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 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 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 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, Spiegel said. 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.
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.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.