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., 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., 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., 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., 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., 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.

Not-to-be-missed: The rye whiskey. “It’s our go to, our bread and butter, our flagship,” said co-owner Jason Jorgensen. “It’s the one you can find on the market.”

Boost your Spirits IQ: A “slow” technique, like the one used here, embraces a lengthy process of distilling whiskey in an Alembic pot still to retain its flavor profile. Here each batch of whiskey can take 50 hours to distill for 25 gallons of product, while less traditional methods can distill that amount in 24 hours.

Open to the public, 1401 Grove St., Unit D., Healdsburg,, 707-484-3593.

7. Sonoma County Distilling Company (whiskey)

Sense of Place: The tasting room is adjacent to the production facility so you can see the copper pot stills in action. The main wall in the tasting room also has a lineup of barrels which contain aging whiskey.

Not-to-be-missed: The signature Sonoma Rye Whiskey. All grains in this whiskey blend are rye.

Boost your Spirits IQ: Distilling whiskey in an Alembic pot still over an open fire, like the process used here, imparts vanilla, nutty and smoky flavors. But it requires a watchful eye so you don’t end up with burnt caramel flavors.

Open to the public, 5625 State Farm Drive, Unit No. 17, Rohnert Park,, 707-583-7753.

8. Sonoma Brothers Distilling (gin, vodka, whiskey and brandy)

Sense of Place: The tasting room is in a business complex in Windsor called Artisan Alley and it has drink appeal. On the block are two wineries - Colagrossi Wines and Two Shepherds Winery - as well as Tilted Shed Ciderworks.

Not-to-be-missed: Bourbon Whiskey made in small batches, each aged for at least 18 months.

Boost your Spirits IQ: Owner Chris Matthies said there are plenty of local artisans producing spirits in Sonoma County. He said when people go to bars and restaurants, now they can ask about the local craft spirits, much like they ask about local craft brews and bottlings from boutique wineries.

Open to the public, 7759 Bell Road, Windsor,, 707-888-2120.

Other producers that don’t have public tasting facilities can be found in local wine and spirits stores. They include:

Hanson Spirits Sonoma, features organic vodkas distilled from grapes, (new tasting room under construction), 22985 Burndale Road, Sonoma.

3 Badge Mixology is a part of August Sebastiani’s company named 3 Badge Beverage, features whiskey, rum, gin, bourbon and tequila,, each product is distilled at a different facility, 707-996-8463.

Stillwater Spirits, produces whiskey, vodka, gin, pear brandy and grappa, 611 Second St., Petaluma, 707-778-6041.

Lost Republic Distilling Co., produces whiskey, 101 Grant Ave., Unit L, Healdsburg,

Graton Spirits, produces vodka, gin and whiskey, (tasting room in process), 9119 Graton Road, Graton,, 707-829-6100.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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