Examiner.com- Spirit Works Distillery Sloe Gin: Artisanal Distilling at its Best

Examiner.com- Spirit Works Distillery Sloe Gin: Artisanal Distilling at its Best

It’s pretty impressive when one new spirit can reverse a lifetime of avoidance with a single sip. Let me introduce you to Spirit Works Distillery Sloe Gin.

All these years I have had an unstinting dislike of sloe gin. I have avoided it whenever possible, and when avoiding it wasn’t possible, I have had to suppress my gag reflex at the very smell of it. Yes, it was that bad. So why am I writing an article on sloe gin? Because I finally figured out it wasn’t sloe gin I hated: it was cheap, shoddy, bad industrial-grade “sloe gin” I hated.

My original transgression was not unusual; let’s just say it was the result of over-eager experimentation with alcoholic beverages at an early age. I overindulged in rotgut sloe gin; mass-produced, bottom shelf, right out of a tank farm ghastly sticky-sweet cloying mess. Hey, I was young and stupid and it was all we had to guzzle that sorry day!

It was nasty stuff, cheap ethanol with a wickedly chemical reek of artificial berry flavoring and a cloying sweetness that lingered forever, leaving an oily residue in the mouth and the cheap, synthetic, brackish aftereffects loitering in the back of the throat, like koolaid mixed with motor oil, precipitating a wave of dry heaves, my body’s attempt to disgorge what could be poisonous, and at the very least was poisonous tasting.

From that moment on I hated sloe gin.

Many (many) years later I was forced to reconsider my relationship with Sloe Gin. I was coaxed into trying Plymouth Sloe Gin and had to admit it was indeed somewhat tasty, although not my (as it were) cup of tea. Then I was tricked into tasting what was labeled Averell Damson Gin Liqueur but was in fact a high-end artisanal version of, yes, sloe gin (from the Damson plum), and was impressed by its use in some delicious craft cocktails.

Finally, I gave up all stubborn objections and embraced sloe gin in all its tasteful glory. Why? What succeeded in countering a lifelong aversion?

I opened a handsome, sturdy bottle with good weight and chunky shoulders and poured out a glistening blackish-purple liqueur, rich and heady stuff with a most wondrous aroma of fresh spiced baked plums. Have you ever had German-style open faced baked blue plum pie, ever so faintly dusted with baking spices and placed on the top rack so the heat caramelizes the rich plum juices and creates its own glaze over the fruit and reduces the plums down to a thick, meaty, dense savory richness? Well, you should. When you do, squeeze a few drops of fresh-pressed citrus, and it will remind you of Spirit Works Distillery Sloe Gin.

There’s nary a whiff of artificial ethanol-with-synthetic-flavor-added in this one. It’s pure and fresh and bright and meaty-savory plum with just a hint of pruny ripeness on the edge, brightened up with citrus, and it is eminently enjoyable all on it’s lonesome—here’s a thought: pour this in a port glass and sip it, perhaps with a wedge of Stilton in the shank of the evening; or in a gin fizz; or simply add a dollop to your gin & tonic to marvelous effect. Then people will ask you how you made a purple gin and tonic. Wait…how good would this be in a Negroni??? (Answer: tasty.)

The folks at Spirit Works Distillery make their Sloe Gin the old traditional British way by patiently macerating sloe berries in small-batch re-distilled gin made from grain in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, California. It takes a rather interesting and odd persistence to start a grain-based distillery in the middle of California North Coast Wine Country, but these are people who relish challenges. Ashby and Timo Marshall are living their motto daily at Spirit Works: “Batch by Batch; Grain to Glass”. Factor in that before the wine grape industry overwhelmed everything else the primary agricultural business in Sonoma was apples, pears, cherries….and plums. So perhaps there’s method in their madness; there is most certainly a dedication to craft distillation and a sense of ‘closing the circle’.

In the final analysis, while it’s nice to have a story of young entrepreneurs enjoying old traditions and employing the rustic notions of small-batch artisanal production, it still comes down to one important question: is Spirit Works Distillery Sloe Gin a top-quality spirit?

The answer would be a resounding “Yes!”.

For another opinion, here’s the reaction of a very good friend who tried the Spirit Works Sloe Gin: “Holy God, this is really good!!!”, this sophisticated and well-mannered woman blurted out. “Where can I buy it? I want some!”

For another unsolicited opinion, here’s Todd Brinkman, Beverage Director at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company: “This product transcends the genre of Sloe Gin. It is so much more than just that!” In his enthusiasm he shared a cocktail he created inspired by Spirit Works Sloe Gin. “I made a Rye and Yuzu cocktail that has SWSG in it. One of the best cocktails I’ve ever made. I call it The Ryzu.” Hmmm. I have the Rye. I have the SWSG. Looks like I have to go out for Yuzu.

Spirit Works also handcrafts a small batch vodka and gin. It is brokered in Oregon by Drink Think!, and should be available in the OLCC system as a special order item. It is currently listed at the Portland Hollywood Liquors on 3028 NE Sandy Boulevard.

Spirit Works Sloe Gin

Spirit Works Distillery Sloe Gin, handcrafted in small batches by Ashby and Timo Marshall in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, California: this is a slow gin liqueur—sloe berries/plums slowly macerated in a gin base—that will give new definition to an old traditional concoction.

Timo and Ashby Marshall

Timo and Ashby Marshall are a couple of young, dynamic, highly-motivated entrepreneurs dedicated to the art and science of small batch artisinal distillation. They distill both vodka and gin as well as the superb sloe gin liqueur, and have a Spirit Works whiskey slowly maturing to perfection in small barrels in the back (these things take time).

Ashby Marshall

When you visit Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol, you’ll probably see a young woman in overalls working the dials and levers at the small batch copper stills. That would be be Ashby Marshall, co-owner and master distiller at Spirit Works. Asbhy definitely puts the spirits in the works at Spirit Works; she is passionate about creating quality spirits.

Spirit Works botanicals

When you’re making small batch gin, or a sloe gin liqueur, it’s really all about the botnanica ingredients—the herbs, fruits, and spices that have to be blended and infused into the spirit base to give aromatics and flavors. Ashby is extremely picky about her botanical recipes, searching for exactly the right blend to give the Spirit Works aromatic signature for each batch.

The Spirit Works Distillery

If you’re looking for a big industrial operation, you’ll probably pass right by Spirit Works Distillery. It’s not very big—but that’s exactly the point, because Spirit Works is a small batch artisanal spirit producer so it doesn’t meed much space. Here the gleaming copper pot still is the important thing, and everything revolves around that.

Spirit Works Artisanal Still

The heart of any small batch distillate is the core of the run, the cleanest, purest form of—the spirit of the spirit, as it were. At Spirit Works Distillery, the heart of the place is in the gleaming, glistening copper pot still where Ashby Marshall works her alembic magic.

Spirit Works Distillery Sloe Gin

Spirit Works Distillery Sloe Gin can be wonderful all by itself. You can drink it much as you would a fine vintage or ruby port. But it is fantastic when used in cocktails and mixed drinks as well–a sloe gin fizz, a purple gin and tonic, a variant on a Negroni, or simply mixed in a tall collins glass with gin and ice and a lemon or orange wedge for a soothing summer drink. There are endless possibilities here.

Spirit Works Distillery Whiskey

Whiskey takes time. And patience. There’s a whiskey project slowly maturing in barrels, but it will be a while before it’s ready for release. We’ll all just have to wait. But if the quality of the vodka, gin, and sloe gin coming from Ashby & Timo’s most excellent spirit works in Sebastopol is any indication of what we have to look forward to….something good is coming.

See the story in Examiner.com here