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Sonoma - From grain to glass

The new world of whisky is all about respecting tradition but innovating and evolving to the modern palate. This month we travel to California to experience a pioneering distillery set in the middle of wine country, producing authentic and unpretentious, hand-crafted, small batch whiskey.

Sonoma founder (Adam Spiegel) standing in front of the stills

The Story

After spending time in New York and San Francisco following University, Adam Spiegel craved more creativity in his life and with the support of family and friends, was able to pursue his passion for creating spirits. Whilst assisting a distiller friend in Santa Rosa, he was captivated by the complexity, history and tradition of whiskey and it was the fond childhood memories of visits with parents, the pristine coastline and a youthful appreciation of the wine scene in Sonoma that would draw him back there. The Sonoma Distilling Company was created in 2010, becoming one of the first 200 distilleries in the country, being a pioneer producer in California and one of the very first in Sonoma wine country.

Authentic, Unpretentious and Sustainable

For Adam, inspired by the exceptional flavors he had managed to create during his time in Santa Rosa, he always knew technique would be a point of true differentiation and focused on handcrafting small batch whiskey, from grain to glass. The distillery specialises in local and sustainable spirits, using non-genetically modified grains from California and sourcing all water from local, natural supplies. They use old-school style Stills as Adam wanted to craft a product that was steeped in history and the traditional values of whiskey distillation, but fueled by the modern drinker and their evolved palate.

Adam nosing a glass of whisky

The Distillery

Water for the whiskey making process is taken from Lake Sonoma and the Cobb Mountain Spring. Many distilleries now use steam or electricity for heating their stills and mash tuns, but Sonoma use a more traditional technique of direct-fire heating, which contributes to more complex and deeper flavours. They use a 250-gallon (1,100 ltr) copper alembic pot stripping still, which not only retains the flavours created during the distillation process, but also enhances them. They then mature their spirits in new American oak barrels that are sourced from Missouri and Minnesota, in sizes 15, 30 and 53 gallon (68, 136 and 240 litre). These barrels have a char level of 3, which is a 35 second burn that is associated with a more natural wood taste and scent, along with more earthy and spicy flavours. The ageing process occurs in open air barrel rooms with the temperature variations being 60+F (15 degree C) each year and the humidity swing being around 60%, both of which contribute to greater interaction between wood and spirit and accelerated maturation.

Continual Excellence

Adam continually pushes himself and his team to never stop learning and continuously strive to raise the quality of their whiskey. Working in small batches allows them the opportunity to learn from each release and make the required modifications to ensure continual improvement.

“While working with great Master Distillers and Blenders over the years, I’ve honed my skills to continually raise the bar with each new product and batch. There are no ‘Masters’ here per se; were just passionate, talented, hard-working people striving every day to better ourselves and our craft. I like to say that we’re making whiskeys in s a small way, for a big world.” Adam Spiegel

Adam taking a sample from one of the casks

The Whisky Ranges

The Core Range - Includes their range of Bourbon and Rye whiskey that are available year-round

Distillers Edition - Are seasonal releases with flavours being aligned to fall or spring, including their cherrywood range.

Cherrywood Smoked Bourbon Whiskey

A very limited release, the Cherrywood smoked Bourbon is a perfect illustration of the teams continual learning and striving to raise the quality of their products. Made of 67% Californian corn, 20% Californian Rye and 13% cherrywood smoked Barley, this is a stand out Bourbon that offers flavours of cocktail cherries, oak, spice and a hint of smoke. This is interestingly delicious and pairs wonderfully with red meat, roasted vegetables or cheesecake!

2nd Chance Wheat

Sonoma’s more traditional distilling methods, along with maturation in casks that previously held their rye spirit; they are able to get the most flavour from this subtle grain. Produced using 80% unmalted wheat and 20% malted rye, which is then aged in a refill oak barrel, this whiskey has notes of toffee, vanilla, spicy fruit, butterscotch and orange peel. This works as a great pairing with all sea food.

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