.Spirits of the Times

Distilleries in the North Bay and the East Bay

The demand for quality craft spirits has steadily increased during the past 15 years and shows no sign of slowing down.

Consumers have developed a taste for and interest in higher-quality, smaller-production specialized spirits and cocktails, as evidenced by the huge increases in craft distilleries in the U.S. during the past seven to 10 years. Between 2015 and 2020 the number of small craft distilleries nearly doubled and the number of medium-sized craft distillers more than doubled, according to the Craft Spirits Data Project. Moreover, spirits continue to gain an ever-increasing alcohol-consumption market share.

Local craft distilleries are in high demand, particularly in areas like the Bay Area, where people tend to be very interested in where the products they eat and drink come from and how they are made. They may even be in greater demand in the Bay Area than anywhere else in the state because there are so few craft distilleries compared to wineries and breweries. To wit, there are close to 4,000 wineries in California, but just under 150 distilleries—and fewer than a dozen of those are Bay Area craft distilleries that offer tasting experiences.

Why visit and taste at a craft distillery? Visiting a craft distillery gives us a chance to see behind the scenes as well as to taste and purchase spirits that may not be easily found in stores. It’s also an opportunity for us to support a local business by purchasing locally made products that keep money in the local economy.

The following itinerary includes a selected group of distilleries in two distinct regions linked by the Richmond Bridge. From Richmond and Alameda, in the East Bay, to Napa and Sonoma, in the North Bay, here are seven fantastic local craft spirits distilleries to visit, tour and taste.


East Bay

Dissident Spirits

This new Richmond-based distillery is a project by Oliver Gothe and founding partner Adrian Willey. Both Oliver and Adrian were home brewers for some years before meeting, with Oliver having tried his hand at home beer and wine brewing—for personal consumption—in his home state of South Carolina, though he’s originally from Germany, and Adrian hailing from a family of craft spirit makers who own a distillery in New Orleans.

While the plan to start a distillery percolated for some years, Oliver and Adrian decided to go all-in and find a location, file for permits and get started on making their first batches of spirits for commercial sale a mere six to nine months into the pandemic.

Dissident’s tasting room is located at The Crossing at Marina Bay, situated between both Armistice Brewery and The Artisan Kitchen—a popular local cafe and restaurant that serves wholesome fare incorporating local produce.

The status on Dissident’s tasting room’s opening date is up in the air, but it is expected to be very early in the new year. Staff is hired, labels are approved, and the storage and distilling space at the new tasting room is renovated—so the doors are sure to open soon.

Dissident Spirits, 855 Marina Bay Parkway, Suite 28, Richmond. 415.578.0156. dissidentspiritsco.com

St. George Spirits

One of the earliest craft distilleries to offer tours in the Bay Area, St. George, which set the benchmark for distillery tours and tasting experiences more than a decade ago, has been in the business of craft spirit making for more than three decades. For those who are just starting out on their craft spirit journey, St. George is a perfect introduction to the world of craft distilling and spirit tasting.

While St. George Spirits originally specialized in brandies—they launched with a pear brandy in 1982—they evolved over the years, adding whiskey, vodka and other spirits to their range of products. Located in an old airplane hangar in Alameda, St. George Spirits is the company that launched Hangar 1 Vodka, a brand they sold in 2010.

Today, St. George crafts a range of vodkas, gins, rums, brandies, whiskeys and liqueurs. 

While tours and tastings are normally available by reservation, St. George stopped offering them during the pandemic and has not yet specified when they will be available again. Subscribe to their email list to get updates on their re-opening date.

St. George Distillery, 2601 Monarch St., Alameda. 510.769.1601. Stgeorgespirits.com

Wright and Brown Distilling Co.

Wright and Brown have crafted aged rums and California whiskeys in Oakland since 2014, when they launched the first Oakland distillery since before Prohibition. The distillery has won a number of awards for their whiskeys, including a Good Food Award in 2021 for their bourbon. The distillery works with exclusively non-GMO grains and sources much of its rye, corn and malted barley from family farms in California that practice organic farming methods. While these guys don’t currently have an on-site tasting option, they do sell bottles out of their bottle shop at the distillery, and customers are welcome to stop by if they are in the area.

Wright and Brown Distilling Co., 2715 Magnolia St., Oakland. 510.922.1429. wbdistilling.com

The North Bay

Hanson of Sonoma Distillery and Tasting Room

Located in what was formerly a large brewery space off of Sonoma’s historic Highway 121, Hanson opened the doors to its new tasting room and cocktail bar space in 2018. Located 5 minutes from downtown Sonoma, 15 minutes from Downtown Napa and just under an hour from San Francisco, Hanson specializes in small-batch vodkas made with organic grapes. 

