Sebastopol’s Spirit Works Distillery wins Distillery Supplier Award

Spirit Works Distillery owner/distiller Timo Marshall samples whiskey that has been listening to Prince and Michael Jackson for three years through headphone attached to the bung. Employees created their own playlists to see whether whiskey tastes better listening to Led Zeppelin or if the control barrels in silence fared better. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

GARY QUACKENBUSH,

In an age of large-scale mass production, the North Bay has become a world-renowned center for artisan food and beverage craftsmen and women who believe that using sustainable, non-GMO local ingredients not only creates a better lifestyle, but truly differentiates their products and attracts legions of loyal followers — including those who welcome a micro-distillery that fits this model.

Five years ago Ashby and Timo Marshall combined their love of new-world whiskey (she is a native Californian), old-world sloe gin (he is from England), and other spirits to launch the Spirit Works Distillery at The Barlow in Sebastopol (www.spiritworksdistillery.com).

Their trendy products have quickly grown in popularity and are now seen in bars, restaurants and on retailer shelves throughout Sonoma County, including BEVMO, Oliver’s Market and Bottle Barn, and at more than 1,000 other outlets plus 11 online retailers. Statewide distribution partners include Southern Wine & Spirits (California); Hensley Beverage Company (Arizona); Elite Brands of Colorado, and Heritage Wine Cellars in Illinois.

In addition to being a co-owner, Ashby Marshall — with a passion and palate for whiskey — also serves as the brand manager for a product line that includes vodka, gin, barrel aged gin and sloe gin along with straight wheat whiskey and straight rye whiskey. In 2016, she was recognized by Fortune Magazine as one of “The Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink.”

”While this process can be viewed by some as time consuming and labor intensive, and does not necessarily make economic sense, it is important to us,” she said in Fortune. “We’re here for every step of the process by testing the pH levels during fermentation, testing the brix of the mash, and making the cuts during distillation, while also training security puppies Bandit and Echo (a Boston Bull and an French Bulldog). We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The owner’s grain-to-glass philosophy is simple and straightforward. Unlike most startup whiskey brands, they don’t buy their base spirits in bulk quantities from industrial producers. Instead, the Marshalls make their premium spirits from scratch using ingredients from local suppliers, such as California grown organic red winter wheat and sloe berries from the coastal hills.

After bringing in whole grain, they grind it into flour using a hammer mill, then mash it, ferment and distill each batch entirely on site, while strictly monitoring each production step. They do this with a staff managed by Head Distiller Lauren Patz leading the female production team. This setup allows for experimentation, including the use of ancient grains, such as spelt and triticale, when making spirits, and by finishing rye whiskey in sloe gin barrels.

The Spirit Works Distillery is located at 6790 McKinley St., No. 100, in Sebastopol. The tasting room is open from Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours and private events can by scheduled by emailing hello@spiritworksdistillery.com or by calling 707-634-4793.