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Try a Jalapeno-Lime Infused Vodka at Sonoma Coast Spirits

Enjoy some complimentary popcorn with your vodka tasting at Sonoma Coast Spirits.

The latest in Sonoma County cocktail culture isn’t necessarily found in high-priced restaurants and hotel bars; some of it is being made, batch-by-batch, in an unassuming light industrial district in West Petaluma. Here, among a cluster of craft breweries and micro-distilleries, Sonoma Coast Spirits is latest to open its doors for tasting.

What’s Behind Door #F

Even when a sandwich board sign and wine barrel signal that Sonoma Coast Spirits is open for tastings, the little craft spirit company can be hard to find. It’s secreted away in the back of a building that looks a lot like other buildings in this area — although the main tenant is the up-and-coming craft brewery Petaluma Hills.

But although Sonoma Coast Spirits only recently opened their doors to drop-in tastings, a lot of locals have found them to do just that — drop in and have a drink, says co-founder Jill Olson.

Jill and her husband Doug Olson launched the business in 2011 with a pre-mixed lemon drop martini at a sensible strength (32 proof) and a nice price ($16). Having won a gold medal at the 2012 San Francisco spirits competition for that, they moved on to more mixers, aperitifs, and high-proof grappas made from locally distilled grape pomace.

In the little tasting room, which is a corner of the production space outfitted with a small bar and furnished with a picnic table and rustic wood paneling, they show me a photo of their next big move: a shiny new copper still. With that, they’ll make the jump to becoming a truly grain- and grape-to-glass spirits maker.

Mixed Results

Besides the lemon drop martini, Sonoma Coast offers pomegranate-lime, raspberry lemonade, and tropical fruit versions. On the liqueur front, choose from Amaro herbal liqueur, salted caramel, lemon raspberry, and pear ginger.

Moving on to the strong stuff, Sonoma Coast’s grappas are inspired by Jill’s Italian great-grandfather, who made wine and spirits in Sebastopol, California before Prohibition. A fiery, clear spirit made from grapes grown on her sister’s vineyard on Howell Mountain, the Zinfandel grappa ($35) is distilled locally at Petaluma’s Stillwater Spirits. There’s also a Pinot Noir and wood-aged grappa on offer at the same price.

The Olson’s latest project is a jalapenõ-lime infused vodka ($30) that puts the kick back into “chile pepper kick.” Unlike some flavored vodka infusions, this is not subtle — but it’s also so much fresher, a riot of fresh-cut green chile pepper aroma and heat that storms the palate before the alcohol is even noticed. Jill says it’s great in a Bloody Mary (how could it not be), and in a lime and ginger beer concoction they call an “Angry Mule.”

And — there’s free popcorn.

Three for the Road

Because of recent legislation (the California Craft Distillers Act of 2015) micro-distilleries like Sonoma Coast Spirits may charge a fee for a tasting, or one 1.5 ounce serving, and sell up to three bottles to visitors. Tastings are limited to a quarter ounce each of six, so a visit is all about exploring what the distillery has to offer, not getting schnockered.

The little district that Sonoma Coast Spirits shares with several other distilleries and breweries is also about exploring, which is why they’re getting together to form an association (tentatively titled the Maker District). From distilled spirits to sour beers and back again, these businesses share barrels and ideas. Indeed, during a recent visit to Sonoma Coast after talking with Mike Griffo at Griffo Distillery, Jen Griffo popped in to meet with Jill Olson about the neighborhood proposal.

Cross the Road

When you’ve had enough talking about spirits, it’s time to mumble about beer. Do use caution, whether driving or walking, when crossing busy McDowell Boulevard, but once safely across you’ll find mega-craft brewery Lagunitas and their beer garden, the local-favorite spot to soak up the sun and load up on pub food.

Sonoma Coast Spirits: Open for tastings Sunday 12–5 p.m., Thursday–Saturday 12–6 p.m.

Check out more breweries, cideries and distilleries in Sonoma County, or more fun things to do while you're in Petaluma.

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