By Ed Heethuis
Photo Credit: Sandra Goodin

Entering the Joshua Tree Distilling Tasting Room for the first time, the fluorescent pink neon behind the bar completely gave the impending experience away. The sign, perched against its violet background, welcomed Joshua Tree Voice publisher Lisa Morgan and me with a simple message; ‘Here to Raise Your Spirits’. We were immediately greeted by Founder and CEO, Paul Chakalian, and Chief Operating Officer, Keith Anderson; the wizard at keeping the entire operation humming.

“When I was a kid”, began Paul, “I was always crazy bored. I just wanted to build and create things. Sometimes, my Dad would take me along to Home Depot and he would let me buy random things just to keep me occupied. I spent a lot of time in the garage creating crazy stuff. I treated food the same way when I started cooking for myself and discovered that cooking was another fun, creative process.“

“When I met Keith in college, he elevated my ability to think about cooking in terms of process, flavor profiles, etc. Keith shared my passion for taking on challenging projects and figuring out how to do things on our own. In school, Keith was studying audio engineering while I was pursuing sociology and philosophy.” This led to different career paths for the pair, but they remained good friends throughout the years.

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Paul’s discovery of Joshua Tree occurred in 2004, when his father and uncle purchased an old homestead in Flamingo Heights. As a kid, Paul helped his family renovate the place, taking the original structure nearly down to the studs and then rebuilding it. “Later on, as an adult, I was all over the country; Washington, New York, and Arizona. But I’d often return to Joshua Tree on weekends and holidays. I watched this area grow over that time and I fell in love with the people and the culture”.

Along that journey, Paul learned the art and science of distillation, which tied in nicely with his natural curiosity as a child. The state of Washington was a hotbed of craft beer and food during the early twenty teens, but craft spirits had yet to become popular. Opening a distillery in Tacoma was an option in 2013, until academia and fate put the dream on hold. Fast forward to 2019 and, “I was hiking through all the juniper that grows out here and all the pieces suddenly fell together. I wanted to make gin and Joshua Tree would be a great place to open a distillery. Much to the terror of my fiancée (and now wife), I quit my salaried job and moved to the middle of the desert to start a business from the ground up.”

“Seeing the local culture and art in Joshua Tree inspired me. I was never much of an artist, but have always had a lot of friends who are musicians and artists. Seeing the amazing creativity and culture that Joshua Tree possesses led me to this place. I want Joshua Tree Distilling Company to showcase Joshua Tree to the rest of the country in a way that is supportive, honest, and non-exploitive.”

Around this time Paul and Keith were hiking in Los Angeles, where Keith had moved to pursue a career in sports broadcast production. “Paul told me about the plan to open a distillery in Joshua Tree, and that he wanted me to be a part of it. I thought it was a great idea, and exactly the kind of impossible challenge that Paul and I would take on together. My only hang-up was leaving live broadcast.”

A few months later, Covid took Keith’s workload remote, providing an opportunity for him to get involved in the distilling company without having to walk away from a promising career overnight. “At a certain point, it just made perfect sense and I’m so glad I came on board.” Building everything from scratch has brought the two friends even closer together as they’ve tackled everything from design and construction to the production of gin, vodka, whiskey, and assorted non-alcoholic drinks. The current layout has a fashionable tasting room through the front entrance while the beautiful column still commands rapt attention in an adjoining production room.

Joshua Tree Distilling Company is diligently working to embody, support, and grow the existing hi-dez culture. In addition to sponsoring a multitude of local events, Joshua Tree Distilling Company contributes to the Joshua Tree National Park Association to help support the operation and preservation needs of the Park through donations from sales of Lost Horse Whiskey. The International Dark Sky Association will receive a percent of all Dark Sky Gin profits and the Morongo Basin Conservation Association is currently reviewing a proposal to receive proceeds from sales of their 2021 Silver Medal winning Black Hole Vodka. The tasting room also pulls double duty as a free art gallery to generate additional cultural cohesion in an effort not only to preserve the local culture, but to give it a place to thrive. Outside, there is a Level II electric vehicle charger provided by the business to the community as a complimentary service.

In addition to local sponsorships, Joshua Tree Distilling is engaged closely with peer distilleries across the state. In 2022, Joshua Tree Distilling Company expects to play an enhanced role with the state-wide California Artisanal Distillers Guild, helping to shape the future of their growing industry.

Planning a visit soon? Joshua Tree Distilling Company is located at 58945 Business Center Drive, Suite G in Yucca Valley. Tasting room and tour hours are 12:30pm to 8:00pm Thursday – Sunday and bookings are available for private events. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates.

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