Nothing Prickly About Birdview Distillery
With Birdview Distillery in Camarillo, Kurtis Major and his brother, Scott, get to the heart of the prickly pear fruit from the opuntia cactus to create a "spirit that captures the very essence of the coastal landscape and whose flavor defines the region." The result is El Castor "Claro," an un-aged young prickly pear brandy, released in March.
"El Castor was born in California and it defines the culture, lifestyle, terrain and environment," Kurtis says.
El Castor has a clean, lightly sweet flavor mixed with light smoke and earthy undertones. Prickly pears, which Kurtis describes as tasting like "a blend of dragonfruit and a honeydew melon," comes through in the brandy, though people would be hard-pressed to pin down the flavor.
The pair source the fruit from Central and Southern California, and roughly 30%–40% they organically dry farm in Ventura County for select aged and estate bottles. These include Reposado (aged 3 to 6 months) out early this winter and a limited edition extra Anejo (aged 2 1/2 years) released March 2015, Kurtis estimates.
El Castor pairs well with salty foods, like olives or prosciutto, says Kurtis, who also recommends having it with cheeses (especially Point Reyes Blue), smoked trout and salmon, ceviche and oysters such as the Hog Island variety.
After dinner, try it with fruit tarts or ice cream with caramelized fruit, adds Kurtis. Or turn it into a cocktail with citrus and a sweetener – say, fresh grapefruit juice and maple syrup, or Meyer lemon and honey.
El Castor means "the beaver," a reference to opuntia's common name of beaver tail cactus. But it's a coyote, not a beaver, that the brandy reminds Kurtis of. Why?
"From the outside, it's a little sharp, raw, salty, rebellious and mysterious," he explains. "But a closer look reveals different levels of sophistication and character. . . . They can also adapt to many different environments and circumstances."