Words by Johanna Harlow
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to savor a Sunday sunset than with seagulls, skewers and a Sea Hugger cocktail at Jettywave Distillery and Swell Lounge. This nautical-themed bar in Half Moon Bay draws Pillar Point Harbor seafarers and sandy beachgoers alike. They come to clink glasses of “top-shelf moonshine,” peek into the distillery where the magic happens, cozy up by the fire pits on the sprawling garden patio and appreciate the flowers and herbs plucked for food and drink.
“We wanted to do something that was like a beach club in terms of its relaxed manner, but something that was upscale and safe,” shares David Westendorf, one of the five co-founders behind the distillery. He sits across from Tanya Slye at a blue Cypress table that pays tribute to a matching one on Tanya’s deck—the spot where they first concocted the idea. The friends partnered with David’s wife, Mishelle Westendorf, Lucy Gillies and a silent fifth partner to bring the project to life.
“It was over lots of conversations,” recalls Tanya. And a few anchoring factors were clear from the start. The five agreed that the harbor deserved to be a destination rather than a stopping point on the way to Mavericks, downtown Half Moon Bay or Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. They envisioned a lifestyle business and being able to ride their bikes or paddleboards to work along the coast highway. “Our joke is pedal, paddle, peddle,” relays David. “Peddle, as in sell our goods here.”
They also knew they wanted bourbon in the mix. “We’ve shared many a cheer, a toast, a story over a good bottle of bourbon,” David notes. “It’s a canvas unlike many of the others where there’s a lot of tradition and a lot of creative freedom.” He explains that what Jettywave refers to as “moonshine” is a young bourbon; “Two or three or four years from now, you can say, ‘I knew you when you were a kid!’”
Using three hand-forged stills, Jettywave’s distillations include bourbons, whiskeys, gins and vodkas. Continuing to elevate their game, they recently welcomed aboard new Head Distiller Blake Kelleher. “We’re not doing it the same way that they do it back in England or Kentucky,” says David. “And that innocence is helping us forge new pathways.”
Though the distillery has only been open since May 2021, their drinks are already making waves. Their California Botanical Gin not only won Best Gin in Sunset magazine’s 2022 International Spirits Awards, but also earned best of show, scoring a killer 98 points.
Credit goes to Tanya and her flair for flavors: “I approach it like I do cooking. What flavors do I like to have together?” And she finds inspiration everywhere. “I’ll be eating something or smelling something and I think, ‘Ooh, this would be great,’” she says. “So I have a whole library of little flavors—and then I can mix and match.” Tanya’s flower-forward gin couldn’t be more fitting given that she also runs a botanical, succulent and floral design business called Tanya Slye Designs.
Over in the more recently launched Swell Lounge area, Executive Chef Jose Luis (simply “Chef” to those at Jettywave) matches the exceptional spirits with worldwide-fusion bites. “I’m his biggest disciple,” declares Tanya, who first encountered Chef’s cooking during his stint running Café Gibralter, which received Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition.“His food is unbelievable,” she adds. “It’s very unexpected flavor. It matches so beautifully with our own philosophies.”
Working out of a small outbuilding, Chef makes do with limited kitchen space and equipment. But as a culinary veteran seasoned with four decades of experience (two running his own restaurants), he’s up for the challenge. “All I have is a rice cooker and a grill and a barbecue,” he explains. “You’ll be surprised with what I can do with that.”
All of Chef’s dishes are layered masterpieces to be appreciated and explored with the eyes and the tastebuds. Consider his South African Bobotie, a favorite of both David and Tanya. The dish is flecked with bright colors—purple-blue bachelor button flowers from the garden, orange carrot slivers, yellow saffron—and combines ground beef curry, apple and raisins with coconut rice. “It’s like a hug for your innards,” Tanya describes. And like all Chef’s dishes, you might think you’ve pinpointed the dish’s flavor—until that next bite questions your assumptions.
Even vegan fare—like the grilled turmeric cauliflower skewers and Julia’s Salad—leaves mild-mannered veggie dishes in the rearview mirror. “A vegan dish shouldn’t be lacking flavor,” Chef asserts. “You should be able to pick up herbs and spices and vinegars.” Carnivores will want to try the tender beef skewers—ginger, soy and sesame giving an Asian twist to the dish. “We have this Vietnamese coriander. It grows like crazy here,” Chef explains. “The idea came from that plant.”
The planter beds are full of ingredients that enhance Jettywave’s offerings, Tanya points out. Everything from rosemary to nasturtium flowers, sage to cilantro. “Talk about garden to glass,” Tanya smiles.
As for the best cocktail/food pairings? “Everything with everything,” Tanya laughs. But twist her arm, and she’ll recommend the Offshore Sunrise with hibiscus-infused vodka along with the mesquite-grilled king salmon coated in a Jettywave moonshine glaze. As for David? “Harbor Master’s Old Fashioned with anything Chef is a perfect ten,” he declares. “To me, it’s a home run.”