Sonoma County Distilling Co.

Sonoma County Distilling Co. is California's only whiskey focused distillery. SCDC is a true "grain to glass" operation which has enjoyed constant growth thanks to a lineup of high quality whiskeys currently for sale in fifteen countries. The future is very bright for business, particularly since the proposed California Craft Distillery Act should become law this Fall and finally allow distilleries to sell products directly to visiting consumers.  

San Francisco native Adam Spiegel established his distillery in 2010, having left the finance world for a backwards Giants hat and a beard, and he hasn't looked back. He oversees everything the company does, from grain selection to marketing, and they do it all the "hard way."

SCDC carefully selects and purchases corn, rye, barley, and wheat from various farms across the U.S. and Canada. They reverse osmose water from nearby Lake Sonoma, which is used to mash grains in a direct-fire mash tub they built themselves. After adding yeast to spark fermentation, they hand separate the wash from the grains which are sent to local farms to be used as feed. Once complete, the wash is pumped into European made, direct-fire Alembic pot stills, a method developed by the French in the production of cognac, a process that Adam continues to study and further develop.  

SCDC ages its whiskeys in various sized charred, American oak barrels but finishes its products in "old wood"- barrels that SCDC has used to age other whiskeys- a process they believe helps relax and mature the flavors. For example, their rye rests for several months in used bourbon casks, and the wheat whiskey matures in used rye casks. Some of their whiskeys are cut to proof with local spring water from Cobb Mountain and others are bottled at cask strength. Below, I've reviewed their "West of Kentucky" bourbon, cask strength "2nd Chance" wheat whiskey, and cask strength rye whiskey.

West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 1

Sonoma County Distilling Co.
95.6 proof
$55 at Sonoma County Distilling Co. bottle shop

Color: Golden with a hint of orange.

Nose:  Grains and an earthy funk lead the way- my initial impression is corn husk, but there are distinct orange peel, clove, and herbal aromas.  Overall, the nose is smoky, complex for its youth, and very interesting- unlike anything I've ever whiffed.

Tasting notes:  The entrance is smooth with an undeniable honey sweetness.  Hold the bourbon in your mouth for a moment though, and a spicy, peppery burn develops.  Molasses, allspice, and charred oak smokiness linger through a long, flavorful finish. 

Overall:  B+.  I've sipped "West of Kentucky No. 1" blind with Blood Oath; I sipped it blind with Four Roses Single Barrel another; finally, I sipped it blind with Maker's Mark Cask Strength.  It absolutely holds its own, which is impressive considering it is less than two years old.

2nd Chance Cask Strength Wheat Whiskey

Sonoma County Distilling Co.
118.6 proof
$65 at Sonoma County Distilling Co. bottle shop

Color: Marigold.  The lightest of the three expressions.  

Nose: Light on the nose- a little tough to discern much other than some lemon, oak, and a waft of alcohol.  As it breaths, raw grains and a Band-Aid like rubberiness develop.   

Tasting notes: Light bodied, but high proofed...a really interesting interplay between the buttery mouthfeel and flavors, cereal grains, citrus, and heat.  The cask strength wheat whiskey improves quite a bit with just several drops of water. 

Overall: B-.  I appreciate heat, and wheat whiskey, and the second best whiskey in my house is Parker's Heritage Collection Wheat Whiskey which is bottled at 127.4 proof.  2nd Chance Wheat Whiskey will benefit greatly from more time in the wood.  It has a nice sweetness to it, but at 118.6 proof and less than two years old, it's a bit of a wild man.  

Sonoma Cask Strength Rye Whiskey

Sonoma County Distilling Co.
108.8 proof
$65 at Sonoma County Distilling Co. bottle shop

Color: Relatively dark amber.

Nose: The nose is citrusy and light at first.  I get lemon-lime airiness, reminiscent of Mountain Dew.  A touch of ethanol reflects the 108.8 proof.  As it breaths, it grows in complexity.  Grasses, brine, warm rye bread, mustard, and cinnamon candy all compliment one another.

Tasting notes: Another smooth, sweet entrance although much drier than the bourbon.  Vanilla and honey give way quickly to heat, dill, pepper and rye spice.  The finish is pretty darn long. 

Overall:  A.  An extremely drinkable and flavorful rye.  The mashbill is 100% rye, and it shows in the bold flavor profile.  It's like a younger Whistlepig 10 Year, and at cask strength, it benefits from a drop of water.  Overall, my favorite of the three.

Disclaimer: Fortunately for the Bourbon Scout, Adam is a friend of a friend.  While I've never been to Sonoma County or met him, we had a lenghty conversation on the phone last month.  He kindly sent us these bottles, no strings attached.  Fortunately for SCDC, we're legitimately impressed, and we wish their operation the very best.