got a nice tasting room that can deliver a nice experience. We've got nice products that look good, that taste well when people try the products."

And though the distillery's current location is inviting, Smith said they have a more long-term location in mind.

"Our vision is Old Town (Temecula), where we have a distillery restaurant, and that's where we want to be," he said. "We have a year, maybe more, but we're already ahead having this facility."

Since purchasing Galway Downs eight years ago, Smith has transformed the property into a top-notch equestrian facility that also has the space to host sporting, public and private events. The property has added camping and vintage trailer rentals, as well as plenty of recreational vehicle parking and hookups. On the property, Wedgewood Weddings has a full schedule of weddings on the property, booked years in advance.

And Smith has plans for Galway properties and amenities off property, such as an Old Town Temecula hotel, a unique tree house house rental that will come online soon, and he said he just recently purchased a campground in the area. There's also a sportsman facility that is in development.

Galway Spirits, as well as everything else Smith is developing, is all part of an overall project that he is calling Galway World.

"So we have all these different properties and all these things all under Galway World and Galway Adventures," he said. "And for me that's fun, but it's business. It's business, and it's going to have to pay for itself."

The same goes for Galway Spirits.

"I'm going to have to fund this for a few years, and if we can't get it to stand on its two legs – well, that's a wonderful idea – it just didn't work," Smith said. "But I'm pretty confident we can with the right people, a good team with good experience and knowledge, and we're in the right place at the right time."

Smith is brimming with confidence about the future of Galway Spirits and, as with Galway World, he is thinking big.

Shane Gibson

Galway Spirits Distillery founder Ken Smith offers artisan blends of spirits at his craft distillery in Temecula.

"I'm really interested in the long game, the bigger play where our brand becomes meaningful, and you'll find it in Galway, Ireland, and all over the United States and certainly regionally and locally," he said. "If we end up only being a boutique distillery that stands on its own two legs and pays for itself and it does well – that can be a form of success too."

Galway Spirits Distillery is open for tasting from 3-8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. They are closed Monday through Wednesday.

The distillery and tasting room, which is not located at Galway Downs, is at 42065 Zevo Drive, Suite 7, in the business park area of Temecula.

Call (951) 296-6444 or visit for more information or to make a reservation.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected]


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