Last weekend I had the great pleasure of visiting a micro-distillery in the newer artisan retail community called The Barlow. Here resides Spirit Works Distillery which specializes in hand-crafted Vodka, Gin, Sloe Gin and in the not-to-distant future, they’ll be releasing small-batch Rye Whiskey as well. What a treat it was to head out to the bucolic town of Sebastopol, CA to see first-hand how specialty spirits are produced.
As you may have seen from a couple of previous posts (Tonic Water: The Unsung Hero, Dirty Gin & Tonic Shortbread), that I’m a Gin-girl through and through. So the thought of being able to taste, touch, see, and smell where and how one of my most favorite elixirs was produced, had me giddy from the get-go. My poor friend who I dragged with me was clearly not as excited as I was about the fact we were soon to be immersed in a world of juniper (Gin’s not her favourite). But as soon as I mentioned there was going to be Vodka…well, that apparently was the magic word. Her ears perked up and with spirit-renewed (pun absolutely intended) off we went!
Copper Still imported from Germany
We arrived into a dimly lit, cozy tasting lounge at the front of the production facility and were warmly greeted by our hostess and tour guide, Lauren. She gave us an expertly narrated and in-depth tour of how each process of the distilling was done. Having been in the wine industry for over 15 years, I’m all too familiar with tanks, fermenters, oak barrels and alike but I must say, this small but mighty operation has it all dialed in. From their imported German copper stills, to their own grain mill, to their proprietary blend of botanicals (and it’s not the usual stuff, trust me) to the specific Missouri-oak barrels they commission for their emerging whiskey program (and some experimental barrel-aged Gin projects too – count me in!), Spirit Works is truly a labour of love for the owners & distillers Timo and Ashby Marshall.
Ashby and Timo Marshall (and Bandit)
We were so fortunate to have Timo join our tour as we got to the aging room. As we were oohing and awing over the barrels, he let us in on a little secret behind a neat experiment going on with musical vibrations as it relates to the molecular development of the liquid (spirit). Don’t worry, this will be a Chemistry 101-type explanation otherwise I wouldn’t be able to follow it myself. But I must say, it was fascinating to hear how they are attempting to create differences in finished flavor profiles of identical barrel lots just from the genre of music that’s “played” to them. So picture this: a bunch of barrels stacked on top of each other. One barrel has a set of headphones stretched over it with an ipod dangling playing the blue grass beats of The Devil Makes Three, another is being serenaded by the classical score of The Nutcracker- and yet a third barrel is grooving to the tunes of Santigold. The method to the madness is that from the subtle vibrations generated by the frequencies of the musical style, it causes minut shifts in the interior liquid, thereby integrating a higher proportion of the liquid to the oak. Well, that quickly shifted to AP-level speak, sorry! But you get the idea right? The more movement in the barrel, the more the spirit comes in contact with the wood and then actually changes the fundamental taste when it ultimately hits the glass in your Manhattan. Very cool!
Ok, now for the drinking part (my personal favorite). We finished the tour back in the tasting room and were treated to sips of each spirit. We started with the Vodka, then Gin and finally the Sloe Gin:
Here are my tasting notes:
Vodka: smooth, clean, hints of citrus. Full, round mid palate with a silky finish. I must confess– I’m not usually a Vodka drinker because frankly, I like to taste my spirits in a drink. With most Vodka brands, I have a tough time discerning its contribution in flavor to the finished cocktail. But this one expertly walks the fine line of a discreet “hello” when arriving to the party without becoming obnoxious or overbearing.
Gin: floral and herbaceous on the nose with definite warm notes from the cardamom and coriander –two of several components in their secret blend. Mid- palate was complex with traditional juniper flavors but a nice addition of citrus peeks through to complement the clean finish. This is a Gin I would very much enjoy “neat” so as to savor its layered nuances.
Sloe Gin: one of the best I’ve tasted. This spirit is so misunderstood and woefully under-used. If it’s done right, Sloe Gin is a wonderful digestif solo, but also makes an excellent based for many cocktails of bygone days. This bottling is elegant, understated yet explodes on the palate with plum, red raspberry and citrus. Complexity in flavor beckons one to savor each sip and the lingering finish leaves you wanting more.
As part of the tour we received a little gifty at the end. I chose the mini cocktail book (of course) and to my utter delight, it contained a Gin Flavor Wheel. This folks is exactly why I love the world of food and drinks as I had no idea such a thing even existed. There ya go, I learn something everyday.
So this weekend I will be geeking-out by opening all my Gins in the house and re-tasting with the Gin Wheel in hand. Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but I can think of a lot worse things than spending a night-in drinking my favorite spirit. Not my idea of a bad time at all.
I should mention I didn’t take pictures whilst there, so all the photos are courtesy Spirit Works (thank you!). Theirs are much better than mine would have been anyway!
Tours & Tastings Fri-Sun at 4pm
spiritworksdistillery.com | 707.634.4793