By August 28, 2018 Read More →

September BrewView: Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Spirits from Ground to Glass

Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Spirits: from Ground to Glass
by Brandilyn Brown and Christopher Mitchell

The Souza family have been established farmers since 1917, now entering its fifth generation of farmers. The Souzas are big into creating jobs, wanting to revitalize agriculture by pulling young people in to create life-long careers out of farming. They encourage change and love new ideas, often collaborating with UC Merced to achieve this. Growing rye and sweet potatoes, already a rotatable crop, David Souza decided spirits was the specialty niche to break into when the farm became his. With the freshest ingredients and knowledge from all his years of farming, it was a match made in fermentable heaven: Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Spirits was born.

David Souza explaining how D&S Farms potatoes are harvested as we ride on the harvester

D&S Farms grows 10 different varietals of sweet potatoes in Merced County, and are the premier grower this side of the Mississippi. Their 800 acres are are hand-harvested with the assistance of a really cool harvesting machine which digs up the top layer of sandy soil, moving the potatoes onto a conveyer belt where the soil falls through, making is easier to grab the potato. Then the potatoes are sorted and boxed according to size. Sweet potatoes are very fragile-they bruise and spoil easy and need to be treated as gentle as possible.

Corbin Souza proudly showing us some freshly picked sweet potatoes


David showing us sweet potato vines

Once sorted into crates, they are transported to a warehouse where they are washed and boxed. These temperamental potatoes like to be stored close to 60 degrees. Anything colder and they will spoil, and anything warmer they will sprout new growth. They are a very hungry crop, so fertilizer is put back into the soil regularly, and rotating with rye not only helps replenish what the potatoes need, rye roots go farther down into the ground, breaking up clumps of soil and drinking the water potatoes can’t reach. They are each other’s yin and yang. Each crop helps the other grow more efficiently.

From the warehouse they go on to stores where you will buy them, or to the distillery to be made into delicious spirits.

Traditionally, vodka is made from white potatoes; which contain more sugar than sweet potatoes, meaning you need less white potatoes than sweet potatoes to make alcohol. Sweet Potatoes are lower on the glycemic index, which is great for people with diabetes, not so great for distillers. That didn’t stop Dave from turning his unique idea into vodka, though. He had to formulate special enzymes to break down the sugars in the potatoes, in a process that took 1.5 years to perfect. Once he had a reliable recipe, Corbin Cash was formed, and he it named after his son. Now they have a whole line of spirits, including Merced Rye Whiskey.

The lineup of spirits. Photo credit Corbin Cash Facebook

The distillery rotates between making rye products and sweet potato products depending on the time of year. When it’s rye season, they’re making whiskey and when it’s sweet potato season, you guessed it: they’re making vodka, gin and liqueur. If it’s rye time, the rye is cracked and soaked to make wort which will then ferment and be distilled. If it’s sweet potato time, the potatoes are mashed and mixed with enzymes to make a thicker wort, which will ferment a little longer than the rye before it’s distilled. In a continued effort to be sustainable, the spent grain and potato mash is given to local cattle farms.

Edith Duran giving us our distillery tour

The unique thing about Corbin Cash that we truly loved, is that Dave is involved in the entire process. He’s there when the seeds are planted, he’s there at harvest, he’s there for washing and boxing, he’s there when it’s fermenting and distilling, he’s there when it’s bottled and sold. He won’t take full credit though, he humbly told us it takes over 50 people to make one bottle of Corbin Cash. When you enjoy your cocktail, you are holding the work of machinists, planters, harvesters, forklift drivers-there are so many people involved! We encourage you to think about that the next time you buy produce. We certainly have a deep appreciation for the sweet potato that we did not have before the tour.

A precious commodity: Each bottle we are holding requires 50 people to produce.

So the sweet potatoes are planted, harvested, eaten by enzymes, and turned into delicious alcohol in a long arduous process. Just when you think the process is done, it’s not! Then all the water used in the distilling process is put back into the field, to help grow more potatoes. It’s such a beautiful, continuous relationship of suitability and innovation from ground to glass.

The sweet potato vodka won a Double Gold in 2011 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and a Double Gold at the 2013 Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America 70th Annual Convention & Exposition. They treated us to a full spirit tasting after the tour, complete with a food pairing. Each sample and snack produced a harmony of flavor. From savory to sweet, your tastebuds will thank you for the ride.

Christopher relaxes during the tasting


Corbin is always ready to help

Although our favorite of their spirits was the sweet potato liqueur, it was a tough decision to make. Neither of us are fans of gin, yet we’ve each indulged in a Corbin Cash gin and tonic this week, enjoying every sip! The sweet potato gave each spirit (aside from the rye, of which sweet potatoes are absent) a tantalizing lingering sweet heat that leaves you craving more. Find your bottle at BevMo or Save Mart, and make sure to like them on facebook for updates and distillery hours. Sip on, friends!

Dessert is served! Jantz’ Sweet Potato Muffins are made from D&S Farms Sweet Potatoes. Delish!


Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Spirits
Email them to schedule your visit today!

Sweet Potato Soda Recipe:
1 oz Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Liqueur
top with ginger ale
garnish with lemon

Corbin Crush Recipe:
1.5 oz Corbin Vodka
.5 oz simple syrup
.5 ox fresh orange juice
lemon-lime soda to taste

About the Author:

Bring on the rain, and a bottle of Wonky & Wry's Honey Braggot Ale. Loves to roast marshmallows over a fire.