Try a different kind of tasting room this weekend...
My husband, Alex, and I have a bit of a
scotch & whiskey collection.
When I met him, my love was just budding for the brown liquor. My favorite was (and is still a solid go-to) Macallan 12. I was drinking it on ice then...
Fast-forward a courtship, a home together, four cats and a marriage...four years later, my taste (as well as my interest) has flourished.
October 6th was Alex's birthday. I surprised him with a day of local distillery tasting.
The two experiences were as polarizing as they were similar.
Tucked into the industrial section of Grove St. on the north end of Healdsburg, the small Alley 6 team crafts three, small-batch whiskies, two aromatic bitters (made from candy cap mushrooms foraged from the Sonoma Coast), and a gin (soon to be formally released).
Jason Jorgensen, owner and head distiller, came to Sonoma County with a passion for craft brewing and wine-making. This enthusiasm, shared by his wife, Krystle, developed into a healthy respect for and ultimately a career in craft distilling and small-batch spirit production.
Joined by Assistant Distiller, Adam Parks, the team of three run a very small shop—from answering the phones, sweeping the floors, leading tastings and tours—to crafting current production and experimenting with new creations.
An extension of the head distiller, the space is very masculine. The tasting room is dimly lit and furbished with dark wood, copper and the smell of fall spices. It’s warm and inviting. Gaelic music drifts in from the production room where a large, street-art inspired mural covers one entire wall.
There's also a glimpse of their sense of humor and wit throughout the rooms. The fermentation tanks are labeled as each of Krystle’s siblings’ childhood nicknames, given by her mother, (with the exception of her brother-in-law, who they call,
Their creation-lab has a large, chalkboard sign that experiments with a title for that corner of the room: “Where the Whiskientist work and the molecules…frolic?…play?…”.
Jason wears a long, rough, ginger beard, a black Alley 6 hat, and a black Alley 6 tee, adorned with the company logo. The logo is homemade too…a large, fierce-looking owl, designed and drawn on scratch-board by Jason’s mom, Renee.
Jason looks tough, gritty and strong.
Ironically, his whiskey (and gin) is anything but.
Like his warm smile and twinkle in his eye, his whiskey is smooth and elegant. Bottled only a couple months ago, it tasted like something that had aged much longer. His gin: very feminine, light and floral. His bitters: layered, complex and caramel-y.
He’s incredibly modest, yet exudes a sense of pride and confidence for what he’s created.
Alley 6 is still in its infancy and they have many plans and ideas for what’s to come for their business. I suspect they’ll be extremely successful, yet remain grounded and humble.
We enjoyed ourselves so much at Alley 6. We can’t wait to get to know them (and their products) better and to be a part of their fan club. This spot should not be missed when you plan your tasting itinerary.
Stop #2: Spirit Works.
Spirit Works, also a local craft-distillery founded on the concept of grain-to-glass, is larger-production (contrasted to Alley 6), though comparatively tiny when measured against any big-label brands.
They’re located just beyond Taylor Maid coffee, in the new industrial-themed shopping development in Sebastopol, The Barlow.
[On The Barlow: This is a place you could spend an entire day or afternoon, accompanied by lunch or even dinner. There are a multitude of boutique-y shops, restaurants and galleries to meander through.]
Spirit Works was also founded by a husband and wife team (Timo & Ashby Marshall). But in this case, wife (Ashby) is the Master Distiller. Timo, Ashby’s husband, comes from a small village in England, from which he brings his family’s sloe-gin recipe that’s been passed on by generations. It is this creation that put Spirit Works on the (distillery) map and gained them a respectable reputation among local mixologists and specialty liquor stores.
From there, they’ve developed a vodka (that has a floral flavor to it), several other (lovely) gins, a hybrid gin-whiskey (light and smooth), a reserve sloe-gin (much like a sloe-version of a limoncello) and two whiskies (smooth and flavorful).
This place is run by chicks.
Spirit Works is a team of eight. Though unintentional, outside of Timo, all of them are female. And once you learn this, it’s evident everywhere.
The place is so thoughtfully laid out, curated and designed. The marketing materials are creative, yet simple, and are nice to look at, and include cocktail recipes and images that feature their spirits as the main ingredients. The music playing in the tasting room is mood-enhancing and the colors are clean and tasteful.
The window to the production floor features two large, perfectly polished and shiny copper stills……………….and the occasional drive-by by production manager, Lauren Patz……………..on a forklift. I didn’t know what I wanted to do first: run in to give her a high-five or take her photo so people could appreciate the image with me.
There’s something so entirely bad ass about a pretty lady handling a forklift like a boss.
Here’s something else entirely unique to Spirit Works: They’re conducting a music experiment with their whiskey: They actually have seven pairs of large headphones…connected to iPods…straddling seven barrels of whiskey. And each iPod is playing a musical artist of each of the team member’s choice.
The concept is that the whiskey needs to move within the barrel to cover as much surface area as possible in order to absorb the (American) white oak, charred flavors. Some distillers take their barrels to ship yards so the motion of the ocean can rock their batches. My eyes immediately went to Prince. (Insert joke about the motion of his ocean rocking this batch.)
They swear you can taste a difference when paired with a control. A music lover myself, I seriously cannot wait.
Amanda, tasting room manager, walked us through their story and tasted us through their product offering. We loved all of it…the entire experience…and can’t wait to come back.
When reflecting on the two happenings at the end of the day, we had no favorite. Each was fantastically awesome in its own right. And I felt a sense of community across the two companies…both having sincere respect for what the other is doing. And I think that’s something that’s both unique to a new and budding industry as well as to Sonoma County. It’s what separates our tasting rooms from Napa’s, providing an organic, authentic experience usually led by the farmers themselves or employees that are vested in the success of the end product.
I’m excited to discover more of our county’s distilleries in the (very near) future. It’s fun and new and something that should definitely be explored when planning your time here.
I swear there’s more to do here than just drink…
...but when your county makes some of the best wines, craft brews…and now…spirits…it’s hard to not delve into it all.
Fortunately, there’s also plenty to do to detox here too.
For more interesting things to do in the Healdsburg area, visit sheetstothewind.co.