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A Look at Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol

As endlessly diverting as it is to explore the wineries of Sonoma County, wine is not for all palates, nor indeed, every palate all of the time.

There are those who will ask, where can I get a nice, non-alcoholic apple cider? And those others who will ask: Where’s the hard stuff at? Thanks to the ethanol-obsessed founders of Spirit Works Distillery, it’s being made right here in Sebastopol.

Take the sloe road
Craft distilling is a hot trend these days in urban areas for the young and crafty. But not all firewater is created with the same craft.

In the spirits business, said Spirit Works’ Timo Marshall, “There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

For instance, many “artisan” distillers are actually just reworking shipments of bulk alcohol from a Midwestern factory. Marshall, whose wife Ashby is the master distiller of the duo, decided to go all the way, to make gin “from grain to glass.”

And they’re happy to show visitors how they do it, as a plucky little Boston terrier named Bandit scurries underfoot: It all starts out with a one-ton pallet of organically grown, California red winter wheat; involves an impressive, gleaming assembly of German-made tanks and rectification columns; and ends with a taste at the simple, rustic bar.

Tipple a finger
Will such attention to detail mean that these spirits won’t impart lasting hangovers?

“That’s part of the reason,” Marshall said. But realistically, he added, “Also, when it’s cheaper you drink more!”

Spirit Works products are actually quite reasonably priced, although they can’t be purchased onsite according to California state law (a new effective Jan. 1, 2014, only allows them to charge for the tasting).

They make gin, vodka, and sloe gin, a specialty of Timo’s family for generations back in southern England (his father is dubious that his own home brew can be bested, but he’s supportive, said Marshall).

If you thought that Bombay Blue Sapphire was the ultimate top-shelf hooch, get ready to remodel the bar: With ethereal aromas of citrus and herbs, this is uncommonly pure-tasting, while the vodka, which is not flavored, is reminiscent of vanilla and cracked grain. There’s also a rye and wheat whiskey, aging in American oak barrels until 2015.

Hit the road
No, not like that, and you won’t be weaving down the road, either, since Spirit Works pours sensibly wee tastes. But they say liquor before beer, never fear, so stroll into the Barlow district to see what’s new in these renovated warehouses and canneries arranged in a neighborhood of low-traffic, walkable streets.

At Woodfour Brewing Company, you’ll find refreshing, low-alcohol German-style and sour beers served with visually appealing small plates of “animals” and “plants.”

Spirit Works Distillery, 6790 McKinley Street, Suite 100, Sebastopol. Thursday-Monday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $5 tasting fee after January 1, 2014. 707-634-4793.

Watch this great video about Culinary Delights at the Barlow.

Find more info about things to do, restaurants, wine & wineries, and hotels & lodging in Sonoma County.

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