Category Archives: Spirits

The Sonoma Distilling Company opens its doors to the public

 

Sonoma County, home to some of California’s finest wineries, is beginning to establish itself as a leader in creating premium craft beer and spirits. Stories of new emerging breweries and distilleries now share time and space with those from the vineyards.

One such story is the Sonoma Distilling Company, located in Rohnert Park, a few blocks east of Highway 101, a place that emerged from zeal and perseverance. Founder and Whiskey maker Adam Spiegel, after getting laid off in 2008, decided to become his own boss and pursue a passion for making beer, which evolved into wine, then grappa and, eventually, craft whiskey.

As the distillery has grown from a small building to the new, self-designed Rohnert Park space that includes beautiful stills imported

from Spain and Scotland, Adam has not veered from his original focus to make the best artisan-style whiskeys in the most sustainable

Adam Spiegel with the Forsyths copper still from Scotland

manner possible.

The new and expanded distillery is now complete and the affable Spiegel is ready to re-launch on June 21-23, offering eco-friendly public tours and tastings program.

At the Sonoma Distilling Company, Spiegel produces four craft whiskeys including rye, where he started, cherrywood rye, bourbon and wheat.

Spiegel’s Sonoma Rye Whiskey, aged up to two years, is composed of 80 percent rye grains from Dixon, CA near Sacramento and parts of Canada blended with 20 percent malted rye from the United Kingdom.

Through malting, grains are softened by first soaking in water, then heating them in an attempt to slow germination. Most malted grains are purchased by distillers and Adams spoke of his role in persuading a colleague to conveniently locate his malthouse next door.

Most rye whiskeys have hints of spice. This Sonoma Rye was dry, smooth and Adam suggests flavors of vanilla, allspice white pepper, dried apricot and walnut. He also recommends rye whiskey as the most accommodating in cooking and pairing with food.

Although the Sonoma Distilling Company has an on-site grain smoker, the Sonoma Cherrywood Smoked Bourbon Whiskey contains

Sonoma Cheerywood Smoked Bourbon Whiskey

13 percent cherrywood smoked barley from Wyoming, blended with corn and rye grains.

Smokey hints were evident, but not overpowering. The label on each bottle describes a flavor profile of maraschino cherry, smoke, allspice and vanilla and suggests it as a fine pair with Thanksgiving dinner.

Blending 70 percent corn, 25 percent wheat and some of that Wyoming grown malted barley, the Sonoma Bourbon Whiskey has a leather backbone and well-balanced oak flavors. Possibly my favorite, it had toasty overtones and a finish that slid across the palate like a slow moving slough.

Defined as “Scottish style,” the low-production Sonoma Wheat Whiskey adds 20 percent rye grains for balance. Wheated whiskey must contain at least 51 percent wheat grain and is usually aged in new American oak barrels. This whiskey is aged for three years in used oak followed by an additional four months in cognac barrels.

During the tour, Spiegel was quick to point out that sustainability is a key element to their identity. The

Sonoma Rye Whiskey

distillery is completely powered by wind energy and, it recycles water and uses local, non-GMO grains.

Although the 3,000 gallon custom-made Forsyths copper pot still, the largest in the area, comes from Scotland, his tanks were built in Healdsburg, there is an on-site grain smoker and, with expanded grain plantings in Sonoma County, everything, in time, will be local.

Since 2010, production has increased from 200 gallons to the current level of 1,500 gallons per month. A 9,000 square foot barrel room is under construction across the street from the distillery that will provide aging space to accommodate production levels of up to 25,000 gallons per month.

The Sonoma Distilling Company  is the only whiskey house in California  known to have a tasting room and a plan to bring people together for tours and pours. The $15 per person tasting will include a  tour of the distillery followed by four tasting options, all including three whiskey pours and one cocktail. Each visit will

be limited to 12  people and available, by appointment, at 11 am, 2 pm and 4 pm, Friday through Sunday of each week.

Founder and Whiskey maker Adam Spiegel

Spiegel also plans to re-launch his whiskey club that will provide periodic direct shipments of new releases to members.

In addition to the production of highly regarded whiskey, the Sonoma Distilling Company in Rohnert Park will soon open its doors and provide another  opportunity to taste craft wine and spirits in Sonoma County.

