Brian Harke and Matthew Winks launched Racquet Club Spirits with a bourbon whiskey and vodka. They hope to add gin and tequila in the future.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATE ABBOTT
A marketing director and commercial producer together for more than 30 years, Movie Colony couple Brian Harke and Matthew Winks have spun their passion for cocktails into a new line of Palm Springs-inspired spirits, Racquet Club Spirits.
Why did you name your brand after the old Racquet Club?
Matthew: We love the history of the Racquet Club. Palm Springs is similar to Las Vegas in that for years and years, people have come here to escape. The Racquet Club was certainly part of that because movie stars felt comfortable going and hanging out there. It was beyond the studio zone in the old days of Hollywood, so they were allowed to let loose. That spirit of individuality and fun really connected to us and our vibe.
Do you actually play tennis yourselves?
Brian: We try.
Matthew: We try really hard!
How did Palm Springs inspire the flavor of your spirits?
Matthew: When we think of Palm Springs, we think of cocktails. The desert has so many great mixologists doing innovative things. Both the vodka and the bourbon are really great as cocktail bases. You can make a classic Old Fashioned with our bourbon. Or you can be creative with stuff like sugarcane, dates, lemons, orange — all the flavors of Palm Springs.
Brian: For the vodka, we wanted something that had notes of vanilla with a soft finish. It’s not medicine-y. There’s a fruitiness that ties into how people enjoy life in Palm Springs.
Matthew: Also, you have to filter vodka, so we chose a carbon filter that uses coconut husks. It doesn’t really impart any flavor, but it’s a fun connection.
Brian: The bourbon is very gentle and easy to drink by itself. There’s a bit of caramel and vanilla with some chocolate notes in there. Again, it’s got a bit of fruitiness and is really well balanced, so it lends itself to mixology.
How do you personally like to enjoy your spirits?
Matthew: It’s funny. I’m a bourbon guy, and Brian is a vodka guy, so we each have different favorites. I love an Old Fashioned or Boulevardier. Anything that incorporates a little bit of citrus with our spirits is nice.
Brian: I tend to drink things pretty straight. I like a dry martini with our vodka and a twist or the bourbon with just some ice.
Why do you think craft spirits are booming right now?
Matthew: I think younger people are looking for something special and with a story that they can claim as their own. It’s easy to go out and buy a bottle of Absolut or Tito’s, but we have a personal passion that can’t be replicated by those huge brands.
What was the “aha!” moment you’d made your own spirits? Tasting them the first time?
Brian: Tasting is always fun, but the validation came when we started winning awards. We’re proud to have been honored this year with silver for both the vodka and bourbon in the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition and double gold for the bourbon in the San Diego International Spirits Competition, which means every judge in the competition selected us as the best in the category. It felt like all our hard work paid off in that moment.
Where can you find Racquet Club Spirits in the desert?
Brian: Currently, you can find us at Mirage Wine & Liquor in Palm Springs and Total Wine & More in Palm Desert. We’re going after restaurants and bars right now, so hopefully you’ll see us on menus soon. We’ve had luck with distribution in California, but we’re trying to overcome the hurdles of securing distribution in 23 other states. We’ll get there. We’re just getting started.
We love going to 1501 Uptown Gastropub [in the Uptown Design District]. The food is always good no matter what we order, and the bartenders are always great, too. The last time we went there, we both ordered the miso-glazed salmon. It’s the best fish dish we’ve had in Palm Springs.
I’m a runner. When the weather is nice like it is now, I love going for a run across the city. I go south through the Movie Colony to about Tahquitz [Canyon Way] then head back toward Vista Chino, winding through the side streets to see all the great old homes. It’s a good four miles.