Grain to Glass at Griffo Distillery in Petaluma
There’s a craft spirits revolution happening in Sonoma County, but you won’t find it without a little looking. Craft distilleries aren’t lined up along the highway like wineries, nor do they serve pub food at a downtown hangout, like some popular microbreweries. Until recently, they operated mostly behind closed warehouse doors.
The good news is, the doors are open, and you can now experience grain to glass distilling at Griffo Distillery in Petaluma.
Griffo Distillery can be found on Scott Street in a light-industrial warehouse zone east of the 101 freeway in Petaluma. It’s actually anything but a gritty industrial area — more like a business park, with shade trees and green strips of lawn; Griffo shares the area with a handful of fellow craft beer and spirits “makers.” The heaviest industry in the neighborhood, by the way, appears to be Sonoma County’s favorite mega-craft brewery, Lagunitas.
The craft spirits movement seems to seduce, like wine does, the “best and brightest” away from otherwise fine careers: with a PhD from University of California Santa Cruz, Mike Griffo has worked as a physicist, distilling nanoparticles — I think I got that right, whatever that is! — and his wife, Jenny, still works in international educational development while helping with the distillery.
It took three years to develop their recipe and plan and build the facility, which is geared to making spirits from “grain to glass,” meaning they mill organic, non-GMO corn for their gin, and distill it onsite in a Kentucky-made copper pot still named Betty.
The choice to go organic and non-GMO is not necessarily ideological, says Jenny Griffo. It’s just that they felt it produced a softer, sweeter spirit.
The Griffo’s gin is “London style,” which they explain is made by extracting all the herbal and citrus ingredients during the distillation, instead of redistilling them separately and building a blend later. It’s harder to do, because the various ingredients in the recipe all have different optimum temperatures and tolerances, but the proof is in the prize — Griffo Scott Street gin took home a gold medal from the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
It’s a lush, cool-toned gin with a juniper-dominated aroma and a dry, meaty palate.
Now that they’ve been up and running a few years, the Griffo whiskies are starting to appear. Because the spirit is aged in oak barrels, whiskey takes longer to bring to market than gin — although there’s a new-make corn spirit, as well, that’s smoother than some of the so-called “moonshine” you may find in mason jars.
Belgian Hen is a sort of whiskey that can’t be called a whiskey, because it’s made with local craft brewery Henhouse’s Golden Belgian-style beer, which was hopped. Stony Point whiskey is made with corn and rye, but is neither rye nor bourbon. Mellowed in American and, unusually, French oak barrels, it’s more reminiscent of a heathery, Lowland single malt Scotch than some of the brash young ryes out there.
Spent grain from the process is given to local farmers to feed hogs and chicken, and the next step in making a true, local spirit will be a Petaluma-grown rye — possibly available to sample in late 2017.
Grab and Go
California state law now allows tasting room visitors to purchase up to three bottles, per person per day, at the tasting room, after enjoying one mixed drink (or several samples, up to 1.5 ounces total). Because liquor before beer — head across the street to the LagunitasTapRoom and Beer Sanctuary (1280 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, 707-778-8776) for sandwiches and IPA.
Griffo Distillery,1320 Scott St., Suite A, Petaluma, 707-879-8755, open 12–6 p.m., Friday–Sunday, tour and tasting at 12:30 p.m. or by appointment, $20