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Hendrick’s Gin reveals exclusive cocktail for Napa Valley’s Bottlerock event

 

To preview their new cocktail, created exclusively for the Napa Valley’s Bottlerock event later this month, Hendrick’s Gin has released “Midsummer Solstice,” a limited-edition gin crafted by Master Distiller Lesley Gracie, once described as “the woman who invented your favorite gin.”

“I have always been enamored by the power of nature’s flavors and aromas at the peak of summer and for this new expression I’ve

Hendrick’s Midsummer Spritz Cocktail – Photo by Jasmine Van T Photography

hand-selected each floral essence to capture this intensity,” says Gracie. “Midsummer Solstice represents years of experimentation joining an exciting line of innovations from Hendrick’s, and I’m thrilled to not only create new liquid at the Gin Palace, but also share them with curious tasters and gin explorers all over the world.”

The recently completed Gin Palace provides a $17 million expansion to the Scotland-based distillery that features two new still houses, a walled garden, two state-of-the-art botanical greenhouses and endless opportunities for creativity.

The Gin Palace will double their capacity for production, enough to meet rapidly growing demand well into the future, but to artisan Gracie, it’s like adding colors to an already abundant palette and working with a large blank canvas. “It’s a major step forward in terms of potential for innovation,” she says.

Lesley Gracie has been with Hendrick’s since its 1999 inception and in the industry for over thirty years.  An educated chemist, her flavor infusing foray into spirits production began by trying to disguise the awful taste of arthritis medicine.  While Hendrick’s has always valued consistency, Gracie’s passion, similar to a fine

Master Distiller Lesley Gracie

winemaker, is to create a sensory experience from her innovated specialty gin releases that often use botanicals

In a recent Robb Report interview, she said, “When I’m gardening, I like to take walks and I’ll often stop to take a leaf and smell it. I’ll think, ‘Oh, that’s interesting; that might work really well.’ It’s a process that can really take over me.”

The Lesley Gracie Cocktail consists of 50 ml Hendrick’s Gin, 15 ml elderflower, soda water and three thinly sliced cucumber rounds.  However, the excitement at the preview party was the unveiling of the Midsummer Spritz that combines Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice Gin, Lillet Rose’, Bordiga Apertivo and gooseberries.

Admittedly, sitting around a fire pit at Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar & Lounge, 1100 Market Street, looking out across the eastern skyline

Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar and Lounge-Photo by David Perper

provided a welcoming ambience, but I found the Midsummer Spritz to be an exceptionally balanced, refreshing cocktail while David, my “spirits wingman” thought that the floral qualities of the gin were extraordinary. 

“Hendrick’s is no stranger to the power of florals, thanks to the infusion of rose and cucumber in our original house style gin,” said Hendrick’s national US brand ambassador Sebastien Derbomez. “But the creation of Midsummer Solstice offers an exemplary amount of opportunity for new efflorescent cocktails. I am personally excited for the Hendrick’s Midsummer SuperBloom Punch, a bright, blossoming, and botanic punch which is easy to make at home and perfect for responsible midday consumption.”

San Franciscan Mark Stoddard, our bartender for the evening, has been spreading the gospel of Hendrick’s Gin since 2012.  As a world champion mixologist and business owner, he is described as “an

Bartender Mark Stoddard-photo by Jasmine Van T Photography

attentive student of cocktail history and lover of all that is out of the ordinary.”  

In addition to the Midsummer Spritz, Mark mixed an elegant drink called the Butterfly Effect that consists of Hendrick’s Gin, Chareau Aloe Liqueur, Jasdesca Apertivo (a wine-based aperitif), Lemon and Butterfly Blossoms and a Hendrick’s Pimm’s Cup, the number one selling cocktail for Charmaine’s techno-millennial crowd.

 

The preview event also afforded us the opportunity to sample a taste of the exceedingly small Hendrick’s production Orbium, another Lesley Gracie creation, instilled with extracts of Quinine, Wormwood and Lotus Blossom to complement the traditional cucumber and rose essences and provide a rounder mouthfeel.

 

The Midsummer Spritz and a few other Hendrick’s Gin cocktails will be available at Bottlerock Napa Valley, May 24-26, billed as the “first taste of summer,” a weekend featuring top musical performers, food, wine, brew and spirits.

Tired of crowds.  The Hendrick’s Gin website provides several cocktail recipes to be enjoyed at home.