Our products have gone through an aging process here that’s made them different and unique. And with whiskey making, what’s the most important thing? Is where it was distilled important? Sure. Is the grain important? Sure. The fermentation? Sure. But what’s most important? Personally, what 31n50 has taught me is that the distillate itself can be black and white, it’s good or it’s bad. Same with fermentation, the grain, and the rest. But if everything is good and consistent up to barreling, then it’s the barrel and the aging process that bring out the character and define it. That’s where the art is.
— Cris Steller



Cris Steller came to the beverage industry nearly a decade ago after a career in association management—basically, helping businesses and nonprofits optimize their strengths via support services including educational programming, government relations, sales, marketing, and more. When asked about the drastic change in professional direction, he says, “I’d been living and working in Mexico for a time, where I started to learn about the tequila industry, and when I returned to California I needed a change.”

Taking a leap of faith, Steller and partners launched Dry Diggings in 2012, with a focus on using locally grown fruit and grains. A few months later, Adam Stratton founded Amador Distillery in Jackson, Calif.; both operations were consolidated under the Aurum Sierra Inc. umbrella in 2015.

As the company grew, Steller recognized a need for small distilleries across the state to align efforts for more effective governmental representation at the state level. In 2012, Dry Diggings became one of five charter members of CADG. “[A grassroots association] had been trying to get it off the ground for about 20 years,” he says of the guild’s formation. Turns out, it needed someone with experience in association management.

“It took about a year to establish the guild,” he says. “That included enlisting its first members, organizing its structure, and writing the bylaws, among other tasks.” CADG now has nearly 50 members and, since its start, has been responsible for three key pieces of legislation benefiting alcohol producers in the state (a fourth is currently making its way through the legislative process).

Together, as the California Artisanal Distillers Guild, we achieved success with Governor Brown signing historic assembly bill 933 (Skinner, D) in 2013. AB 933 allowed Tasting Rooms in California for distilled spirits. This was the first time California liquor law was changed since Prohibition.  

We returned in 2015 to pass AB 1295 (D Gray/Levine) named the “Craft Distillers Act” and allowed for direct to consumer sales in our tasting rooms along with other significant opportunities.  In 2016, we passed a clean up piece of legislation that allowed importation of materials so California can continue to produce the varied distilled products we have become known for. In 2018, we increased the annual output cap to 150,000 gallons, eliminated the requirement of tasting before a bottle purchase, and the ability to donate to non-profit organizations.