A guide to Sonoma County distilleries with public tasting rooms
William Faulkner, who fancied mint juleps and hot toddies, said “civilization begins with distillation.” With this in mind, Sonoma County is a great civilization, a burgeoning mecca for craft spirits producers. Sonoma County has approved more distillery licenses than any county in California, said Francesca Schott of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, and the number of distilleries grew roughly 200 percent between 2013 and 2015.
To help fuel your holiday spirit, we’ve set you up with a tour of spirits producers with public tasting rooms where you can sample the goods.
1. Griffo Distillery (gin and whiskey)
Sense of place: In the distillery’s tasting room, a wall of windows 9 feet tall showcases production in process in the 300-gallon copper pot still just 20 feet away.
Not-to-be-missed: Griffo produces gin and whiskey, including the Belgium Hen, a collaboration between HenHouse Brewing Co. and Griffo that distills the Belgium Ale into whiskey.
Boost your Spirits IQ: Michael Griffo, master distiller, who founded his distillery in 2013, said, “Many people don’t realize it, but most distilleries don’t even make their own spirits. They just buy spirits in bulk and rebottle them.”
Open to the public at 1320 Scott St., Suite A, Petaluma. griffodistillery.com, 707-879-8755.
2. Sonoma Coast Spirits (grappa, vodka and ready-to-drink cocktails)
Sense of place: The distillery is located in the Petaluma Makers District, an industrial hub that is home to three breweries and two distilleries. Co-founder Jill Olson said the goal is to create a destination, with the hope of creating monthly events.
Not-to-be-missed: The showstopper here is the Lemon Drop Martini. “It’s great for entertaining,” Olson said, “but it’s not so easy to make at home. Our Lemon Drop Martini is set to go. You just have to chill it. It’s smooth with a nice finish.”
Boost your Spirits IQ: Grappa is made from pulp, seeds and skins left after pressing wine grapes. Sonoma Coast Spirits offers pinot noir, zinfandel and wood-aged grappa.
Tastings by appointment,1333 N. McDowell Blvd., F, Petaluma. SonomaCoastSpirits.com, 707-331-0718.
3. Hellocello & Prohibition Spirits (whiskey, vodka, gin, brandy and a lineup of liqueurs)
Sense of place: The tasting room is at Cornerstone Sonoma, and right outside is a cocktail garden replete with pomegranates, lemons, guavas and more.
Not-to-be-missed: The Melon & Mint Gin. “Gin is all over the place, but this is kind of a unique flavor profile, melon and mint,” said co-owner Fred Groth. “People wouldn’t expect it.”
Boost your Spirits IQ: “People always think bourbon has to come from Kentucky, but it can legally be made all over the U.S.,” Groth said.
Open to the public, 21877 Eighth St. E., No. 4, (Cornerstone Sonoma), Sonoma. HelloSonoma.com, 707-721-6390.
4. Young & Yonder Spirits (gin, vodka)
Sense of Place: Young & Yonder, formerly Mountainhouse Spirits, is a small facility in the industrial area of Cloverdale. Co-founder Josh Opatz said, “It’s not glitz and glamor. We’re in a manufacturing environment, but the benefit is it’s authentic. People will see the process in a sensory way. They’ll see the still, the filtration equipment, packaging, all the parts and pieces that go into making a distilled product.”
Not-to-be-missed: The flagship gin called H.O.B.S. for Harbor of Broken Souls, a nod to the naval history of gin. Back in the 16th and 17th century, a shot of gin was believed to cure seasickness.
Boost your Spirits IQ: “This throws a lot of people, but vodka can be made from any base material - fruit, grapes, beets, sugar, anything that’s fermentable,” Opatz said.
Open to the public, 70 Commerce Lane, Suite L2, Cloverdale. youngandyonder.com, 650-787-6086.
5. Spirit Works Distillery (vodka, gin, sloe gin, whiskey)
Sense of Place: The tasting room is in Sebastopol’s Barlow complex, and one wall has a big picture window showcasing the 26-foot-high, 1,000-liter copper still.
Not-to-be-missed: Sloe Gin made from Sloe Berries, a form of wild plum. Spirit Works imports Sloe Berries from Bulgaria.
Boost your Spirits IQ: Sloe Berries are not found in the United States. For centuries, they have been planted around the fields in hedge rows in Europe.
Open to the public, 6790 McKinley St., No. 100, (The Barlow), Sebastopol. Spiritworksdistillery.com, 707-634-4793.
6. Alley 6 Craft Distillery (whiskey, gin, bitters)
Sense of Place: the rustic tasting room is in an industrial area in Healdsburg, and it features a handcrafted bar from reclaimed wood - redwood, Douglas Fir and cedar. It was designed by co-owner Krystle Jorgensen, an interior designer by day and booze-maker by night.