The distillery is family owned and run by Scott Hanson and his four children—sons Darren, Brandon and Chris, and daughter Alana—who all play important roles, and hold equal shares, at the company. Chris is the distiller, Alana does the marketing and branding, Brandon is the macerator and Darren manages production.

Hanson’s upscale tasting room and bar offers a variety of different spirits-tasting experiences including a spirits-and-chocolate tasting, martini-and-caviar pairing and cocktail tasting. The business also offers a specialty cocktail menu and a small menu of cold foods, including oysters, charcuterie and cheese plates, and hot foods such as wood-fired pizza, Friday through Sunday. It also hosts group and business events such as food-and-cocktail pairing experiences, mixology classes and private parties in the “barrel room” group-event space.

Hanson of Sonoma Distillery and Tasting Room, 22985 Burndale Rd., Sonoma. 707.343.1805.

hansonofsonoma.com

Prohibition Spirits

Prohibition specializes in whiskeys, rums, brandies, liqueurs, vodkas & cellos. Its wide range of speciality spirits includes items such as pink gin, brandy XOX—like XO, but with an extra X— Gravenstein-apple brandy, figcello—like a limoncello but with figs—and black-walnut liqueur in addition to more traditional gins, whiskeys and rums.

Prohibition’s modern-but-cozy tasting room is located off of the Sonoma Plaza, just a door down from La Salette Restaurant. The space isn’t approved for serving drinks, so at this point the tasting room is just that, a tasting room—though visitors can purchase bottles of spirits as well as pre-mixed specialty cocktails to enjoy at home.

Prohibition is open for spirits tasting and sales at its tasting room and bar shop daily from 11am to 6pm. It also offers group tastings, mixology classes and private cocktail-and-food pairing experiences. Contact co-owner Amy Groth, at [email protected], for more information on how to book a group event.

Prohibition Spirits, 452 1st East, Suite E, Sonoma. ​707.933.7507. prohibition-spirits.com

Napa Valley Distillery

As Napa’s one-and-only distillery, Napa Valley Distillery offers a unique opportunity to Napa Valley locals and visitors alike to come and sip a variety of locally made small-batch brandies, gin, or spirits in a variety of settings. Self-described as “the first distillery in the City of Napa since Prohibition”—and we have found no information to refute this claim—Napa Valley Distillery is the brainchild of Armenian-American owners and partners Arthur and Lusine Hartunian, who picked up and moved from Southern California to pursue their dream of starting a craft distillery and speakeasy-style bar in the Napa Valley in 2009.

Spirits-lovers can visit and enjoy Napa Valley Distillery’s spirits at three locations: the Grand Salon and tasting room, at the distillery; Hollywood Room Cocktail Bar, a speakeasy-style bar at the distillery; or at Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. The distillery offers tours and tastings in addition to classes and/or private group experiences by reservation. Contact Theo for more information on group experiences.

The distillery also has a spirits club called the Distinguished Bar Club, which is described as being “like Blue Apron for Cocktail and Spirits Enthusiasts.”

Napa Valley Distillery, 2485 Stockton St., Napa. 707.265.6272. napadistillery.com

Griffo Distillery

Griffo Distillery is a craft distillery located in a small warehouse in a Petaluma industrial business park that specializes in gin, whiskey, vodka and mixers. It also makes a line of canned cocktails. The Griffo distillery space contains both a small bar and distillation room, where visitors can spy Griffo’s pretty copper-pot still from their perch at the bar, as well as a large whiskey barrel aging room which also serves as a bar-seating area.

Griffo offers tours and tastings by appointment; tastings and cocktail/bar service Friday through Sunday; and group experiences with advance planning. During weekend business hours, guests can also enjoy beautifully prepared bites of food from Griffo’s neighbor food partner, Stockholm Restaurant. Walk-ins are welcome, though reservations are encouraged.

Griffo Distillery, 1320 Scott St., Petaluma. 707.879.8755. griffodistillery.com

Brooke Herronhttps://localfoodanddrinkmarketing.com/
I am a long time wine and tourism industry veteran (18 years) with expertise in sales, marketing, digital strategies, and overall management. I have worked directly with and at wineries (9 years) as well as on the import/wholesale side of the wine industry (5 years) and with international wine, language school, and tourism clients (4 years). I truly love to promote businesses, regions and products that I am passionate about!

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