2019 Best of the East Bay: Spotlight on Caley Shoemaker
Hangar 1’s head distiller explores the furthest reaches of the spirits world.
Caley Shoemaker was the force behind Hangar 1’s historic Bentwing Brandy.
Photo by Louise Palmberg
Five years ago, Denver native Caley Shoemaker left her job as a production operations administrator at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey to pilot Alameda’s Hangar 1 into a new stratosphere. Excited by the endless possibilities and creativity that working with vodka offers—not to mention the honor of being one of only a few female head distillers in the country—Shoemaker wholeheartedly accepted.
“I made whiskey for years, over and over again,” she says. “With vodka I can really experiment and have something ready within a few weeks, rather than waiting years.”
During her relatively short tenure at Hangar 1, Shoemaker, 31, has launched the brand into an entirely different realm of all-natural infusions and high-proof creations. From utilizing obscure fruits such as pink peppercorn and Buddha’s hand citron to capturing Bay Area fog and turning it into vodka, her work has made industry-wide strides. In fact, Hangar 1’s Fog Point vodka won the coveted “best alcohol drink” prize at the World Beverage Innovation Awards in Germany last year.
Given all her achievements, it might seem like Shoemaker was destined for a distilling career. But she says she got her start by accident. While completing her degree in art and art history at the University of Denver, she took a tour of the Stranahan’s whiskey distillery and instantly fell in love. She convinced the head distillers to take her on as a tour guide, despite her lack of industry knowledge, and her dreams grew from there. She worked her way up to operations and eventually onto the production floor.
“Growing up, I was always driven and very goal- and career-focused. So when I graduated, I thought I was going to work in an art gallery,” she says. “I never thought I would turn [distilling] into a career.”
Since taking over as head distiller at Hangar 1, Shoemaker has been thrust into every aspect of the business, allowing her to work on exciting projects like Fog Point and the company’s rosé vodka, a smooth cross between wine and vodka that was released in 2018. At the same time, she has learned about the ins and outs of the market and what consumers want.
“I get excited about problem-solving and getting my hands in things that intrigue me,” Shoemaker says. “I like to ask, ‘What can we do next?’”
For now, next is her brand-new Bentwing Brandy—a first in Hangar 1 history. Shoemaker barreled a blend of California-grown varietals to create a light, caramelly, and slightly floral spirit that’s one-of-a-kind. The thoroughly New World product proves that her creativity and thirst for experimentation know no bounds.
“I want to continue to innovate, meet with distillers, and collaborate with other people in the field,” she says. “I want to keep learning, because it never stops—and it never should.”