The terroir of Sonoma County is divided into 18 separate areas, a fact which alone demonstrates the amazing geographical variety of the region. That’s partly why so much excellent wine comes from there—and also exactly why Adam Spiegel believes it is the perfect place to make whiskey. He launched Sonoma Distilling Company in 2010. “While craft-whiskey production in wine country may be the path less traveled,” Spiegel says, “our approach reflects the same dedication to, and passion for, terroir-driven artistry and creativity. The same reasons that make Sonoma a great wine-growing region are what make it a great whiskey region: Access to good water, ingredients, and weather—including drastic daily temperature swings—is what any good whiskey needs.”
The “farm-to-table” philosophy guides the creation of Sonoma Distilling Company’s unique spirits. Non-GMO grains (corn, rye and barley) are locally sourced and milled, mashed, and distilled on premise. All barrel aging, bottling, and labeling takes place at the Rohnert Park facility as well. Adam prefers to call what they do “grain to glass.”
Currently, the Tasting Room remains closed due to COVID-19 but the opportunity to taste these unique spirits still exists. Adam and his team conduct monthly online tastings via Zoom and the tasting kits can be purchased at their online store.
My kit included the brand’s Bourbon, Rye Whiskey, Cherrywood Rye Whiskey, and Cherrywood Smoked Bourbon, as well as a logo tasting glass, a water pipette, sample grains (I received Cherrywood Smoked Barley), and tasting note cards. The samples came in 200ml bottles, leaving enough whiskey to share and enjoy with friends.
Onscreen, Adam was very personable and seemed very eager to talk about not only his whiskies but also whiskey as a category in general. “I have a hunger for the knowledge of whiskey,” he declared. Here are some notes from the virtual event.
“This is a wheated bourbon,” Adam explained. “It tastes a little more robust than a lot of Kentucky whiskies.” Made with 70% corn, 25% Wheat and 5% malted barley, there was plenty of vanilla, toffee and cocoa on the nose and notes of honey, caramel and oak on the finish. Boasting an ABV of 46%, the locally sourced waters help to capture the spirit of Sonoma.
“We get our water from Lake Sonoma for cooking our mashes, and we chose water from Cobb Mountain to proof down our spirits and it gives us that authentic local flavor,” Adam explained.
Most rye whiskies incorporate additional grains like corn or malted barley for their particular flavor-making attributes; this example is a rare 100% rye, with 20% malted. “To malt, the rye grains are soaked in water to germinate and then dried. Malting the rye generates enzymes that are naturally helpful with the mashing process and adds extraordinarily complex flavor. Rye is spicy, and that’s why it stands up so well to a nice dry aged steak. It has that rich aroma of good, fresh rye bread.” With additional aromas of toasted tobacco and candied pecan, gingery notes also emerged, followed by plenty of red-hot cinnamon punch—an excellent dram at 46.5% ABV.
Cherrywood Smoked Bourbon and Cherrywood Rye Whiskey
These limited-release variants offer smoked whiskey fans a reason to rejoice. Balanced, seasonal releases, they are perfect for the fall and beg to be served with warm desserts. “The cherrywood that we use to comes from orchards surrounding the Stockton area. We use that wood to smoke our malted barley and we add it to enhance the flavor experience,” Adam said.
Both whiskies are very distinct in their own way but share the enhanced, lightly smoked essence of baked, brandied cherries with pleasant hints of vanilla and new leather. “The drier, spicier notes of the smoked rye would make an excellent component in any Manhattan or cherry-centered cocktail like the Old Fashioned or Boulevardier,” Adam suggested.
After the tasting, Adam answered questions from several online attendees. When asked if anything special was coming down the road from the distillery, Adam mentioned that a 5 year old, 100 proof “bottled-in-bond” Cherrywood Smoked Bourbon would be available for members of the Sonoma Distilling Whiskey Club. For truffle fans, Adam also encouraged people to purchase the decadent Black Truffle Rye: a 100 proof, 100% rye whiskey infused with Perigord truffles for six months.
If only all Zoom meetings could be this fun!